Rugby League: Three leagues to stay

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THE game's decision-makers have drawn back from the brink of an ill- conceived revamp and will leave matters largely as they are for next season, writes Dave Hadfield.

A special meeting of clubs in Leeds yesterday decided against scrapping the present three-division structure after just two seasons, against expanding the First Division from 14 to 16, against removing three clubs from the League, and against turning the county cups into pre-season competitions beginning in early August.

The first three suggestions came from the game's board of directors; the fourth was forced upon them, very much against their will, by the clubs; but all were withdrawn, to the unmistakable relief of the League's chief executive Maurice Lindsay.

'It's a fool that doesn't reflect and change his mind, and there weren't many fools up there today,' he said of the clubs' rethink.

There was, he added, still a feeling that change was needed. 'But it was more important to eliminate bad ideas than rush into what might be good ideas. If there is to be a necessary change, we have to get it right.'

To that end, the board has been mandated to come up with further suggestions. 'I cannot see the timetable enabling us to get anything done for next season,' Lindsay admitted.

The one, relatively modest reform that did win unanimous approval is that First Division clubs will be exempt until the first round proper of the Regal Trophy and Challenge Cup from next season, with amateur clubs making up the numbers in the preliminary round. That is a change that will be widely welcomed but not as widely as the decisions not to lengthen an already arduous season or dilute the quality of the First Division.

Teams towards the bottom of that division may rue the fact that there will be two relegated rather than one under the expansion proposals, but there can be little doubt that 14 clubs is enough.