THE IRONY of the ‘new beginnings’ hashtag was plain for all to see at yesterday’s Betfred Super League launch.
It is the mantra of chief executive Robert Elstone as he looks to breathe new life into the competition and the early signs have been positive.
Yet he woke yesterday to national newspaper headlines that Castleford Tigers players had reportedly been involved in a drunken bust-up with each other during last week’s warm-weather training camp in Lanzarote.
Some would say rather than new beginnings it is the same old story; rugby league has too often attracted a higher profile on the back of such negativity.
Similarly, others would argue team-mates have flared up with each other as long as the sport – all sports, in fact – has been played; it is a by-product of all that requisite competitiveness.
Still, as much as one of Elstone’s tasks is to increase interest in the code this was not how he envisaged doing so and it was hardly the ideal backdrop to the campaign’s official opening at Old Trafford.
Indeed, it was the last thing the former Everton CEO needed. Ditto Castleford head coach Daryl Powell.
However, Brian Carney brilliantly lightened the mood.
With Powell joined on stage by Leeds Rhinos’ chief Dave Furner and Wigan Warriors counterpart Adrian Lam – it is not just stellar overseas players Super League has attracted for 2019 – the Sky Sports presenter eased into conversation with the Yorkshireman by asking: “Been away anywhere?”
Ripples of nervous laughter carried through the room. Would Powell implode?
There was silence, a wry smile, not a grin as such, but enough to realise the elephant in the room had been acknowledged at least.
For the record, there was nothing on the record from an upbeat Powell, or Castleford for that matter. He is experienced enough to deal with it. Indeed, the last time there was a publicised spat between some of his players just two years later Tigers finished top for the first time in their 91-year-history.
Do not be surprised if they are competing again for Old Trafford in eight months.
This said, predicting who will finish where is proving difficult.
Just a cursory glance around the room at the Theatre of Dreams yesterday reminded everyone of just how many different showstoppers are ready to shine.
High-class NRL recruits Blake Austin, Trent Merrin and Akuila Uate; Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson; star England prospect Tom Johnstone; a fit-again Kallum Watkins; Super League legends Danny McGuire, Sam Tomkins, Sean O’Loughlin and James Roby.
Moreover, they are all spread around the dozen clubs.
It is no wonder IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington and England football legend Stuart Pearce – no strangers to physical battles – were there to enthuse about it all.
With a classy video extolling Super League’s players and their quality it proved a polished event that augurs well for hopes of giving the competition a lift.
And the sight of Ellery Hanley – unveiled as chair of a new Steve Prescott Man of Steel panel – was a reminder of just what everyone can aspire to, new or old.