Rugby League: Whelan becomes Super sponsor

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The Independent Online
Super League has been spared the embarrassment of starting its third season without a sponsor by a pounds 1.5m deal with the sports retailers, JJB.

The two-year contract was unveiled yesterday, making Dave Whelan the major backer of the game's elite competition as well as of his local club, Wigan.

Whelan, one of the country's wealthiest businessmen, was Wigan's first sponsor in 1984 and his long association with Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay, has clearly been a factor in brokering this deal.

"Maurice is very good at putting things in your brain and letting them simmer for a while," said Whelan, the former Blackburn full-back who is chairman of Wigan Athletic as well as JJB.

"He asked me if I would be interested in sponsoring Super League and I said I would."

JJB replace Stones, who pulled out after last season, before the scheduled end of their pounds 500,000 a year sponsorship.

"Alcohol and tobacco have been generous sponsors of the game, but this marks a move into a new area," said Lindsay, who revealed that two other high-profile companies had also been interested.

There was one potentially discordant note in the celebrations yesterday over Whelan's declared preference for winter rugby, whereas Super League is wedded to the summer.

"It is a personal view," he said. "I used to enjoy the game in winter and I think a lot of northern people had the same view. We may have been wrong, because attendances have gone up in summer and we have to stick with it."

The Rugby Football League welcomed the deal by denying rumours that they will now withdraw their financial support from Super League. The RFL is paying Super League's running costs, including Lindsay's salary.

"The arrangement is up for review in March in any event, but their is no claw-back clause," said the RFL's acting chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe.

Meanwhile, another Whelan-financed project moved a step closer to fruition yesterday, with Wendell Sailor signing a contract to join Wigan next season. His arrival still depends on the outcome of his argument with the Brisbane Broncos over an option they claim to have on his services.

l - Dave Hadfield