Bad timing for licence decision

Well you have to give the RFL credit for one thing with the Super League licence system – it’s a massive talking point. Stadiums, crowds, revenue, geographical expansion are all considerations for the previous and next round of licensing and during spring 2011 we will find out where the RFL is placing it’s emphasis for the 2012-14 licences.

That’s Spring 2011, a couple of months into the 2011 season one Super League team will know they’ve effectively been relegated and one Co-Operative Championship team will be looking forward to a period in the top flight.

The timing of the announcement is designed to give the promoted team time to put together a competitive team for the 2012 season. The general belief is that a winter break isn’t enough time to put together a team that can step up from the Championship and have a fair chance of mixing it with the established Super League teams, although on this years Super League performance so far I’m sure Brian Noble and the Crusaders might give a few pointers.

But where does that leave the 2011 season, both for Super League and the Championship?

Will a Super League club who have been condemned to their final season in the top flight manage to maintain crowds? Will everyone rally for a final hurrah for their last shot at anything in the top flight for at least two years or will occasional fans drift off without the promise of Super League competition in the clubs future?

Will the club also be able to retain players and keep them interested? Players want to play at highest level they can so will the announcement have players running for the exits or will they be playing out of their skin to put themselves in the shop window for 2012.

Will there be an advantage playing a team at the start of the season as they attempt to back up their application with on the pitch performances as opposed to a deflated post announcement team facing up to relegation? Every point matters and if you have to travel to a team towards the end of the season with falling crowds and disinterested players it’s certainly going to be a different proposition than your rivals may have faced earlier in the season. Consider a Salford or Wakefield team playing out of their skins at the start of the season to show they’re worthy of a Super League place only to them be told they’re out. Surely that removes some interest and deflates some of the clubs spirit – despite the inevitable press announcements and rallying that they will bow out strongly.

And the championship? Without any sort of transfer window the promoted team can bring in players for the following season to help gel them and prepare their team allowing them access to players who would not otherwise consider the championship as a relevant playing field, surely providing them with a better platform to take the honours before making the step up. Also the teams that were hunting licenses and were unsuccessful, can they keep players or will they choose to head for a squad place in a Super League team? After all Widnes, Halifax, Leigh, Barrow and Toulouse will all surely be eyeing that spot depending on who manages to gain honours this.

By taking relegation and promotion away from simple on the pitch merit there is the potential for a big impact on that very on the pitch performance. But will it seriously affect teams with nothing to compete for, will fans start to lose interest without the promise of Super League?

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