The future of Super League on both sides of the world has been thrown into disarray by an Australian court ruling that the attempt by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to take over the game there is unlawful. Super League was due to kick off in Australia next weekend.
Although Mr Justice Burchett will not hand down formal orders in Sydney's federal court until Monday, it is clear that will happen and that Super League could also face a huge bill for damages. The chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, Ken Cowley, said: "Our legal advisers have examined the judgement carefully and believe there are very substantial grounds for appeal. We are very confident of the success of an appeal and have had no hesitation in deciding on this course of action."
The mood in the Australian , which has fought a stubborn battle for control of the game, was one of elation. "There is no way Super League will get under way," said their lawyer, Mark O'Brien. "The ARL claim that Super League has stolen their product and that ARL had unlawfully enticed players away was upheld.
"The ARL are vindicated in every claim. Rupert Murdoch has tried to hijack the game and failed. Super League will be in contempt of court if they try to play a game next weekend."
The judgement raises massive problems for the game in Britain, which accepted pounds 87m from Murdoch last year to sign up with Super League. The two Super League competitions were designed to dovetail with each other, with British and Australasian clubs meeting each other in world championship play-offs this autumn, followed by a British tour of Australia and New Zealand. The court decision will not only prevent either of those events taking place, it also removes much of the logic underpinning Murdoch's investment in the British game.
Speaking from Fiji, the British chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, was doing his best to be upbeat about the implications for Europe, where a competition between 12 teams starts on 29 March. "The judgement will certainly not affect the European Super League," he insisted.
"Shortly after it was handed down, I was assured by Mr Cowley that their commitment to the rest of the world is unshakeable. European Super League will, therefore, kick off as planned at the end of March and our contract with BSkyB is unaffected."
Lindsay has made it clear that Super League in Europe will carry on, in isolation if necessary, until such time as the Australian end of the operation can start up. But that might not now be until 1999 when the loyalty clauses signed by all 20 leading Australian clubs and upheld by the court expire.
The delay between the judgement and the formal orders could, in theory, give Super League and the ARL time to re-open negotiations and come up with a formula that would save face on both sides - a Super League by another name, but run by the ARL, for instance.
If they do not do that, Super League will be left with scores of highly- paid players but no competition fop them to play in. A temporary and partial solution to that could, paradoxically, involve a major boost for the first European summer season, with the cream of Australian Super League players, like Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer being loaned to clubs here.Reuse content