Brave new world brings original format to help get juices flowing

Brian Noble.
Brian Noble.
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As Super League enters a brave new world, Dave Craven asks Brian Noble, the most successful coach in the competition’s history, whether the new format will be a hit or a miss.

Dave Craven: The new season is upon us but is it really Rugby League’s “New Era” or same old, same old repackaged?

Brian Noble: There has been an element of repackaging as the powers-that-be want “jeopardy” back ie promotion and relegation and the desperation that can be the fact you’re in a relegation fight. I think that has been pushed by our major sponsors – the TV deal – and the RFL has listened and tried to be diligent in the way they’ve dressed it up.

The new format, the new era is a challenge.

But I have to say everyone I have spoken to finds it quite exciting with the fact there are more meaningful games now.

Like all the revolutions that come about in rugby league, I don’t know how we’ve done it but it’s created a great deal of excitement.

The concept has captured peoples’ imagination. But the proof of the system will be can somebody get up in the years it’s trialled for?

And I don’t think we should trial things for three years either – if it doesn’t work after one year, two at the most, then get rid.

We all have different opinions and maybe straightforward promotion and relegation is the answer. But there has to be a way we make rugby league more competitive, every game more meaningful, with a view also to boosting the finances coming into the game.

I hope this will attract a new audience and sponsors. We know the product’s fantastic. Now will this salivate the juices and get the game where we all want it to be – on the national lips?

DC: Essentially, that fourth versus fifth £1m match will mean at least one Championship team will be just 80 minutes away from promotion?

BN: That’s true. However, let’s not be naive here; the challenges are huge.

But if we do mention the favourites – Bradford, Leigh, London – and others like Halifax and Featherstone who have aspirations, then you look at some of the signings that they are making, players like Fuifui Moimoi and Garreth Carvell, then wow, it has already created the right kind of impact.

I think with that seven-match scenario for the bottom four of Super League and top four of the Championship, you really have to plan for that as well.

You have to plan for two seasons in essence. You have to get in the top four of the Championship and then be in the best form and healthiest you can be to have a realistic chance.

The reality of that is there is a disparity between the Super League and Championship clubs in terms of finance.

There are only three full-time squads in the Championship but what it does do is give someone with a bit of aspiration to maybe invest money into a rugby league club to get their chance in the sun. You don’t have to apply (for a licence) in three years’ time and get knocked back and the same again three years later. There is a route now.

DC: Do Championship clubs need more than a £1m salary cap?

BN: It’s basically almost half the money Super League clubs are on so – in theory– the top-flight should be a whole lot stronger.

But Leigh and Bradford look like they have recruited really, really well.

You have to be smart. I’d be saving some troops up for that seven-game period. I’d be thinking if I can bring someone in, do a loan or some sort of deal, I’d be keeping some of my cap to make an impact there.

But look at us ... we’re talking about the new era but we’re discussing the top four of the Championship rather than the top end of Super League!

DC: You have won three Super League Grand Finals. Will this new format make it any easier or tougher to lift the title?

BN: No. I don’t think it’s any easier. The management of your season has always been vitally important. You’ve always needed your best players on deck at the right time and in the right form.

Leeds last year is an example of how it can go wrong. But Leeds in 2011 and 2012, when they came from fifth to win, is the other side of the coin.

We (Bradford) won it from third when it was a different format in 2005 and it was mightily difficult.

Trust me.

Now, essentially it’s a 30-game season for those who want to get in the top four.

My only worry is if you look like being in that bottom four of Super League, do you then rest your players for that seven-game scenario?

That might unbalance the top end a little bit.

In theory it should toughen the competition up and we have all asked that we have more intensity in Super League.

This format should guarantee that.

And I think the top four teams will genuinely deserve the crack for a Grand Final spot.

DC: And who looks like being those challengers?

BN: The north west is very strong with St Helens, Wigan and Warrington, while the joker in the pack there is Salford.

Will they click? Will they get over the line with a top four spot? I’m certainly confident they should be top eight.

As for the other end, both Hull clubs have question marks over them and I really like what Catalans have done but can they cure their travelling issue?

They have made three great signings, though –Todd Carney, Willie Tonga and Remi Casty.

Are Leeds reliant on the old guard – messrs Burrow, McGuire, Sinfield and Peacock?

They have let a few people go and not replaced them, too, but I still think they are in the market so they might bolster their ranks before the season starts.

There’s been a bit of culling there and not much freshness, but they have some great backs.

Wigan didn’t win anything last year and have publicly said they need to so there will be a lot of determination to put that right.

Warrington have recruited really well. I think Daryl Clark and Ashton Simms are two fabulous signings.

There’s still a question mark over the make-up of their halves and have they really replaced Lee Briers in any shape, way or form with regards their kicking game? But their brand of football excites me.

Losing Michael Monaghan a big blow but his replacement is Clark so any quick play-the-balls then, boy, is he going to run.

St Helens with all their halves back on board – Jonny Lomax and Luke Walsh – all of a sudden look so much healthier yet they achieved last year, winning the title with manufactured football.

They’ve got Travis Burns in from Hull KR, too, and he and Walsh know each other’s games having played together at Penrith.

I like Burns. A lot of people call him a grub and he gets under your skin but so what? He’s a competitor. So, Saints will be stronger than last year when they won it but I think it might be Wolves’ year.

DC: What about at the other end of the table?

BN: I think it will be four the two Hull clubs, Wakefield, Widnes and even Castleford.

I don’t worry too much for Cas, though, as Luke Gale is a good replacement for Marc Sneyd and Melbourne’s Junior Moors, likewise, for Weller Hauraki.

It’s hard to replace Craig Huby and Clark, of course, but it means they’ll just be steadier than last year and less dynamic I feel.

I think they’ll finish just above Widnes and get in the eight.

Whether a Championship team will come up, I don’t know. It is a really tough gig. But for those bottom four in Super League, damn right there’ll be plenty of dogs snapping at their heels. Bulls and Leigh especially. It’s basically almost half the money Super League clubs are on so – in theory– the top-flight should be a whole lot stronger.

But Leigh and Bradford look like they have recruited really, really well.

You have to be smart. I’d be saving some troops up for that seven-game period. I’d be thinking if I can bring someone in, do a loan or some sort of deal, I’d be keeping some of my cap to make an impact there.

But look at us ... we’re talking about the new era but we’re discussing the top four of the Championship rather than the top end of Super League!

DC: You have won three Super League Grand Finals. Will this new format make it any easier or tougher to lift the title?

BN: No. I don’t think it’s any easier. The management of your season has always been vitally important. You’ve always needed your best players on deck at the right time and in the right form.

Leeds last year is an example of how it can go wrong. But Leeds in 2011 and 2012, when they came from fifth to win, is the other side of the coin.

We (Bradford) won it from third when it was a different format in 2005 and it was mightily difficult.

Trust me.

Now, essentially it’s a 30-game season for those who want to get in the top four.

My only worry is if you look like being in that bottom four of Super League, do you then rest your players for that seven-game scenario?

That might unbalance the top end a little bit.

In theory it should toughen the competition up and we have all asked that we have more intensity in Super League.

This format should guarantee that.

And I think the top four teams will genuinely deserve the crack for a Grand Final spot.

DC: And who looks like being those challengers?

BN: The north west is very strong with St Helens, Wigan and Warrington, while the joker in the pack there is Salford.

Will they click? Will they get over the line with a top four spot? I’m certainly confident they should be top eight.

As for the other end, both Hull clubs have question marks over them and I really like what Catalans have done but can they cure their travelling issue?

They have made three great signings, though –Todd Carney, Willie Tonga and Remi Casty.

Are Leeds reliant on the old guard – messrs Burrow, McGuire, Sinfield and Peacock?

They have let a few people go and not replaced them, too, but I still think they are in the market so they might bolster their ranks before the season starts.

There’s been a bit of culling there and not much freshness, but they have some great backs.

Wigan didn’t win anything last year and have publicly said they need to so there will be a lot of determination to put that right.

Warrington have recruited really well. I think Daryl Clark and Ashton Simms are two fabulous signings.

There’s still a question mark over the make-up of their halves and have they really replaced Lee Briers in any shape, way or form with regards their kicking game? But their brand of football excites me.

Losing Michael Monaghan a big blow but his replacement is Clark so any quick play-the-balls then, boy, is he going to run.

St Helens with all their halves back on board – Jonny Lomax and Luke Walsh – all of a sudden look so much healthier yet they achieved last year, winning the title with manufactured football.

They’ve got Travis Burns in from Hull KR, too, and he and Walsh know each other’s games having played together at Penrith.

I like Burns. A lot of people call him a grub and he gets under your skin but so what? He’s a competitor. So, Saints will be stronger than last year when they won it but I think it might be Wolves’ year.

DC: What about at the other end of the table?

BN: I think it will be four the two Hull clubs, Wakefield, Widnes and even Castleford.

I don’t worry too much for Cas, though, as Luke Gale is a good replacement for Marc Sneyd and Melbourne’s Junior Moors, likewise, for Weller Hauraki.

It’s hard to replace Craig Huby and Clark, of course, but it means they’ll just be steadier than last year and less dynamic I feel.

I think they’ll finish just above Widnes and get in the eight.

Whether a Championship team will come up, I don’t know. It is a really tough gig. But for those bottom four in Super League, damn right there’ll be plenty of dogs snapping at their heels. Bulls and Leigh especially.