RFL boss Ralph Rimmer senses opportunity for game to re-shape in order to thrive and survive

AS rugby league celebrates its 125th birthday, Ralph Rimmer says there needs to be “re-shaping” across the game to ensure it not only survives but learns how to thrive in years to come.

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer believes rugby league can prosper over the coming years, despite the problems it has encountered through Covid-19 in 2020. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It was on August 29, 1895 that representatives of 21 clubs met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, deciding to break away from the Rugby Football Union to form what would become a new code.

Since then, rugby league has forged its own rich history, becoming a way of life for so many and integral to so many communities. Granted, no one at the Rugby Football League could ever have imagined marking today’s milestone with talk of a fight to emerge from a global pandemic that has threatened so many of its clubs’ very survival.

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Still, with everything that has occurred in recent months, RFL chief executive Rimmer says it has sharpened the focus on how best to take the sport forward.

He says the £16m emergency loan issued by the Government at the end of April to help the sport recover from the pandemic is now “flowing out” with Super League clubs initially benefitting.

But asked if rugby league needs to re-shape, Rimmer said: “I think it does to some degree, yes.

“The Government loans came in with many degrees attached but a good review of how we might look in the future was a part of that.

“That applies to Super League, the RFL and the clubs as well. That £16m, as welcome as it was, still needs to be used very, very prudently indeed if we’re going to steer our ship to safe waters. That will only happen if we all have a good hard look at ourselves and think about what we want to look like in the future. Those discussions go on.”

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

It is 25 years since the formation of Super League and the advent of summer rugby league, one of the most significant changes in the sport’s entire history.

Rimmer said “it’s difficult to say” where he would like to see rugby league in another 25 years’ time but added “this would be the biggest summer sport in the UK, ideally.

“In order to do that it needs to develop the clubs it’s got and put further footholds in across the UK. We’ve done some pretty extraordinary things in this period; we’ve grown in many ways because we’ve been forced to look at things differently.”

Simply finishing the 2020 season is paramount after Rimmer conceded he does fear that will not happen, a number of fixtures having already been lost to positive Covid tests inside the first month of the sport resuming since lockdown in March.

Emerald Headingley Stadium.

“It will need some pragmatic thinking but we’re good at that,” he continued.

“We’ve produced some real agility on and off the field with the fixtures and formatting, we’ve demonstrated we can do that.

“I’m a member of the big five sports’ chief executive group and they’re in awe of the things we’re able to do. Nobody thought this wouldn’t be challenging but we’re better placed than any sport by way of the fact we’re resilient.”

Although rugby league was not named by the Government as one of the initial pilot events to help see partial crowds return to sporting venues from October 1, Rimmer has reported progress.

“Our real focus has been producing a round on the 30th of September as our pilot, which is 24 hours before it should be allowed,” he said.

“We’ve gone in hard, the Government have been receptive and to deliver a round before that would be a real win. Those discussions are ongoing and that’s our target.”

Another subject which remains ongoing is the future of Toronto Wolfpack who pulled out of Super League last month citing financial and visa issues relating to Covid, leaving it awkwardly as an 11-club competition.

Toronto CEO Bob Hunter says he has four prospective bidders and is confident of meeting Super League’s deadline of Tuesday to submit an application to rejoin the top-flight for 2021.

Rimmer said there “needs to be some scrutiny done on that” and the RFL and Super League are working closely together.

Personally, he would lean towards “softening” some of the terms placed on Toronto so far as he feels they have already proved themselves in many other areas.

Whether the Canadian club is mentioned 125 years from now – or even 25 – will arguably ascertain just what the next volume of this sport’s history will look like.

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Thank you, James Mitchinson. Editor.