Bad Press For National League?

Eye On Rugby League by Tony Williams

The reaction to the weekend's Powergen Challenge Cup semi finals which saw Hull Kingston Rovers suffer a 50-0 drubbing at the hands of St Helens is that the game proved LHF National League clubs cannot hope to compete with their engage Super League counterparts, some people even hinting that it isn't worth promoting the NL1 champions at the end of the season. 

And why would we want to promote them? We have a perfectly competitive Super League at the present time from which no club deserves to be relegated, and the NL1 champions would surely struggle and go straight back down. Just look at Leigh Centurions last year.

Well, in my view the people who make that argument are conveniently ignoring the fact that the current favourites to lift the NL1 title have already beaten Super League opposition in the shape of Warrington Wolves. But, hey, let's just write them off as not good enough. It's not as though any Super League side has ever been blitzed by St Helens.

Yes, I agree – the argument for abandoning promotion is on very shaky ground.

But the most glaring omission from the argument is what happened the day after when Huddersfield Giants booked their place in the cup final with a 30-12 win over Leeds Rhinos. Yes, the Giants are a Super League side, but they weren't always.

Huddersfield were once the whipping boys of Super League, scraping along finishing bottom every year. Nothing they could do could get them off the foot of the table and, when promotion and relegation was re-introduced in 2002, they went down.

When the Giants came back up they were a new, competitive club. And they have got consistently better every year since, culminating in this year's fantastic achievement. I'm sure that relegation came as a bitter blow for Huddersfield's supporters, but if it hadn't happened then neither would this – they would still be languishing at the bottom of the table year after year with nothing to fight or hope for.

And it's worth mentioning at this point that the team which replaced Huddersfield, Widnes Vikings, were unlucky to miss out on the race for Old Trafford, finishing seventh in their first season. Wakefield, Salford and Hull are other teams that have come from the lower leagues to establish themselves in the top flight. That is something that is also overlooked far too often.

The system of promoting teams on merit works. Huddersfield have proved that much. Let's not undertake moves to kill off the grassroots of our sport or the game will die, sooner rather than later.

The Leigh Question

But the argument that Leigh failed to establish themselves in Super League is a valid one. It's the one example you can guarantee is trotted out to show that promotion is a waste of time. But why did the Centurions fail where others have succeeded?

Well, in my view it is no failing on Leigh's part. The reason is that when the Leythers won the NL1 Grand Final, mid-October, there was no time to assemble a team capable of competing on the pitch. Contrast that to when Widnes won the old NFP Grand Final, mid-July, then you begin to see why they shot up to seventh.

The timing of the NL1 Grand Final means that the champions are up against it from the word go. But there is a solution.

If the National League season was moved back so it started in February then the Grand Final would once again be in mid-July. That would mean that whoever wins it has the chance to build a team in time. This could easily be done if the National League and Northern Rail Cup campaigns were swapped around.

That's all it would take to give promoted teams a fair chance. It could only be good for both National League and Super League.

Leeds Put Grassroots First

If ever a team deserved the congratulations of the rugby league community it's Leeds Rhinos. The Rhinos have shown that they are willing to help out the grassroots development of our game and that is something that the club can rightly feel very proud of.

A few weeks ago Leeds announced a link-up with the fledgling Jamaican Rugby League which should allow the game to grow steadily in the West Indies and should prove valuable with hundreds of children in Kingston taking an interest and World Cup qualifiers in a few months.

This week the Rhinos announced a similar link-up in France with the city of Bordeaux. They are hoping to re-establish the Bordeaux club by sending their community coaching team to the region and creating a scholarship which would allow the leading player at Bordeaux to develop his game at Leeds Rhinos.

So congratulations to Leeds, and let's hope that more clubs take up their example.   

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