Rugby League: Whelan furious at World Cup rumour

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The Independent Online
DAVE WHELAN, the owner of Wigan's new home at the JJB Stadium, has threatened never to allow it to be used for big matches if it is not allocated one of the semi-finals in next year's World Cup.

Wigan moved out of Central Park, their ground for 97 years, after Sunday's victory over St Helens and the 25,000-seat stadium they will now share with Wigan Athletic is available, in theory, for other major games. But Whelan, the football club's chairman as well as Wigan's financial backer and the sponsor of Super League, is furious that the Rugby League might use Bolton's nearby Reebok Stadium instead.

"If they play a World Cup semi-final there rather than at a better rugby league ground a few miles down the road, they will never have my ground for any game," he said.

The League's spokesman, John Huxley, called Whelan's outburst "unfortunate" yesterday. "We very much regret his stance, but no doubt, as our plans advance, his opinions will be taken into consideration. We will not be making any announcements on venues until November, and it is very unfortunate that Mr Whelan should feel it necessary to put pressure on us at this early stage."

The final of this autumn's Tri-Nations series has been switched from Sydney to Auckland, leaving the League exasperated with its Australian counterparts. The final will now be at the Ericsson Stadium, home of the Auckland Warriors, on 5 November, something to which Great Britain has "reluctantly agreed" rather than risk losing the whole event.

"The decision to switch the final at such a late stage has been taken unilaterally by the Australian Rugby League without any communication or consultation," said the League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe. "We shall be registering our grave displeasure." Particularly displeased are likely to be those supporters who have already booked to be in Sydney for the weekend of the final.

The League has called for reports on incidents after Featherstone's Northern Ford Premiership play-off at Leigh in which a Featherstone supporters' coach had its windows smashed and its driver injured.

Sheffield Eagles may have played their last match at the Don Valley Stadium and are exploring other possibilities for next season. The prospect of a move to Chesterfield is back on the agenda, despite the football club's failure to gain planning permission for a new stadium. They now hope to build on a different site, with the Eagles, who are also talking to Sheffield United about Bramall Lane, as joint users.

The St Helens coach, Ellery Hanley, does not expect his first choice scrum-half, Sean Long, to play again this season, despite the player's optimism that he will recover from a shoulder injury in time to appear in the play-offs. Long could even have played his last game for Saints if rumours of a return to Wigan, his original club, come to fruition.

Bradford have completed the signing of Australian Justin Brooker, a centre with Western Suburbs, on a two-year contract.