New Castleford Tigers boss Danny Ward has spoken of his distaste towards a system which involves promotion and relegation ahead of his side’s Super League basement battle with Wakefield Trinity tonight.
The Tigers head to Belle Vue locked on the same number of competition points as their opponents, with Trinity occupying the bottom spot at the moment on points difference alone.
With only five games remaining in 2023 for both sides after this evening’s meeting, the stakes could barely be higher, with the most likely outcome that the loser will be playing Championship rugby league next season.
IMG have already announced that this year will be the last – at least for now – with promotion and relegation. From 2024 onwards, entry to Super League’s ‘golden gates’ will become harder to obtain, and will depend on a wider range of factors determining a grading.
Danny Ward: Relegation ‘has financial implications’ on all involved
43-year-old Ward is no stranger to relegation from the top tier, experiencing it once as a player and once as a head coach already. Both occasions, coincidentally, saw Wakefield avoid the drop at his expense on the final day of the season.
The Tigers chief was relegated as a player with the club back in 2006 following the ‘Battle of Belle Vue’ which saw the hosts save their own skin. Meanwhile, 2019 saw relegation for Ward’s London Broncos side from Super League, pipped to the post at Belle Vue on the last day, going down on points difference as a result.
Looking to avoid a hat-trick of relegations this time around, he said: “I’m not a fan of promotion and relegation, I’ll be honest.
“Being relegated twice, I’m obviously bound to say that, but being involved with London that year, I saw what it could’ve done for them as a team and for the game itself if there hadn’t been promotion and relegation.
“I know that they could’ve built from there, and got a squad together to build for the future. But, I get it’s an entertainment business as well and games like this one sell tickets.
“Going down to the last games of the season fighting for promotion and relegation, I understand that aspect of it as well. When you’re sat at the top watching everybody else get relegated, it’s great, but when you’re in the mix of it, it’s not great.
“You’re talking about it from a financial point of view and there’s implications on clubs, players and contracts. I’m personally not massive on it, but I understand why it’s there, and the drama that comes with it as well.”
Tigers chief on relegation being a hinderance to expansion
A one-time Great Britain international, Dewsbury-born Ward started his playing career in the senior game with Leeds Rhinos back in 1999.
As well as brief stints at Cas and Hull KR, the then-prop would go on to spend four years with London between 2008 and 2011 when they were under the guise of ‘Harlequins RL’.
Ward would return to the Broncos as head coach in 2018, guiding them to promotion at the first time of asking against the odds. And he firmly believes that had they avoided the drop the following year, things could have been a lot different than they are now for the game in the capital.
The Tigers chief added: “I’m big on not focusing on ‘what ifs’, but you can’t help but wonder if things would have been different had we won that game. It’s not so much for my career but from a London rugby and a Super League point of view.
“I think if London had stayed in it that year, then the year after, COVID happened so no teams got relegated, and then you’re talking two or three years later potentially about Super League still having a London team.
“I think that would have been fantastic for the situation the game is in now, but I don’t look at it from a personal point of view and think where I’d have been or anything like that. For me, the game needed that then and it still does now.”
Ward desperate to keep Castleford in Super League
Having been at the helm of the Jungle outfit for nine days now, Ward is well prepared for the baptism of fire heading his way at Belle Vue tonight.
He remained with London for a further two years following their relegation, vowing that they would come back stronger in the aftermath of their relegation. That though has not been the case.
The 2020 Championship season ended prematurely due to COVID and London were one of the teams to be overlooked in the race to become Super League’s ’12th club’ for 2021, a race which Leigh ultimately won.
Instead, 2021 saw the Broncos finish just outside the play-off spots in the second tier with Ward departing soon after the season ended. They sunk to 11th last year, and this year may well again fail to finish in the top six.
Now in charge of the Tigers, Ward is doing everything he can to avoid a situation similar to London’s occurring oncemore. He affirmed: “You’re always going to look back and reflect on what went well, and what went wrong, in your previous work. That’s as a player as well, I played in teams that were successful but then teams also where they haven’t been so successful.
“You take those experiences, you’re always picking at bits, and hopefully the little bits I learned there at London in 2019 help me so it doesn’t happen again here.”