Unity is strength for game's underlings

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The Independent Online
There is life outside Super League, as the First and Second Division clubs have the chance to show when they start their league season, two weeks ahead of the big boys, this weekend.

The smaller clubs had a choice when Super League arrived to hog the limelight. They could crawl away into a dark corner and die, or they could sort themselves out. They have chosen the latter course.

The clubs outside the top flight are getting their act together, on and off the field. True, there are still a number of financial basket cases, but there is a collective desire to survive and thrive.

Bob McDermott, who combines the role of chairman of the new Association of First and Second Division Clubs with that of chairman of Dewsbury, has been at the heart of this change of mood. Under his leadership, the clubs have discovered that there is strength in unity.

"First and Second Division clubs were told last season that their allocation of the Murdoch money was to be reduced by pounds 1.6m," McDermott says. "That would have been crippling for many clubs, but they could do little as individuals. But when the Association got involved, that pounds 1.6m was back on the table within 72 hours."

Or, as the Huddersfield director Bob Scott puts it: "The only time we'll be at loggerheads will be for 80 minutes on the field. For the rest of the time we're allies, pooling our ideas."

There are certainly more sides who could conceivably win the First Division than there are in Super League.

Hull, at home to Swinton tomorrow, have recruited well from Australia, even if their new name - the Sharks - ignores the more obvious attractions of the Hull Herrings or Haddocks.

Huddersfield, who start their season against Whitehaven, have the facilities and the resources, while Keighley - away to Workington - continue to defy predictions that their bubble has burst. Featherstone take on Hull KR with what looks like one of the strongest squads in the division, but Wakefield - at home to Dewsbury -are possible dark horses.

The First Division clubs and the top nine in Division Two are to contest a new play-off competition in late July.