THERE has been much excited discourse about the quality of signings in Betfred Super League for 2020 but the reality of it all did not really hit home until yesterday’s season’s launch.
I’m really pleased, they showed a progressive, pragmatic approach to this. Sonny is an amazing individual who has seen the eyes of the world turn onto Super League.Super League chief executive Robert Elstone
The sight of George Burgess and Gareth Widdop – England internationals in their prime and returned from the NRL – sharing the stage with Leeds Rhinos’ new recruit Luke Gale was impressive enough as a reminder.
However, the competition has so much more to offer up as it made clear steps in delivering on its promise of finding a new, sleek, rebranded look to appeal to younger viewers.
Huddersfield Giants’ Aidan Sezer – who starred in the NRL Grand Final with Canberra Raiders just a few months ago – spoke well amid the glare at Emerald Headingley and then, of course, there was the main act.
It would have been too obvious to bring Sonny Bill Williams up on his own to steal the limelight.
Chapeau, then, to whoever’s decision it was to pair Toronto Wolfpack’s superstar with James Maloney – Catalans Dragons’ State of Origin recruit from Penrith Panthers – for an entertaining segment to round things off.
Former team-mates in the Sydney Roosters 2013 title-winning team (Hull KR’s main signing Shaun Kenny-Dowall was a third such member but able to stay off camera such was the plethora of stars) and prompted by the excellent Brian Carney, they delivered an engaging look ahead at what is to come in the months ahead.
Before then – next week, in fact – a new four-part Super League documentary We Play League will arrive on Amazon Prime.
Produced by the award-winning film company The City Talking, whose Lee Hicken delivered so brilliantly on the Leeds Rhinos film As Good As It Gets, it promises an insight never before seen in Super League.
Moreover, it will be coupled with a new weekly show called Inside Super League – also produced by Hicken and his talented team – starting on Sky Sports on Wednesday.
On stage with the effusive Hicken was Stu Watson, once involved in the Premier League’s rebrand but now working on this Super League metamorphosis.
He told Carney that “Super League has a brilliant story that had been poorly told.”
It seems all that is changing. As a season launch, it has not been bettered and it seems they are obviously making strides towards reaching new audiences with some of these positive developments.
Obviously, the action on the field has to live up to all the hype and its success will only be rated months down the line.
But with established stars such as Man of Steel Jackson Hastings, David Fifita, the perpetual James Roby and returning Mahe Fonua floating around, it is hard to argue that all the ingredients are not there.
Inevitably, it would not be the start of a new season without some off-field drama.
Would, then, Williams – who converted to Islam in 2009 – be allowed to cover up the Super League sponsors’ logo due to his opposition to betting, a story that emerged earlier in the week?
But Super League chief executive Robert Elstone said a compromise has been agreed with Betfred, who have sponsored the competition since 2017 and signed a new, record contract taking them to the end of 2021.
He said: “I think the matter has been resolved in satisfactory fashion. I have say a big thank-you to Betfred for the way they’ve managed this. They have taken it on, considered it and come up with the right answer and one that works for all parties.
“I’m really pleased, they showed a progressive, pragmatic approach to this. Sonny is an amazing individual who has seen the eyes of the world turn onto Super League.
“I have a South African friend, a Muslim, who sent me a text about Sonny and said he’s got 100 of his friends talking about Super League that have never heard of it before. It’s a good example of what his signing can do.
“The first time I met him today, I said to him ‘I want you to do your talking on the pitch’ – and I hope he will. I’m sure he will.”
Elstone also spoke about Toronto’s request for salary cap relief for their first season in the top flight, admitting it is “crazy” the situation has still to be resolved with the RFL less than a week before kick-off.
Meanwhile, Betfred head of media Mark Pearson revaled the company has doubled its Sky man-of-the-match sponsorship.
Its usual £250 prize will be donated to the Rob Burrow Fund as the Rhinos legend fights motor neurone disease – and a further £250 will aid severely injured Hull KR star Mose Masoe.