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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 20:16 GMT

Sport: Rugby League: News

Merger mania in Super League

Better days for Sheffield Eagles: 1998's Challenge Cup win

Hull Sharks and Gateshead Thunder have announced their intention to join forces for next year's Super League season.

The announcement from Hull owner David Lloyd came four hours after Sheffield Eagles and Huddersfield Giants proposed a similar plan.

It also arrived shortly before a Super League cash sweetener for merging clubs is reduced by 250,000 at midnight on Thursday.

Until then a 1.25m bonus from television money is available.

The Sharks are deeply in debt, and after the merger a club with Hull's name is likely to play in the division from which they escaped relegation, the Northern Ford Premiership.

North-eastern home

Super League's youngest club Gateshead enjoyed a good first season, and the newly-merged club are likely to play on in the north east rather than East Yorkshire.

"We have explored the principle of a merger with Gateshead Thunder but the details have not been agreed as of this moment in time," said a statement from Lloyd.

Hull have mounting financial problems, and had put contract talks with coach Steve Crooks and 14 out-of-contract players on hold while merger talks went on.

Gateshead chief executive Shane Richardson confirmed: "We have had preliminary discussions with Hull and talked to Super League about it but nothing has been decided at this stage."

Yorkshire bid

The other merger plan appears more advanced.

The Giants have finished bottom of Super League for the last two seasons, while Sheffield have suffered financial problems since winning the Challenge Cup in 1998.

Matches will be divided between Huddersfield's McAlpine Stadium and a venue in South Yorkshire - possibly Sheffield United's ground, Bramall Lane.

A competition is likely to be held to decide on a new name for the super club, but it is likely to include Yorkshire and neither Sheffield nor Huddersfield.

The objective is to create a new club with the financial strength and support base to challenge the supremacy of Yorkshire powers, Leeds and Bradford.

In this case the name of Huddersfield - where rugby league was formed in 1895 - will live on in the Northern Ford Premiership.

Talks are to begin this weekend to determine who will take over as head coach of the merged Super League outfit, with Sheffield boss John Kear favourite.

Cash drives plans

The prospect of mergers was greeted with horror when they were first suggested back in 1995.

But financially-challenged clubs have gradually come around to the idea of pooling resources.

Sheffield chairman Tim Adams believes mergers could be the way forward.

"We believe this is a ground-breaking agreement which would well become the template for developing the future structure of Super League," he said.

These developments pave the way for a 12-club Super League next summer, although Northern Ford Premiership champions Hunslet could be promoted if their ground can be upgraded.

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