Australian Rugby League bosses declared that the challenge from Super League was ‘dead and buried’ after the 20 elite level clubs effectively ‘rejected’ a proposal from News Ltd for a 12 team premiership.
The ARL bosses’ optimism ultimately proved unfounded, and deep down they must have been concerned because seven clubs had admitted, during an emergency meeting in Sydney, that they had had dealings with News Ltd.
ARL supremo, Ken Arthurson said News chairman, Ken Cowley had given an assurance rugby league would continue to have the company’s support and there would not be a rebel league.
“Peace in Our Time!”
The reticence of the several club officials to speak their mind at the emergency meeting no doubt was the result of Channel 9 boss, Kerry Packer’s fiery address, in which he made it clear he would not share the television rights with anyone.
South Queensland Crushers CEO, Darryl Van de Velde claimed News’ proposal amounted to a corporate takeover of rugby league.
Van de Velde said the meeting was “a little emotion charged at times”.
That was nothing compared with the bitterness to come, with Super League ultimately recruiting Cronulla, Penrith, Canterbury, North Queensland, Brisbane, Auckland, Canberra and Perth, and when they ran their own competition in 1997 added the Hunter Mariners from Newcastle and the Adelaide Rams.
As a journalist I had mixed feelings about that period in the game’s history.
Obviously it was great for ‘copy’, with stories around every corner.
But as a rugby league ‘tragic’ it was sad to see the game, and friendships, torn asunder.
I had a hectic travel schedule in February, 1995.
There was the World Sevens in Sydney; the ARL’s emergency meeting at NSWRL headquarters in Phillip Street; Tooheys Challenge matches at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast; Carrara on the Gold Coast; Bega on the NSW South Coast and also Tweed Heads.
At Coolum they converted a golf driving range into a football field.
The Bega match between the Broncos and Knights, was fiery, with Brisbane lock, Terry Matterson placed on report for a high shot. Broncos’ prop, Glenn Lazarus claimed the Newcastle players were allowed to get away with plenty.
The ARL v Super League war had already started it seems, even though there had been no official declaration.