Rugby League: Widnes eye place among elite

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the great names of the recent past is to bid for a place at the game's top table for the future. Widnes, the Cup kings of the 1970s and early '80s, are to apply for a Super League franchise for next season - whether or not they win the Northern Ford Premiership.

The club missed out on a Super League place during the upheavals of 1995, after proposals for a merger with Warrington fell through. They are currently seventh in their division, but argue that they are the best placed to take the step up.

"We currently have the highest gates in the Northern Ford Premiership and will be targeting not only fans in the Borough of Halton but also those in south Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales," said the Widnes chairman, Tony Chambers, at the launch of their proposal yesterday.

The winners of the Premiership's Grand Final have the right to apply to join Super League, as Wakefield did successfully this year, but the Rugby League says that there is nothing to stop any other club - existing or proposed - making their own application by the 31 May deadline.

Widnes have the stadium to meet Super League criteria, but their proximity to Warrington and St Helens will not help their case. Although there are no other applications on the table at present, South Wales and the West Midlands are possible bidders.

The beaten Wembley finalists, the London Broncos, will struggle to field a credible side at Halifax tonight. Apart from their captain, Shaun Edwards, who will be absent for two months after playing in the Challenge Cup final with a broken thumb, the Broncos' coach, Dan Stains, also expects to be without Martin Offiah, Karle Hammond, Peter Gill and Robbie Simpson from his Wembley selection.

With doubts also over Shane Millard and Matt Salter, London's resources will be stretched more thinly than ever, but Stains says he has no regrets about having to field a patched-up team four days after the final. "I'd rather be a bit short having gone to Wembley than not have been to Wembley," he said.

Young Londoners Dominic Peters, Steffan Hughes and Wayne Sykes are likely to figure at The Shay tonight, while the Broncos are making progress on bringing in reinforcements. They are negotiating with the St George-Illawarra forward Scott Cram, and with one other Australian player, but have lost interest in the Brisbane Broncos' Damien Keating.

Castleford have brought their match against St Helens forward a week to 19 May, to avoid a clash with Manchester United's European Cup final.