ALTHOUGH they fell short in their bid to reach Betfred Super League, York City Knights are moving firmly in “the right direction” with their new stadium ready to open, believes the RFL’s Karen Moorhouse.
The governing body’s chief regulatory officer was part of the seven-strong panel that decided earlier this week which Championship club would be elevated to the elite tier in 2021 in place of Toronto Wolfpack.
Leigh Centurions eventually prospered seeing off competition from York, Bradford Bulls, Featherstone Rovers, Toulouse Olympique and London Broncos.
However, on a tour of York’s impressive new 8,500 capacity all-seater LNER Community Stadium – part of the unique York Stadium Leisure Complex which includes an NHS outpatient clinic and public library – Moorhouse underlined just how strong the City Knights’ application was.
“What was fantastic was the amount of support they got from the community right from politicians to local councils, businesses and the community in York,” said Moorhouse.
“It really showed there’s some real momentum behind the club.Whilst they weren’t successful in their bid to become the 12th Super League club I have no doubt that will spur them on and they will use that momentum to be really competitive in the Championship in 2021.
“And who knows what might happen in 2022?”
Asked where York needed to improve, she added: “It is just that momentum: they’ve grown so much the last couple of years but were League 1 only a couple of years ago and so, actually to be competitive on the field in Super League, they probably have a little more growth to go.
“But, with everything else, they are heading in the right direction and now with this stadium opening hopefully that will mean attendances and commercial will continue to grow. It is an amazing set-up; it will be a fantastic asset to the Championship, to the sport – which is why we’re using it for so many matches at the 2021 World Cup – and I think the club have made such great strides in these last couple of years. “
The decision to select Leigh has drawn some criticism, especially for the fact it does little in terms of expansion and could be seen as a backward step compared to Toronto taking the sport into new markets.
“Our decision was not related to Toronto – that was a decision already made by the Super League Board,” contended Moorhouse, the RFL having actually supported Wolfpack’s unsuccessful bid to return in 2021 after financial reasons saw them fail to complete this year.
“In essence, looking at the criteria and bearing in mind Super League starts in less than three months’ time, we needed a club that could add to that competition, be competitive on the field and help us to continue to grow Super League as well.”
Leigh’s playing strength – they are already a full-time operation with plenty of former Super League players in their ranks – was essentially a major positive.
This recent bid process, which was hailed by the six clubs involved, has left many wondering if Super League might return to a licencing process.
But Moorhouse said: “I think it is so instilled in the British psyche that you should get promotion or relegation on how you perform on the field rather than it being a bunch of people in suits.
“And I think that’s right. That’s why we turn up to watch sport isn’t it: to see that drama and know that results are meaningful and they are what counts?
“I can’t see us moving back to formal licencing.”
Meanwhile, the leisure centre opens for business on Monday with York City FC expected to play the first game at the stadium next month and the Knights ready to kick-off when the Championship gets underway which is likely to be around Easter.
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