Rugby League: Wigan to host meeting of champions

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WIGAN'S NEW JJB Stadium will stage the World Club Championship between St Helens, the Super League Grand Final winners, and Melbourne Storm, the Australian title holders, on Saturday 22 January. The choice of venue means that Saints fans will have to visit the home of their arch- rivals.

The pounds 28m JJB Stadium was chosen ahead of Saints' Knowsley Road and Bolton's Reebok Stadium, which was controversially preferred by the Rugby Football League for the semi-finals of the 2000 World Cup, because it has has undersoil heating and a larger capacity.

After being ignored for the World Cup Dave Whelan, the owner of the stadium, vowed not to make it available to the League for big matches in future but the World Club Championship comes under the jurisdiction of Super League.

Wigan were the first winners of the World Club Championship in 1987-88 and they were victorious the last time it was held, in 1994, when they beat Brisbane Broncos in Queensland.

The United States took first blood in the World Cup qualifying tournament with a 54-0 defeat of Japan at the Disney Wide World of Sport complex in Orlando yesterday. With the referee Steve Presley wired with a microphone, enabling him to explain decisions to the crowd, the Japanese conceded three tries in the opening 10 minutes as they struggled to handle the much stronger home pack, led by the St Helens duo of Vila Matautia and Julian O'Neill.

Japan play Canada today needing a win to stay in the tournament. The group winners will meet the winners of the Mediterranean Cup on Sunday week also in Orlando, with the ultimate prize being the 16th and final place in next year's World Cup.

Salford have received work permit clearance for the Australian forward James Smith. He is joining the City Reds on a two-year contract and will arrive at The Willows in early January.

The winger Steve Booth has signed a one-year contract with the new Huddersfield- Sheffield Giants club.

Nine areas of the country are being targeted in new efforts to raise the profile of women's and girls' rugby league.

The Rugby League Policy Board has announced the setting up of five panels in East/North Yorkshire, Wakefield/South Yorkshire, Leeds/Bradford, Wigan/ Warrington and Rochdale to oversee the development of the female game.

Each panel will produce a one-year action plan to spread the gospel and create awareness in women's rugby ahead of the 2000 Women's World Series, which will be run alongside the Lincoln World Cup.

The game has produced 520 new coaches since the introduction of its Coach Education Programme just under 12 months ago. Figures released yesterday show that 57 of the new coaches are eligible to work at senior level, with 216 operating at club level and 247 able to teach the modified game to children.