Rugby League: Super League strives for the global game

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The Independent Online
Aided and abetted by an unlikely supporter in Linford Christie, Super League in Australia made a brave attempt to hit the ground running when it launched the 1997 World Club Challenge here yesterday.

The programme for the first season of the bitterly contested new global face of rugby league reveals two periods of three weekends during which the game will make its most ambitious attempt yet to develop its international potential at club level.

During the first of them, from 6 to 23 June, the European Super League clubs - London, Leeds, Halifax, Wigan, Salford and Oldham -will be in Australia playing the likes of Brisbane, Canberra and the newly formed Adelaide Rams in the qualifying rounds. Five Australasian clubs will play in Britain and France, as Paris have against expectations been included in the format, with the two domestic competitions suspended for the duration.

It is a far more complex formula than the simple top four play-offs originally envisaged, but Super League's Australian chief executive, John Ribot, naturally believes that it will capture the public imagination. "The English clubs are very keen on it," he said. "They know it's going to work. They can't lose any money on it, because all their costs will be underwritten."

Super League made a start on underwriting travel costs by flying out two British-based players, the Bradford Bull's Robbie Paul and Paul Sculthorpe of Warrington, just for the launch. Paul, taking a break from his winter contract with Harlequins, was suitably upbeat despite his jet lag.

"It's going to create a lot more intensity in the game, which is what we need in England," he said. "Playing at Harlequins has shown me what a massive world-wide structure rugby union has got. This is the sort of thing rugby league needs to put it on the world map."

The other key dates for the game internationally will be next November, when Australia will embark on a three-Test tour of Great Britain - a venture that Ribot admitted was doubly important after the debacle of the recent Anglo-Kiwi series.

The Kangaroos will also play three English club sides on a tour which, along with the World Club Challenge final in Sydney a month earlier, is intended to provide a climax that will make sense of Super League's much vaunted "global vision".

"It takes our sport into another dimension," Ribot said. As for Christie, he justified his fee by observing: "Although I'm virtually retired from athletics, I'm still in shape if someone wants a winger."

It really must be the big league, even if the rough edges of a presentation staged just across Darling Harbour from the point where Bill Clinton embarked on a harbour cruise later yesterday harked back to a less sophisticated era.

Super League's signs had a nasty habit of falling down; it is to be hoped that their promises will stand up better.

WORLD CLUB CHALLENGE TEAMS AND FIXTURES

EUROPE Pool A: St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls, London Broncos, Warrington Wolves, Halifax Blue Sox. Pool B: Sheffield Eagles, Oldham Bears, Castleford Tigers, Leeds, Paris St-Germain, Salford Reds.

AUSTRALIA Pool A: Brisbane Broncos, Cronulla Sharks, Canberra Raiders, Auckland Warriors, Canterbury Bulldogs, Penrith Panthers. Pool B: Adelaide Rams, Western Reds, North Queensland Cowboys, Hunter Mariners.

MATCHES IN AUSTRALIA

7 June: Pool A Brisbane v London; Canberra v Halifax; Canterbury v Wigan. Pool B Adelaide v Salford; North Queensland v Leeds.

14 June: Pool A Canberra v London; Canterbury v Halifax; Brisbane v Wigan. Pool B Adelaide v Leeds; North Queensland v Oldham Bears.

21 June: Pool A Canterbury v London; Brisbane v Halifax; Canberra v Wigan. Pool B Adelaide v Oldham; North Queensland v Salford.

19 July: Pool A Cronulla v St Helens; Auckland v Bradford; Penrith v Warrington. Pool B Western v Sheffield; Hunter v Castleford.

26 July: Pool A Penrith v Bradford; Cronulla v Warrington; Auckland v St Helens. Pool B Western v Castleford; Hunter v Paris.

2 August: Pool A Auckland v Warrington; Penrith v St Helens; Cronulla v Bradford. Pool B Hunter v Sheffield; Western v Paris.

MATCHES IN EUROPE

7 June: Pool A St Helens v Auckland; Bradford v Penrith; Warrington v Cronulla. Pool B Castleford v Western; Paris v Hunter.

14 June: Pool A St Helens v Cronulla; Bradford v Auckland; Warrington v Penrith. Pool B Castleford v Hunter; Sheffield v Western.

21 June: Pool A St Helens v Penrith; Bradford v Cronulla; Warrington v Auckland. Pool B Sheffield v Hunter; Paris v Western.

19 July: Pool A Wigan v Brisbane; London v Canberra; Halifax v Canterbury. Pool B Oldham v North Queensland; Leeds v Adelaide.

26 July: Pool A Wigan v Canterbury; London v Brisbane; Halifax v Canberra. Pool B Salford v North Queensland; Oldham v Adelaide.

2 August: Pool A Wigan v Canberra; London v Canterbury; Halifax v Brisbane. Pool B Leeds v North Queensland; Salford v Adelaide.

27 September: Quarter-finals.

4 October: Semi-finals.

11 October: Final (Sydney).

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