The current situation at Bradford should act as a catalyst for changes in rugby league, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.
Fortunately, in a way, news of the Bulls’ financial plight has distracted from the disappointing on-field product which appears to be having every ounce of passion filtered from it.
With the number of meaningless games increasing, the top teams have now even turned to virtually throwing games to ensure their players are fresh for the crucial end of season run-in, no doubt inspired by Leeds’ run to Super League glory from fifth place last season, despite a dismal 2011 prior to that.
Taking nothing away from Salford, Warrington fielded an under-strength outfit in their recent defeat at the City of Salford Stadium, but they knew they could get away with it, given that closest rivals Wigan had done it a few months previous in an away defeat at Widnes.
Of course, Tony Smith’s decision to do that was justified slightly by the fact Wigan also lost on the same night, but spare a thought for the fans who travelled to see their team.
While viewing figures on SKY Sports may be on the up, people are being turned off by the on-field product, and crowds, especially away support, seem to be on a downward spiral.
Even supporters of top teams are getting turned off by the one-sided nature of a number of their games – I spoke to a couple of Warrington “fans” prior to the season and they said they had decided just to pick and choose their games this season rather than by a season ticket, because they were sick of “non-events” against teams from the lower part of the league.
If the passion is being seeped from Super League, imagine what’s happening in the Championship. The passionate few at the likes of Featherstone face an uneviable box-ticking exercise that in itself requires funding, something that is difficult to come across under the glass ceiling of the top end of that league.
Widnes made it through courtesy of a multi-million pound owner, but even Steve O’Connor has had to plug a £400,000 shortfall in the Vikings’ finances in their first season back in Super League, and it’s hard to imagine the likes of Featherstone, Halifax and Leigh could afford such luxury as that. That’s not even taking in to consideration the funds O’Connor will have pumped in to make the Vikings the obvious choice for a licence last March.
Rugby league is built on the passion and enthusiasm of its fans and family – after all, it’s been a battle at times in many quarters to gain respect, and even today, national exposure remains inconsistent.
But even the die-hards are running out of patience, and going to games feels more like habit to some these days.
If the die-hards can’t be turned on, then what hope of increasing the rugby league family?
We wait to see what happens with Bradford, but booting them out of Super League will solve no problems. While it might be the right thing to do for the integrity of the competition, it does little to solve the long term issues that we seem to be heading in to.
What can be done to stop it from happening again? And what can be done to re-ignite the sport of rugby league and help build some domestic momentum ahead of next year’s World Cup?
Here’s hoping there’s a day soon where the rugby league on the pitch can do the talking.