COLUMN: Pardon me for my worries over New York

Rugby league, as ever it seems, has an uncertain future – good or bad.

It’s either going to become the greatest American import ever, or continue scrapping around for answers to questions that perhaps don’t even need answering.

The latest stop on the journey to spreading rugby league to the masses, and the apparent media coverage and commercial revenue it alleges to bring, takes us to New York and a second transatlantic franchise to follow that of the successful Toronto Wolfpack.

Before I get accused of being a flat capper or a small northern monkey, I’d like nothing more than Toronto and New York to be roaring successes.

Hell, perhaps then, we’ll get some decent advertising revenue through the site.

But it just doesn’t sit right for me in the way the sport is going about it.

The RFL seems to have an attitude of waving through the requests of anyone with money.

While they should be applauded for their willingness to support the growth of the game – particularly in comparison to the cash rich NRL – there just doesn’t seem to be a plan right now.

How can throwing in potentially behemoth franchises in to a part time league be feasible and what damage does it do to those left behind.

The solution to this issue may become clearer as we head towards the 2018 season and the promised clarity regarding the structure from 2019.

But I’m not convinced.

What damage is this complete uncertainty doing to teams who can’t compete at the top currently, for whatever reason. Say a London Broncos, who have now lost perhaps the best thing that’s happened to them in the past decade in coach Andrew Henderson, no doubt frustrated at the lack of planning the current uncertainty over the sport affords him.

He will feel fairly safe at Warrington, who will no doubt be positioned towards the top echelons of the game even if two, three or even four North American teams spring up.

There seems to be an air of confidence about those involved that the expansion will be a success. That’s great.

But some 22 years on from when Super League perhaps should have adopted a franchise set up, it is now faced with the dilemma as to whether to do it properly now.

And not in the same half arsed manner it did between 2009 and 2015 when all it ultimately achieved was excluding Championship teams from gaining promotion legitimately.

I’ve mentioned a World League in previous columns and perhaps that’s the way to go.

But what must happen is those who just want to play rugby, are allowed to get on with it in proper competitions.

Why should the whole British rugby league system be compromised for expansion when it really doesn’t have to be?

It is the clubs within this system that are expected to provide the players for the North American teams – understandably of course, as it will take time for them to produce their own players and that shouldn’t be a criticism levied at them for a long time.

The problem is that the player pool is diminishing, as seen by the slow nature of the market this winter.

The more players that go for the American dream, the slower it will become.

Sensible clubs are already becoming wise to the increased wage demands of especially Australian players, who know that some will be desperate to add bodies to their squad.

I fail to see how any transatlantic club can manage to have a sustainable business plan, but far better people than me will know how to make that work.

The long term will perhaps to have an American based league, who knows.

But in the meantime, while the experiment goes on, the RFL must ensure minimal damage is done to those already in existence. Growing the game shouldn’t come at the detriment or cost to those around already.

I will always be an advocate of promotion and relegation but in light of the American dream, perhaps Super League (or a new league) should be allowed to cut itself free and run as a franchise league (with potential to expand its number as and when applicants come along).

That would leave a British rugby league system that can crown a champion in what way it sees fit, with promotion and relegation between its two or three leagues.

We should be debating how a Scottish or Irish team can be developed and allowed to build from the bottom in a sustainable manner, for instance.

We should be looking at how teams like Gloucester and Newcastle can be nurtured to grow and develop, potentially to the extent that they outgrow the new system and become a franchise themselves.

Whatever happens, the politics of rugby league is never dull; and continues to take away from the on field product that we all believe should command more attention than it does.

Over to you, world.


  1. James, of course it’s right to look at the issue.
    This is a really well balanced piece and that means it’s the hens teeth of RL journalism.Having misgivings is only natural and to qualify to be a flat capper you’d have to work much harder at the panic and alarm and the intensity of of your scaremongering ….. frankly you’re just not trying!

    However, expecting the RFL to have a plan to with what happens is a bit like thinking you’ll win the lotto every week.

    Yes we should look at areas within the UK but the truth is there are things at work in this country that mean they are more likely to fail than clubs with bags of cash where they’re unencumbered what makes it so difficult to succeed here. And there is little doubt that names like Toronto and New York may have an effect here that we’ve been looking for for over a century.

    And if it doesn’t we can just carry on being deluded about the best of all possible sports.

  2. Just because you don’t know the plan doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

    And 75% of the other teams in League 1 posted their biggest home attendance against the Wolfpack.

    Providing there is still a route to the top and it is NOT cut off, the dream will stay alive for these clubs and their fans.

    And attracting more exposure for the level at which they participate can only do good.

    The biggest deficit smaller teams and leagues have is the way they are viewed from within the game.

    Only the other day Chris Irvine said how amusing he found it that they try to create around a signing or two.

    And now in the same condescending tone you say that we need to look after them, and give them their own seperate competition to ensure they are not at risk of exposure, or the illusion that they might be elevated by going toe to toe with so-called more attractive cities and brands.

    I say screw all this, these clubs are as valuable to the whole structure and fabric of the game as any other, and if people would give them that respect maybe they and their level would be taken seriously.

    If they’re so important, let them compete and find their place, instead of stifling them. It doesn’t matter whether they are in league 1 now or league 3 in the future because of added teams pushing them down, they have to have a pathway.

    And no we won’t run out of players, if there’s more opportunity, higher pay available, it will attract more players. And with holes left from those making a better living than currently they will be an opportunity for other players who might not have gotten a semi pro deal.

    So no, I don’t agree

    • “Just because you don’t know the plan doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

      Well the rest of your post is spot on and I don’t agree but i think discussing anyone’s misgivings is reasonable and logical.

      But if we don’t know of a plan and have to surmise there is one, or guess there might be one, or hope to God they have one then there might as well not be one.

      This is the RFL we’re talking about not MI5, Red Hall not Thames House or Box 500!

  3. Whether there is a plan or not is a moot point. RL is no longer a sellable commodity. The fact is RL fans in both hemispheres are starting to become increasingly despondent with the game and switching off. Rugby League is no longer a dynamic contact sport. It has become a whistle fest joke. Scared to death of it’s own shadow. Player welfare is king. Penalty after penalty. Even some basic tackle techniques that every school kid was taught growing up is now a penalty. The whole point of RL was its physicality and toughness. That was why RL fans loved it. Seeing players bash each other for 80 minutes. Big hits, some biff and plenty of passion interspersed with skill and speed. That is no longer evident or allowed to happen in the modern game. It has become football. Athletes running around. It is no coincidence that American fans are turning against the NFL due to its own constant sanitization of the sport. So why would they watch a game they do not understand with even less contact?

    Consider this, there are still plenty of fights in ice hockey. The fans go wild when it happens. The players themselves accept it as part of the game and there are very few bad injuries resulting from a fight. UFC is probably the fasted growing sport. It is the epitome of combat. For a continuous 5 minutes there are constant blows to the face and head, body slams and grappling. Yet there are very few serious career ending injuries. Compare that to RL where a player is now sent off for slapping …!!!!! The players are now that scared to death of throwing a punch they resort to slapping. It is embarrassing. Liam Watts was sent off recently because an opposing player ran into HIM..! Try selling that to an American audience.

    I am obviously not condoning violence for violence sake. I am pointing out that the RL I knew and loved is gone and has been replaced by a poor imitation. The greatest game in the world no longer exists. And it is without doubt the fault of the people that run it. Completely unfit for purpose. You can see players getting increasingly frustrated and themselves despondent with decisions on the field affecting not only they outcome of a game but their livelihoods.

    Sean Edwards, Adrian Morley, Sean Long, Paul Deacon, Sam Burgess to name but a few who sustained terrible facial injuries during a match both accidentally and intentionally. Yet they all had the toughness, guts and sheer temerity to carry on playing even finishing the match on the field. That is why every RL fan was a RL fan first and local team fan second. We all applauded the players of both teams who served up the incredible spectacle of seeing them smash each other to the ground only to laugh and let the guy know he’ll be getting one back! And the referee knew it was all part of the game. He would let punches fly, he would calm the players down and then bollock them and tell them to start playing rugby. Everybody was happy. Now in the same situation we witness players constantly trying to make eye contact with the referee and call for a penalty. Sam Tomkins the perfect example.

    So, regardless of locations in the world, dynamics of a league, franchises and so on. Sadly, there is nothing to sell here. The Emperors new clothes as it were.

  4. The RL.have slavishly followed the aussies failed ways.but kept them.about time they used other styles that suit us. They’ll end up like the nfl.system. and fail again..

  5. Mike, disagree. MMA and boxing should be banned, punching has no place in society or on the pitch. A couple of things IMO need changing in RL, like going to 12-a-side, getting rid of the scrum, 1 point for a conversion and all conversions taken within 10m of the touch line. Getting rid of the video-referee and not allowing players from a kicking team to contest the ball until it had touched the floor or been caught by a defender.

  6. The American teams will add excitement and growth
    after all English League has failed to grow the game outside of the M62
    Where is the Cardiff Team,Glasgow,Birmingham or even London
    There has been a hundred years of opportunity,as for mocking the NRL it is moving forward and has always encouraged growth

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