Rugby League: Warrington sign Davies for nothing

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JONATHAN DAVIES, arguably the most valuable convert from rugby union since the war, moved clubs yesterday for nothing.

Warrington have signed Davies on a free transfer because Widnes, the club that brought him to rugby league four and a half years ago, can no longer afford his contract. Nor could Warrington, without the help of their chairman, Peter Higham, whose company partly financed the deal and gave Davies a job. It is a measure of the game's new realism that a player with his profile has such priorities.

Davies, aged 30, with nine Great Britain rugby league caps to add to the 23 he gained for Wales in rugby union, said he had been surprised to return from holiday to learn that Widnes were willing not only to sell the family silver, but to give it away.

'It means I have left under a cloud, but this is a professional sport and I have to put the past behind me now,' he said. 'I still want to play for Great Britain and go to Wembley again.'

Davies played some of his best rugby league last season as Widnes reached the Challenge Cup final, and their coach, Phil Larder, is obviously depressed at losing him.

For Warrington, signing the player for nothing represents an enormous coup. At a stroke, he gives a workmanlike side three things they lacked - a reliable goal-kicker, a back of genuine flair and a personality to persuade supporters through the turnstiles. The club calculates that if he puts 500 on their home gates each match he will have paid for himself.

Warrington have had their own financial problems and many of their players have payments outstanding: several have turned down new contracts and are on the transfer list. It all raises the question of how readily a well-paid newcomer will be accepted.

An immediate benefit of Davies's arrival was apparent at Wilderspool yesterday. It was hard to imagine any other signing that could have attracted so many members of the media.

'You couldn't buy this sort of publicity,' said the Warrington coach, Brian Johnson. It is a symptom of the times that they have not had to buy it, just to pick up a wage bill.