Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood heralded the start of a new Super League season by declaring more money will flow into the sport this year than before.
The campaign gets underway tonight when Huddersfield Giants head to champions Wigan Warriors but, almost inevitably, negativity has reared its head.
Even though a £200m deal with Sky Sports was announced just last week, arriving swiftly on the back of the competition securing a new seven-figure title sponsor in First Utility, there has been sniping in the build-up to this evening’s contest.
Most notably Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan and Salford Red Devils’ counterpart Marwan Koukash launched blistering attacks on the governing body over that broadcasting contract and also league re-structure plans for 2015 – despite both issues having been voted through by clubs.
Furthermore, reports emerged yesterday that South Sydney’s Sam Burgess – England’s leading player – intends to quit the sport at the end of the season in order for the Yorkshireman to try to earn a place in England rugby union’s 2015 World Cup squad.
All of this has, unfortunately, cast a shadow over Super League’s return, but Wood is adamant there is reason for optimism.
“I think the sport has had a really good 12 months,” he maintained.
“I know there’s been a lot of discussion about a number of issues, some of which are off-field.
“But we had a compelling year last year which culminated in a great Grand Final and had an outstanding World Cup which has taken the sport into parts of the media and national psyche that it hadn’t previously been.
“We’ve a great new sponsor for Super League on the back of a number of other sponsorship announcements around the sport that came from the World Cup.
“And, now, a television deal which should provide security for the sport over the course of the next few years.”
Lenagan had previously attacked the RFL for failing to maximise the sport’s commercial potential and this week said it should have achieved a better deal than the one with Sky Sports, which equated to a 30 per cent rise.
But Wood countered: “When change occurs people are going to have strongly-held views.
“There’s democracy at work in the sport of rugby league and the clubs at all levels have supported the restructure and the clubs at Super League level have the opportunity to support – or the right to veto – the broadcasting arrangements.
“They have supported that so there’s not too much I can add to it. I know over the course of the past few months there has been critical attention applied to income generation and I think that has been responded to extremely positively.
“Everybody in the sport wants the sport to succeed – I don’t think anybody would not salute that flag – and whatever measures are taken to improve the performance of the sport should be welcomed. I know that in 2014 more money will be coming into rugby league than ever before.”
When asked if he felt he had answered his own critics by delivering these two significant deals, Wood added: “I think criticism goes with the job really.
“It’s not a popularity contest and change is always controversial. I’m really clear that all the people who have offered views – whatever part of the spectrum they fall upon – have all offered those with the intentions of offering for the best of rugby league.”
After some of the nonsense being uttered this week, he may be showing too much benevolence.
Thankfully, while ex-Bradford Bulls star Burgess may end up at Bath, another of England’s finest talents yesterday committed himself to Super League.
St Helens full-back Jonny Lomax has signed a four-year deal prompting his chairman Eamonn McManus to condemn his rival owners.
“Never have I been more confident about the future of our club and the game as a whole as I am today,” he said.
“The new television deal will provide a 63 per cent uplift in income for Super League clubs and every level of the sport will benefit directly.”
Giants preview: Page 23.