RFL boss praises clubs for franchise bid work

THE legal eagle involved in the process driving Super League's licensing revolution has praised the 19 clubs who are bidding for one of the 14 franchises for their hard work, cooperation and honesty over the last three months.

Rod Findlay, the Rugby Football League's in-house lawyer, believes all the clubs involved will gain from the work done to prepare for their application, regardless of how they fare next Tuesday when the identity of the new-look Super League will be revealed.

The RFL's board of directors met this week to draw up a definitive list of the 14 clubs they feel most meet the stringent criteria needed to secure the licence that will guarantee them a place in Super League for the next three years.

The clubs – the 12 existing Super League clubs plus Toulouse, Featherstone, Salford, Halifax, Leigh, Widnes and Celtic Crusaders – will hear the board's decision at 9.45 on Tuesday morning and at 10.00 Richard Lewis, the RFL's executive chairman, will reveal all at a news conference in Leeds.

For everyone concerned, the announcement will be the end of an exhaustive and revealing examination of the current state of rugby league and the start of an era which Findlay feels will see the clubs and the sport enter with renewed confidence.

"It has been heartening to see how well the clubs have applied themselves to putting together their business plans and analysing every part of their operations," said Findlay. "All the clubs cooperated fully throughout the application process and I have no doubt that they, the RFL and the sport will be strengthened by the experience."

The licence application process was handled by the RFL's staff and took place in three stages: firstly, the clubs were assessed to ensure they meet minimum standards; the clubs were then divided into three categories, A, B and C based on a simple points system; and finally each club underwent a detailed analysis of their structure and business plan, the results of which were compiled in individual reports submitted to the RFL board for consideration.

"The basis for the licensing process was established in May 2005 when the RFL, in full consultation with member clubs, drew up a strategy document for Super League which basically said 'This is what we want the league to look like and this is what we want the clubs to look like,'" explained Findlay.

"The document concluded that the competition should be expanded to 14 clubs and said it was not felt the heartland would be able to sustain that number of Super League clubs.

"We do not have 14 clubs who satisfy all the Super League strategy aims. The board needs to decide whether those clubs that are not currently satisfying the aims can satisfy them in the future. The process is designed so it's more than a leap of faith: it's a detailed analysis of the business plans provided by clubs who know those plans will be tested rigorously."

Many of the clubs already in Super League are expected to have attained Grade A or B status and it is hard to imagine the likes of Leeds, Bradford, Hull, St Helens or Catalans Dragons not being awarded a licence.

It will also be difficult for the RFL board to overlook clubs such as Wakefield and Castleford, both of whom are hoping to leave antiquated stadiums which hardly fit the new Super League ideal. St Helens and Salford are also at early stages of the process for new stadiums.

The RFL have asked for information and supporting documentation from the local authorities at Salford, St Helens and Wakefield but have deliberately avoided direct contact with council officials.

"There are many different stages involved in planning and building a stadium," said Findlay. "If a club has produced robust documentation that a new stadium will come off we have taken it into account.

"A stated desire to open a new stadium is a long way off being robust."

Widnes and Leigh will be hoping the failings of Wheldon Road, Belle Vue and The Willows could open the door for their entry into Super League and speculation has been rife over who will get the nod.

It would be a bold move by the RFL to refuse a licence to a club already in Super League – how could Wakefield, for example, be omitted in a year which could see them reach the Challenge Cup final? The same goes for Castleford, who could provide two members of the England squad for the World Cup – and there is a general acceptance the extra places will be filled by two clubs from Widnes, Salford, Halifax, Featherstone, Leigh, Celtic Crusaders and Toulouse.

On the basis that one will come from outside the heartland, Bridgend-based Celtic look to have a strong chance with Salford or Widnes, whose trump card is the superby-appointed Halton Stadium, fighting it out for the other licence.

But that's just guesswork. The only certainties about Super League is the clubs which have played their cards right will prove once and for all that points really do mean prizes.

Points make prizes

In the second stage of the Super Licence application process clubs were awarded a maximum of 10 points if they met all of the following criteria:

Stadium capacity of at least 12,000 – one point

Having a 21st century stadium with modern facilities – one point

Recording an average crowd of 10,000-plus – one point

Regularly filling a stadium to at least 40 per cent of its occupancy – one point

Having a 4m annual turnover – one point

Possessing a strong financial history – one point

Averaging a top-eight place in Super League in the past three years – one point

Having a minimum of eight home-grown players in their 25-man squad last season – one point

Never having breached the salary cap – one point

Potentially being the only Super League club within a 25-mile radius – one point

Clubs scoring eight points or more are classed as Grade A; more than five points Grade B; and below five Grade C.