Clarity still required if Super League is to progress

PICTURE BY VAUGHN RIDLEY/SWPIX.COM - Rugby League - Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge 2012 Launch - Leeds Rhinos v Manly Sea Eagles - Elland Road, Leeds, England - 22/11/11 - Leeds Head Coach Brian McDermott, Chief Executive Gary Hetherington and Captain Kevin Sinfield launch the Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge 2012 to be played at Headingley on February 17th, 2012.

PICTURE BY VAUGHN RIDLEY/SWPIX.COM - Rugby League - Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge 2012 Launch - Leeds Rhinos v Manly Sea Eagles - Elland Road, Leeds, England - 22/11/11 - Leeds Head Coach Brian McDermott, Chief Executive Gary Hetherington and Captain Kevin Sinfield launch the Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge 2012 to be played at Headingley on February 17th, 2012.

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THERE was supposed to be some clarity in the whole Super League restructuring process last night.

Yet, typically in true rugby league style, things are still as clear as a Moldgreen mudbath.

In theory there has been progress and there seems to have been a reconciliation of sorts between the warring powerhouses of the elite.

Ian Lenagan and co may not have voted in favour of the controversial “three and eight split” formula but now they have lost that crucial stand they will endeavour to make it as successful as possible.

And two teams will be relegated at the end of this season, reducing numbers from 14 to 12. That is confirmed.

Admittedly, a Super League statement said that as far back as last July but apparently, though clubs agreed to it then, there had been no actual vote take place.

However, there was in a boardroom in St Helens yesterday so at 5pm a press release declared “Super League to feature 12 teams from 2015”.

So, that is that sorted. Oh, hang on a minute… the same press release was dispatched again at 8.59pm but slightly modified: “Super League set to feature 12 teams from 2015.”

There was a greater emphasis in this one on the fact the changes have to be ratified by the RFL’s independent Board of Directors.

Surely, though, this proposal – put forward and strongly backed by the governing body – will not be vetoed by its highest power at this late juncture, especially after all the squabbling, unrest and infighting between Super League’s chairmen has finally been assuaged?

Probably not, but maybe that narrow 7-6 vote in favour of the proposal, and the obvious backlash from disapproving fans plus many players, coaches and directors who have expressed concerns, will see the decision mulled over in greater detail.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has consistently been a supporter of the proposals and last night was clearly pleased some decisions had been made.

“There was an acceptance there had to be an outcome today and also that the majority could and should carry it through,” said Hetherington last night.

“Obviously, it still needs rubber-stamping but it has the unanimous support from the Championship and Championship One clubs and the majority of Super League.

“We challenged the RFL, more than 18 months ago, to come up with a game-wide solution and I think they have delivered that.

“The Executive now has something to take to sponsors and it has already been pretty well-received by new sponsors that are coming on board, and the broadcasters too.”

Some critics argue there will not be enough money to enable the Championship clubs to get anywhere near the levels of competitiveness required to have any chance of elevating themselves into the elite.

However, it seems, when the pot is divided up after the relegation of two Super League teams this year, and with improved broadcasting revenue, that will not be as problematic as envisaged and there should be an increase in full-time Championship players.

“There will be critics of the system, but making more money is on everyone’s minds as there are plenty of clubs that have struggled financially,” added Hetherington.

“But what this format will bring is proving that every game counts.

“Every side will be striving to get in the top eight after 23 rounds, but the top four too as that has the advantage of more home games.

“In the middle tier there will be another seven rounds of pretty intensive football for those who don’t make the eight and face the Championship’s top clubs.

“That will be a new spectacle for fans and should bring a lot of interest.

“Clubs will be aiming to make sure they don’t end up in those potential relegation spots or playing out for mid-table mediocrity.

“It was absolutely essential to get things moving as it would have been a huge problem for the game if, with the new season starting in just three weeks’ time, this wasn’t sorted.

“We can now look forward to focusing on what happens on the pitch in what I think will be the most competitive Super League season yet.

“All the top eight sides have improved their squads and, of course, we have Salford City Reds who with their investment will be challenging for the League Leaders’ Shield.

“Other clubs outside of the eight will be better; Wakefield and Castleford, while Widnes likewise and Bradford Bulls look stronger too.

“Clearly it is London Broncos who have most ground to make up.”

Traditionally, Castleford have been a side that have encountered relegation and, so, could be worried about its return.

But their chief executive Steve Gill has embraced the change.

“The whole game will be better for this,” he insists.

“There may be concerns from some but, once it starts, I don’t think it will ever change back.

“It won’t be like licensing; this will last and it will create more competition throughout.

“I think Sky will be really excited, too, about seeing some games between the lower sides that really mean something.

“The Championship clubs have every reason to be excited, particularly clubs like Sheffield Eagles and Featherstone Rovers, who have competed impressively against Super League clubs in Challenge Cup ties in recent months.

“There might be doubts now but in five or six years’ time people will realise this is a brilliant decision.”

Hopefully, his confidence is well placed but, worryingly, even people from the clubs themselves seem unsure about the finer details.

Some believe the top four of the middle eight will be secured in Super League but others think it will be the top three before fourth plays fifth in a play-off for the final spot.

There is also one notion that the top four – once confirmed – will have two semi-finalss and a Grand Final of their own for a piece of silverware.

Only time will tell. Hopefully, anyway.

In the meantime, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats full-back Richie Mathers took to Twitter last night to open up a whole raft of questions about the way the game as a whole is being run.

He is probably speaking on behalf of a lot of professionals, especially those whose livelihoods are at stake with two clubs being cut from Super League.

Concerns about the lack of commercial drive from the RFL will not go away either and the rebel clubs – while agreeing reluctantly to yesterday’s decision – may not be as understanding when it comes to that.

As they continue to seek more control of Super League affairs, it would be no surprise if RFL chief executive Nigel Wood comes under further pressure from those individuals.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk

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