After 125 years rugby league must do more than simply survive - Dave Craven

IT is hard to pin down in any semblance of order the most significant rugby league achievements of the last 125 years.

BIRTHPLACE: The George Hotel, Huddersfield was the location for the great rugby split in 1895. Picture: Simon Wilkinson/

Clearly, the most important was the one that led to the sport actually originating, that famous meeting at Huddersfield’s George Hotel on this very day in 1895.

But, thereafter, and apologies for all those that I have left out, you could number Dally Messenger and the All Golds tour of 1907-08 – the same season Hunslet became the first club to win ‘all four Cups’ – or the Challenge Cup moving to Wembley in 1929.

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What about the first World Cup being staged in 1954 or Clive Sullivan becoming the first black captain for Great Britain in any sport? The image of the legendary winger lifting the 1972 World Cup remains iconic.

For fans Down Under, the advent of State of Origin in 1980 will surely be one of the most crucial. Although it would be interesting to know if that curries more favour than the great Kangaroos sides – take your pick between the Invincibles of 1982 or ‘86 – that country has produced. The switch to summer rugby and Super League in 1996, obviously, has to be in there, too, and no list can go without mentioning that brilliant Wigan side of the late 1980s that went on to dominate for so long.

Yet, as we reflect on another milestone birthday for rugby league, so often the conversation reverts back to how well it has done to survive the last century.

That is a given; there have been myriad obstacles in its path and, at times, it has shown remarkable resilience to carry on, demonstrating the strength and character that underpins all that have played the game.

However, rugby league needs to do more than just survive.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: The George Hotel, Huddersfield. Picture: Simon Wilkinson/

If it carries on at the current rate, for all the immense good it brings to people and communities across the land, the luck may eventually run out and it could finally perish.

That is not just because of the financial perils brought on by coronavirus. Before the pandemic made its unsavoury mark, the sport already faced a long-standing battle to attract new viewers and participants.

Given the growing array of broadcasting and social platforms to occupy young people’s minds and struggle to get them active, allied to the behemoth that is football, that will only intensify.

Which makes it all the more important that the decisions taken now are the right ones.

Few could have imagined in 1895 that Toronto Wolfpack would one day be at the same table as those founder clubs, seven of which will step out this weekend – Leeds, Warrington, Wigan, Hull, Huddersfield, Wakefield and St Helens.

Yet they are. And it will be down to many of those same clubs to decide whether the Canadian franchise now stays.

It is believed the new prospective owners of the troubled Wolfpack will honour the contracts of those players affected by the shenanigans that saw them crumble so spectacularly last month.

If there is concrete evidence of that, and the new owners can provide certain securities, can rugby league afford not to give them another chance in 2021?

The sport needs to grow elsewhere. Centenary celebrations were a damp squib in 1995 with the game in such a state of flux. Covid ruined the 125th. Hopefully the sport gets a fitting 150th birthday – including celebrations across the Pond, too.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson