By Peter Jessup

The criteria under which the National Rugby League plans to eject South Sydney from the competition rank the Auckland Warriors 10th of this season's 17 teams.

The Warriors were measured like all the other clubs on financial stability through sponsorship and crowd figures, on-field performance and junior development.

But they, Brisbane and Newcastle had already been issued licences and were not going to be culled.


The Auckland side's performance was.-

Home crowds: average 14,000, position 12th; away crowds: average 12,000, 14th; competition points rated over five years, 12th; profitability, 16th, ahead of only North Sydney; sponsorship and other income, third behind Brisbane with Newcastle tops.

The criteria review was completed by accountants Ernst and Young, who visited clubs on match-days and examined all their books.

The NRL said after cutting Souths on Friday that it believed the process to be fair and in line with agreements all clubs signed to ensure a 14-team competition by 2000.

North Sydney were ranked 14th according to the criteria, but with debts of around $A4.25 million, could not continue alone. They have a heads of agreement deal to merge with Manly, who came in 13th.

NRL chairman Malcolm Noad signalled financial support for that marriage, with half the new club's games to be played at Manly's Brookvale base and half at Norths' new home at Grahame Park on the Central Coast.

He said there would be equal support for any deal involving Souths.

The Cronulla-based Sharks appear to have left the door open for the Rabbitohs to scamper home at the last second, renaming their club to drop the Cronulla and leave open the prospect of becoming the South Sydney Sharks.

Souths, though, met and came out declaring legal war.

The league expects to make its draw with the 14 teams within weeks, with a home-and-away competition to kick off on February 5 - the early start to accommodate the Olympics.