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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT

Sport: Rugby League

League's northern empire cut back

Rugby League's ruling body has approved a controversial merger between Gateshead Thunder and Hull Sharks which raises doubts over the credibility of the game's expansion policy.

The move brings to an end Super League rugby in Gateshead as the newly-formed club will play in Hull.

The last-minute decision to move to Hull rather than the north-east has thrown further doubt on the credibility of the game's expansion policy.

London alone

It leaves only London Broncos outside the game's traditional north west heartland as Gateshead goes the way of Cardiff, Carlisle, Mansfield, Scarborough and Maidstone.

Super League lost its European element two years ago when Paris were cast aside.

Opponents of the deal say Gateshead, who achieved a highly respectable sixth place in their first season in Super League, were effectively sacrificed in a last-minute bid to rescue beleaguered Hull.

The new club will be known as Hull FC.

Hard decision

Gateshead chief executive Shane Richardson said: "This was an extremely tough decision to make. But, after all the deliberations, it was decided there was no other option open.

"The newly-merged club will do all it can to support grass roots and junior rugby league in the north-east."

Super League issued a statement confirming the merger and stressing that a 1.25m merger sweetener to the new club will go towards satisfying the creditors of Hull and Gateshead.

Super League spokesman Andrew Whitelam said: "The clubs recognised this was an extremely important matter, and the final decision was not taken lightly.

"They gave unanimous support to the merger after considering every possible option to keep Super League in the north-east and to keep the Hull club alive.

"It was decided the merger is in the best interests of rugby league in all parts of the country."

Stadium plan

The merged team will play Super League matches in Hull, initially at The Boulevard and then at the planned new stadium in the west of the city.

The existing playing squad and administrative staff from Gateshead will transfer operations to Hull and join forces with the remaining players and staff.

The decision-making council this week also considered an application from the Sheffield Eagles to join the Premiership for the new season, which starts in six weeks

It was initially turned down although later developments mean the door is now open for former Eagles star Mark Aston to apply to replace Bramley, who have since pulled out of the professional game.

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