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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Look north for rugby harmony
By Matt Majendie

London Broncos sent shockwaves through both rugby fraternities on Tuesday by announcing their controversial rebranding.

From next season they will be known as Harlequins Rugby League and relocate to the newly-named Twickenham Stoop as part of their link-up with the famous union side.

But the move is not a first - Leeds led the way in 1998 when Leeds Rugby Ltd was formed, merging the Rhinos and Tykes under one umbrella.

Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who led that transition, applauded the Broncos' move on Tuesday but said he was "surprised no one had followed our example sooner".

He told BBC Sport: "Other clubs should have embraced this concept a long time ago and more are bound to follow.

"These two clubs are going to share facilities, methods and ideas... and their fans will get the chance to enjoy sport all-year round. It's a win-win situation."

1980-1984: Craven Cottage
1984-1990: Crystal Palace National Sports Centre; Polytechnic Stadium, Chiswick; Barnet
1990-1993: Crystal Palace National Sports Centre
1993-1996: Barnet Copthall Stadium
1996-1997: The Valley
1997-2000: The Stoop
2000-2002: The Valley
2002-2005: Griffin Park
2006+: Twickenham Stoop
The new Quins match-up will undoubtedly be treated with scepticism, which Hetherington endured on a daily basis in the first three years of Leeds' rebranding.

"The public took a while to accept union," he said. "It happened at a time when league fans felt most threatened by union. The Rhinos had just lost their best player, Iestyn Harris, in a cross-code switch.

"And there was this perception that more would follow. So we weren't at all embraced by the fans.

"But gradually everyone's doubts faded and there's been a real coming together. Now a host of Rhinos season ticket holders are also Tykes season ticket holders."

The biggest thing I'd warn them against is trying to force the changes
Gary Hetherington

Fears of a flurry of cross-code moves in the wake of Harris' switch proved unfounded by league fans. In fact, Leeds' most high-profile switch saw Liam Botham swap union colours for league.

And today there is genuine harmony at Headingley, with Hetherington's office sandwiched between those of Rhinos boss Tony Smith and Tykes director of rugby Phil Davies.

"I'll quite often see them pop into each other's offices to swap an idea or run something by the other one," said Hetherington.

That link-up goes further down the line as well - Rhinos' assistant Brian McDermott is a defensive coach for the Tykes, while former Rhinos boss Daryl Powell will become Davies' assistant next season.

The general perception is union profits more from any league tie-in, league having been professional far longer.

But Hetherington is not convinced.

"One small example of how it works the other way round happened the other day when the Rhinos scored a drive-over try," he said. "That's a very union thing and I know that came from Phil Davies.

"And as for the ways the Broncos might benefit, they are plentiful. Being associated with a world-class brand is a major coup.

The Stoop
The teams will share one of Britain's best club rugby grounds
"Added to that, they have a permanent home. They can now stop being nomadic after 20 years on the move."

Off the field, Leeds have made savings by streamlining their structure. For example, they now have one sales team and one receptionist for the two sides, which has all helped make savings.

But Hetherington warned the Broncos and Quins the move would not been without problems.

He said: "There haven't exactly been pitfalls, more diversions. But the biggest thing I'd warn them against is trying to force the changes.

"They've clearly got everything in place now. They should now just sit back and let it evolve - it's the only way."

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