Rhinos push for Irish franchise

There may well be an Irish flavour to Super League come 2009 with the news that Leeds Rhinos are pushing Dublin as a potential venue for a franchise.

The Rhinos are currently in Ireland for a pre-season training camp, and have been impressed by the facilites arranged for them by Rugby League Ireland.

A franchise system is expected to come in to place in Super League in 2009, with the French franchise Catalans Dragons already nearing the start of their second season. Wales based team Celtic Crusaders are also rumoured to be getting the nod when the changes come in to place.

Dave Southern, chairman of RLI, said: "We need to look at it in a holistic manner. Why concentrate on just Dublin? Throw it open, let us look at Limerick, Cork or Galway. But this is not a short-term issue — this is a long-term plan. It wouldn't happen overnight."

And he is confident that the sport would develop a strong support base.

"Who would ever have imagined that ice hockey would have taken off in Belfast with the Belfast Giants? It is a valid question, sure, but everything has to have a start somewhere. We are not getting excited right now. It is a long-term plan."

Rhinos assistant coach, Francis Cummins, a former Ireland inter-national, said: "I have been to Dublin before with the Ireland team and played here with Leeds in the Charity Shield prior to Super League, but this trip has been a real eye-opener.

"The facilities at Dublin City University are as good or better than most that teams in Super League will train at and I would say that, if there was a Dublin team in Super League, it would be an ideal base.

"I know a lot of people watch Super League on TV over here but if they had a team they could go watch on a regular basis — it would be fantastic.

"Rugby league has got games at the Millennium Stadium, Wembley and Old Trafford this season and, if they were looking for an alternative venue, Croke Park is an incredible stadium."

Fans of traditional heartland clubs threatened by the franchise system, the likes of Widnes, Castleford, Leigh and Whitehaven, are likely to be worried at this development. But the RLI were quick to point out the positives of an Irish based franchise.

"The trip to Perpignan has become a real event for supporters and people are planning whole weekends away around the game. If you had a team in Dublin, it is so easy to get here from the rugby league heartlands that I am sure thousands of fans would come across to see their side in action."

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