Dave Craven: Super League enters third decade still seeking right formula

TUESDAY marks the 20th anniversary of Super League's maiden game.

Sheffield Eagles and Paris St Germain in the first year of Super League, 20 years ago.
Sheffield Eagles and Paris St Germain in the first year of Super League, 20 years ago.

Worryingly, it barely seems like 20 days ago, let alone two decades, since Sheffield Eagles took those opening bold steps by playing in Paris, of all places.

Paris St Germain’s shock 30-24 victory at Stade Charlety was just the sort of result the competition required in its embryonic days and the switch, after more than a century, from winter rugby to summer. What a pity Super League has been pretty formulaic ever since with just four different victors – Bradford Bulls, St Helens, Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos – in its lifetime so far.

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No one is still playing in the top-flight from that inaugural season. PSG as an entire club, of course, did not even last past 1997.

Of the Sheffield line-up that day, Mark Aston remains – but as the Eagles’ veteran coach – while stand-off Ryan Sheridan is a Castleford Tigers assistant coach and his then colleague Matt Crowther is a physio at Wheldon Road. Paul Broadbent, Andy Hay, Anthony Farrell and Keith Senior are other familiar names from that first XIII but, having dipped back into yesteryear, it all got me thinking, what do we want to see from the elite competition 20 years from now?

Undoubtedly Super League has achieved plenty of its original aims, raising playing standards, improving conditions for supporters, bringing greater competition and the like.

And, as much as I hate to write it, it has been wonderfully innovative at times, too.

But everyone knows it can improve and better itself.

For one, do we really need video officials anymore? One move which could aid the game is to simply forget about them.

They are only in attendance at televised games anyway and the rest of the sport’s fixtures seem to survive without.

It is a pet hate, the continuous, inane pouring over countless replays of decisions, slowing it down until we can barely even work out if it is a moving image, to try and decipher if someone has correctly grounded for a try.

Rugby league is supposed to be a high-octane sport but some of the hold-ups here mean, at times, it is reduced to something like watching dominoes in a working men’s club.

You almost feel like players will start re-doing their warm-
ups while everyone awaits a decision.

Come 2036 I’d love to be able to say ‘Remember those silly big TV things we used to stare at for minutes on end four times a game mid-match?’

Finding a way of ensuring players here are remunerated fairly is perhaps a more pressing matter.

It seems absurd that the salary cap has barely altered at all since its introduction in 1999; you could argue, players’ wages have been almost been frozen for the best part of 17 years.

Few industries would accept that and, if it doesn’t change, there could be a serious look at the Trade Descriptions Act in 2036 as I doubt there would be many super players remaining here to live up to the competition’s title.

Finally, though, Super League needs a new name on its trophy.

Admittedly, we might not have to wait 20 years for that to happen – Warrington Wolves will certainly be hoping to achieve it in the coming months.

But a variety of clubs, aside from that quartet already 
mentioned, consistently challenging has to be the ultimate goal.

It may not be possible but this is a wishlist, afterall.