Column: Time for Super League to break away and let British rugby league find its feet

Super League becoming independent is believed to be one part of the discussions around the structure for 2019.

That would mainly mean control over its own TV money and the ability to govern itself, to a degree, without the RFL.

The big boys at the top are becoming increasingly frustrated at how much of the pie they are being forced to give away, especially when they see that the primary reason the money is invested in the first place, is to show their games.

Whatever discussions are going on, there are three key elements from my point of view:

– Enabling the top clubs to grow as much as possible to compete with their NRL equivalents
– Expansion of the game in to new territories, such as Toronto and New York
– Ensuring a healthy and stable system for existing rugby league clubs to grow organically and continue developing the player pool

There is no doubt that rugby league needs, and wants, to expand. The RFL are almost singlehandedly flying the flag, with the NRL reluctant to do anything other than look after themselves.

It also needs to give a platform to money men who want to invest in clubs and help to expand.
That said, bending the rules to accommodate them is surely counter productive – the salary cap below Super League has changed massively in recent years due to pressure from certain clubs; there’s surely a reason it was in place to start with.

Super League clubs, like Wigan and Leeds, want to grow but may feel they are being held back.

Championship clubs are stuck between a rock and a hard place, left frustrated at the lack of coverage their competition gets, but almost reliant on the central funding hand-outs they get as a result of the Sky Sports deal.

It’s a risk, but without that restriction the Championship and League One clubs would then be free to negotiate their own rights deals or even stream games themselves.

Having said that, streaming games for free is surely not a sensible option for any club wanting to sell its rights either now or in the future, either independently or as part of a whole league deal.

So, rather than the World League idea I’ve mooted in the past, Super League effectively becomes that – for the bigger clubs (Wigan, Leeds, Hull, St Helens, Warrington etc), the expansion sides (Catalans, Toulouse, Toronto, New York) and anyone else who wishes to join the party, whether that be a franchise system or otherwise.

The opportunity would then be for the Championship and League One to signal a new era for “British Rugby League”, potentially developing a pyramid structure with the National Conference League – which itself has now become a major attraction thanks to the FreeSports TV deal spearheaded by RugbyAM’s Alex Simmons.

On the British rugby league note, it’s not Brexit-inspired, but given in rugby union the nations are all very independent of each other, with the English Premiership and then the Celtic nations playing in a joint competition, rugby league could take over the “British rugby” mantle and make it work, especially with the resurrection of the Great Britain team.

The existing rugby league structure would then be able to find its feet and grow organically, leaving Super League as the vehicle to drive the full-time professional game forward, free of its current responsibility to the rest of the sport.

Some fans of bigger clubs bemoan those ones of so-called smaller clubs for holding the game back by not allowing the expansion and growth plans to happen, so this to me would be a happy medium.

Allow the long-established clubs to continue in a system free of the expansion behemoths that have ploughed their way through League One in recent years.

– Super League
– Championship
– League One North
– League One South
– National Conference League

The Super League big boys could even enter “B” teams in to League One to act as their reserve side, enabling the likes of Coventry to still experience the “glamour” of facing a Wigan or a Leeds, something which is an attraction given the encouraging crowd the Bears had for a pre-season game.

A Wigan or Leeds second team would attract decent crowds over a weekend, especially if Super League continues to be played out on Thursdays and Fridays.

Some form of regionalisation needs to happen at League One level, especially after the weekend’s debacle involving Newcastle at West Wales, and also because players are being discouraged from playing semi-pro due to the sheer amount of travelling involved.

It’s sadly not my decision what happens – but whatever does happen, here’s hoping that it’s a solution for the long-term so that we can start concentrating on growing the game, its fanbase and the player pool, rather than the ongoing structure debate.

18 Comments

  1. It is the fault of the bigger Super League clubs that expansion has stalled at every attempt,they expect someone to come along plough a ton of money into an new club build a stadium and have a magnificent fan base in place before they will even consider them for SL. This is absolutely stupid, a tree grow from its roots upwards not the other way around. Look at Australia outside of the NRL how many other RL clubs are well known? Yet in this country because of promotion and relegation clubs outside of SL are well known. The SL are not bothered about growing the game they are only interested in themselves. If they do get control of all the monies, what will they do? They will not invest it in new talent for the long term, no they will simply plough that money into over-the-hill ex NRL players to try and get a quick passage to the top of SL, and what will happen to the international game? that will die…. and Australia will have finally got what they have wanted, they can then concentrate on State of Origin, and what happens when the public start losing interest in the same clubs playing the same games over and over again they will walk away from RL and the whole game will die. This is shortsighted to say the least, the only way to build the sport is to build it not magic it out of nothing, that way the game will have longevity and success….

  2. Under the current system…….teams like Fev, Fax, London and Toulouse can slowly build up to a SL standard and the likes of Leigh and now Toronto can invest to achieve promotion through the play offs. The Championship and League one are far more exciting and competitive than they have ever been. In SL surprisingly Castleford finished top the the table. The game is far more exciting and unpredictable than it has ever been. Even international RL is starting to improve. Just leave it alone. Don’t let a handful of greedy clubs who think they are bigger than they actually are destroy the sport from grass roots up.

  3. I’ve been arguing for 2×10 for years. It would mean a much more competitive top division Alongside an equally exciting second tier. It opens the professional clubs up to 20 but without compromising the quality of the top division. I’m assuming less games as well which means higher quality.
    I don’t though like the idea that all funds are cut below the top 2! But as James says maybe this could be good for the game.
    I would advocate for a geographical conference system below super league1&2 to include France’s elite league, a western conference (Lancashire, Cumbria and Wales), and eastern conference (Yorkshire, Northumbria, midlands and south east). 30 clubs with a play off system leading to an ultimate winner who would be offered the chance of promotion to SL2. But that division would need some funds from somewhere!
    Maybe TV deal with premier sport and live streaming could boost sponsors but wouldn’t replace central funding!

    • For me you’ve got this the wrong way round.

      It’s time for the ‘smaller’ clubs to break away and leave the so called ‘bigger clubs’ to it. Form there own independant league, revert to winter and, by the way the RL Challenge Cup belongs to the RFL not SL. Build this back up as the premier comp with SL clubs ineligible.

      It then only takes SKY to lose control and I guarantee who would be back begging to get back in and it wouldn’t be the ‘smaller’ clubs.

  4. I’d expand superleague to 18 clubs and revert back to a traditional 1 up 1 down relegation system and top 6 play offs.

    Sure there could be a few blow out scores and some yo yo clubs, but not as many as there used to be.

    TV rights could be negotiated as a brand like the premiership in football.

    And with fewer games we could align seasons with the NRL and get a proper international scene and transfer window going.

  5. We are a small band of rl.supporters based around blackpool(Brlsc).approx once a month we pick a match hire a minibus(sundays)and pick out of the Sunday fixtures.championship/championship.we are mostly oap’S but enjoy a few beers,pie or 2,on the way home stop off somewhere for a meal.we rarely go tosuper league games to expensive.plus very few on Sundays,and we are putting a bit of money in to the 2nd.tier clubs.

  6. This idea rather presumes Sky will ante up about £120million come renewal time of their contract. They have football which is expensive to maintain, they’ve acquired huge slices of Union, cricket and golf almost exclusively, and have dabbled in motor sports. Why would an executive board of Oxbridge Establishment. types want League? Premier Sports dropped it, I even asked last September was their interest waning, they told me it was none of my business, so I cancelled my contract.

    The BBC show the sport on sufferance, and every game treat viewers like it’s a sport they never have seen before, condescending doesn’t cover it! ITV will never show League again. A top man there is not keen on the sport. Channel 4 dabbled with sport but it got too expensive. Channel 5 don’t have the cash. So where will this dream league be broadcast? The internet? The proposed deal for NRL games via streaming is expensive, you add that to other things you might have, Netflix, Amazon Prime, then it’s a sheer luxury, plus market penetration will be very low ascto require someone with the deep pockets to keep it going if the Sky deal is not renewed I predict the main League clubs will switch to Union. An interim season will be held to work out the relative strengths, then broken into regional groups, like in American sports, with a big grand final. Some league rules would be adopted, notably the ones recommended by a report commissioned by the RFU in the mid 90s. 13 a side, six tackles, no lineouts, to speed the game up.

    Time will tell I guess, but any plans hinge on a Sky deal.

  7. The way Rugby league is now run means it will never expand further in Britain.
    Bent referees (can anyone tell me why Silverwood was suspended and then allowed to step down, without an explanation either from himself or the league) I wonder if it could be that he was caught out making bets or indeed fixing matches for profit ? resulting in the league having to do something but feared to do so knowing he would blow the whistle on all the internal fiddles. Inconsistent refereeing, some clubs being helped while other great clubs are hammered and left to rot. disciplinaries depending on who you play for, hard on some, soft on others. Then we have the farce of Toronto, Spend what you need, play as many foreign players as you like, just get them in super league. (free visits / holidays for the fat controller) Huddersfield only take 25 supporters to Leeds and the like, They would be lucky to get the sponge man in Toronto. FFS the mind boggles. Rugby league is bent twisted and corrupt and is in need of a total clean out at the very top.

  8. Don’t agree with everything in here at all…..but….I have always been a huge advocate of Wigan, Leeds, St Helens etc etc putting reserve or academy teams into league 1 (the Barca B, Real Madrid B, model in Spanish football is best example). And for me there should be a route for Elite league teams into the Championship…maybe via a play off with league 1 runner up or something

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