Dave Craven: Time for Super League to deliver after historic vote in Salford

THERE was a collective sigh of relief for many rugby league folk yesterday when the reality struck home that everyone can finally start concentrating on the sport once more.

Robert Elstone.
Robert Elstone.

Obviously, things are never normally that simple but, on the back of events at the extraordinary general meeting held at a hotel in Salford, there is at least hope the game can now move forward purposefully and positively.

Many expected the vote to be much closer when it came to the RFL/Super League proposals under consideration.

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However, a majority of around 68 per cent of members – across Super League, Championship and League 1 – voted to scrap the Super 8s system and return to a one-up, one-down form of promotion and relegation in 2019.

Part of the proposal was also centred on how broadcast monies would be distributed from 2022 onwards, a real cause for concern initially for lower-tier clubs, but those fears seem to be now partly assuaged.

Thankfully, looking at the early signs, it seems there is a genuine resolve from all parties involved to now accept the democratic vote and work together for the betterment of the sport.

Amen to that. The public spatting between rival factions over recent months has been pathetic, often utterly unnecessary and has only served to make the game look like a complete farce.

Rugby league is simply not strong enough to be able to withstand such self-harm.

Obviously, it was hoped that marker had been laid four years ago when a new structure was last formed. However, in essence, the Super 8s and the Qualifiers was a classic example of rugby league trying to be too clever for its own good; in its constant bid to be “innovative” it just tied itself up in knots with a convoluted process that was doomed to fail.

When you realised you couldn’t explain it in a Tweet, you sensed it may not last.

Then RFL chief executive Nigel Wood boldly insisted “the changes will ensure that every minute of every match in every competition matters” but those words should never have been uttered.

Clearly, not every minute of every match did matter. Far from it. Granted, the Qualifiers have created intrigue and tension – it’s all anyone is talking about currently – but at the other end of the competition it is a different story.

Now, though, is the time for Super League and its clubs to make their mark.

They decided to pull away from the RFL at the end of last year in order to try and invigorate their competition and you could understand why after years of muddled thinking, failed marketing and poor leadership.

With all the bickering over, they now have the opportunity to put their own plans into place.

It is imperative they do. A new broadcast deal is required for 2022 and Super League must somehow make itself alluring again. The sheen has been lost for some time. In Robert Elstone, they appointed a highly-respected, experienced and talented chief executive to help them advance and promote the game to the heights they feel it deserves.

He has, principally, been fighting fires ever since taking the helm earlier this year, hamstrung by all the aforementioned infighting as the sport imploded.

Now, however, Elstone is free to bring Super League that dynamism and commercial success he promised while, importantly, also help improve participation levels.

If he does, the whole sport will eventually benefit.

Super League has its wish. Now they must deliver.