Rugby League: Two World Cups in four-year timetable

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THE GAME has reconstructed its international calendar by setting a timetable - including two World Cups - for the next four years, writes Dave Hadfield.

The inaugural meeting of the International Federation in Sydney agreed yesterday that there will be tournaments in Britain in 2000, involving a minimum of 10 teams, and in Australia in 2002.

Great Britain will visit Australia for a tri-series also involving New Zealand next autumn, with a similar series here in 2001. Britain's nemesis in so many Ashes contests, Bob Fulton, will not be in charge of the Australian side for any of these encounters, as he has announced that he is standing down as coach.

A further meeting this November will extend the calendar, on the basis of a four-year cycle, but it is a major step forward for the game just to know what is happening in the short term.

The Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe, said that it was "refreshing and encouraging to find all nations coming to the table with open minds, determined to rebuild international rugby league. We are now very optimistic about the future."

The meeting also agreed 16 modifications to bring the rules of the game in the two hemispheres into line with each other. Most of them are minor, but one that will be noticeable is that, from next season, the non-scoring team will re-start play with the kick-off. The experiment with doing it the other way around in this country has been of little benefit.

Sir Rodney Walker, elected as vice-chairman of the Federation, has hit back at criticism from Super League and Fasda of his simultaneous decision to stay on as chairman of the Rugby League.

Chris Caisley and Bob McDermott, the chairmen of the two organisations, had expressed "astonishment" at his intention to fill the two roles.

"Negative forces in England continue to undermine my position as chairman of the RFL and the role of the RFL internationally," said Sir Rodney.

He claimed that he had done what Caisley had asked of him by securing a release for three Super League players who could have been called up by New Zealand during the play-offs at the end of the domestic season and that McDermott had urged him to stay on as chairman.

"I am left with the only conclusion that the statements made in their names have been prompted by others," he said. "It is time that rugby league in Great Britain followed the lead of the international meeting and left all this disharmony behind."

Leeds take an unchanged side to Wigan tonight for a match that they must win to have a chance of taking over at the top of the Super League table.

The play-off system means that finishing first carries no trophy or prize- money and is now merely a means to an end. "But it is an advantage in the play-offs and from a coaching point of view it's important to me," said Wigan's John Monie, who brings back Neil Cowie after a hamstring injury to start instead of Terry O'Connor.