Rugby league: Thunder's electrical boost

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SUPER LEAGUE'S northern and southern outposts are celebrating new backing that will help them compete with the clubs from the game's heartlands this season.

The new franchise on Tyneside, the Gateshead Thunder, have unveiled a pounds 500,000 sponsorship deal over three years with Northern Electric and Gas that is one of the biggest the game has ever seen.

The London Broncos will carry the logo of their major shareholders, the Virgin Group, on their jerseys for the first time, something that the club's chief executive, Tony Rea, said showed Virgin's "significantly increased commitment".

The Broncos have also enlisted Canterbury Clothing as the sponsors of a redesigned playing kit, which the chairman of Virgin, Richard Branson, called "a whole new look" for the team at yesterday's launch.

Northern Electric and Gas will have their name on the Thunder's home and away shirts and signing them up as backers is a significant achievement in a game that has not always found it easy to attract sponsors in recent years.

The other newcomers to Super League this season, promoted Wakefield Trinity, show the extent of their rebuilding by including just one member of the side that won last year's First Division Grand Final in their line- up to face Batley in their Challenge Cup tie tonight.

Only the prop forward, Francis Stephenson, remains from the team that beat Featherstone last September. The other dozen are all making their competitive debuts for Trinity, including their scrum-half, Glen Tomlinson, who is playing his first match since breaking his leg playing for Hull 12 months ago.

"It will be a big occasion for Glen," said the Wakefield coach, Andy Kelly. "The way he's recovered from his injury is an inspiration to others."

Shane Kenward, who broke his wrist in his one and only game for Salford last season, moves to stand-off, with the former Leeds player Tony Kemp, Wakefield's biggest signing., at loose-forward.

Bradford Bulls, who showed Wakefield what a leap in class they have to make by beating them 62-6 in a friendly last week, have signed a member of a famous rugby league clan, the 18-year-old prop forward, Vinny Myler, from the Simms Cross amateur club. Myler will play in the Bulls' Academy side this year.