RUGBY LEAGUE: World Cup to get pounds 1m backing

THE MILLENNIUM World Cup has become the game's first millionaire event by attracting a record sponsorship.

The Lincoln Finance Group, which sponsored Great Britain's Tests against New Zealand last autumn, is to back the 2000 tournament in Britain and France with a package worth more than pounds 1m - the largest sum ever for a rugby league event.

"It will help us to create a vehicle that will raise awareness and participation throughout the country," said the Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe. "We also intend to generate revenue for reinvestment in this country and beyond."

The 16-team tournament, now to be known as the Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup, will, for the first time, feature England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all playing as separate entities.

Tunnicliffe revealed that England, Wales and France would host three of the groups, with Scotland and Ireland sharing the other. With Wembley out of action, no decision has yet been made on the venue for the final, pencilled in for 25 November, although Old Trafford and the new national stadium in Cardiff are two possibilities.

The draw for the tournament is to be held at the Savoy Hotel in London on 25 May, although the 16th place will not be decided until Japan, the United States, Lebanon and Italy play off for the privilege later this year.

Australia, the world champions, who will no doubt start this tournament as hot favourites, have opted for Brad Fittler, rather than Laurie Daley, as captain for this Friday's Test against New Zealand in Sydney.

The Test is under the auspices of the Australian Rugby League, with whom Fittler sided during the Super League "war", while Daley was one of Super League's leading lights. Fittler has also been handed the influential stand-off role, with Daley shunted into the centres.

Notable newcomers are the Cronulla winger, Mat Rogers, and Penrith's hooker, Craig Gower, both of whom are in a full Test side for the first time.

The former St Helens player, Jarrod McCracken, is set to captain the Kiwis for the first time if Quentin Pongia is kept out by a rib injury.

The London Broncos could lose another player from their Wembley side when their second-row forward, Robbie Simpson, faces a League disciplinary hearing today. Simpson was placed on report for striking during London's 40-8 defeat at Wakefield on Sunday and has been ruled to have a case to answer. A ban of more than one match will rule him out of the Challenge Cup final, a serious blow to a team that has already lost several players from the big day through injury.

The Great Britain scrum-half, Tony Smith, is to play his first Super League match of the season for Wigan against Castleford on Sunday after recovering from a broken bone in his leg.

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