Dave Craven: Era of stability is what game needs ... not more wholesale changes

Salford's Gareth O'Brien celebrates scoring the golden point to win the game and avoid relegation at the expense of Hull KR last year. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
Salford's Gareth O'Brien celebrates scoring the golden point to win the game and avoid relegation at the expense of Hull KR last year. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
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The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the word ‘era’ as ‘a long and distinct period of history.’

On this basis, I am struggling to comprehend how the RFL ever dared suggest rugby league was embarking on an ‘exciting new era’ when the sport’s format restructure was introduced in 2015.

Yes, 2015. That’s three years ago or two and a bit, to be more precise.

Yet apparently we’re already set for another change to the format. I wonder how bold and innovative the next one will be?

For all the introduction of the top two divisions’ convoluted “split into three eights” after a regular campaign caused much consternation at the time, that was always likely given the sheer bizarre nature of it all.

However, it was the way the governing body wanted to move forward and, eventually, it was voted in by the clubs, too.

Rugby league will simply be left as a laughing stock once more if the current format is ripped up and started again.

Dave Craven

Now, plenty of the naysayers accepted that but, equally so, were keen for the concept to be given time to take root, breathe and grow.

That is with good reason; look away for too long, make a cup of tea perhaps, and rugby league, in this country, has changed its mind on something else yet again.

Having spent so long spreading the word about how great this idea was – “the most exciting era in the history of rugby league since the sport switched to summer in 1996” according to one press release at the time – and trying to win the hearts and minds of players, clubs and supporters, surely there has to be some long-term commitment to it all?

Indeed, I am sure, at some point in all the briefings and PR shows, someone from the RFL hierarchy actually uttered some words that said the new format would be given at least five years to bed itself in.

Sadly, I cannot find that reference anywhere. In all honesty, my ears probably were deceiving me; it seems implausible anything of such magnitude would be left alone for so long.

Apparently, the noises are there could possibly be a return to one-up, one-down promotion and relegation in the next new era. And Super League could increase to a 13-team competition next season. Or maybe 14.

And Bradford Bulls won’t get relegated into League 1 as another new format will ride to their rescue just in time.

Championship clubs were told, when they met earlier this week, that any structural changes for their division and Super League in 2018 – yes 2018, not 2019 – need to be evaluated by the RFL board and that hasn’t been done yet.

Really? I wonder when it will be done. The day before the 2018 fixtures are announced in November perhaps?

It is incredulous to think that format changes could be in line for next season yet nothing is yet concrete. Playing devil’s advocate, what will happen with the Million Pound Game? Will two sides be put through that emotional wringer – players and staff in fear of losing their jobs if relegated – only to be told maybe a week after the event that it doesn’t matter as the concept has now been made redundant?

It is hard – or perhaps foolish – to second guess anybody at the moment. But rugby league will simply be left as a laughing stock once more if the current format is ripped up and started again.

Of course there are problems with the system as it is but it needs tinkering with more than any wholesale radical change.

The sport has seen too many of the latter. Let’s have an era, and by its true definition, of some much-needed stability.