Do we really need to expand?

With the July date for the final decision, on who will be fortunate enough to be accepted be in Super League for the 2009 season, fast approaching it seems that the RFL dream of expanding to Wales will be finally brought home. Of course, it is only speculation that RFL will accept Celtic Crusaders into next year’s competition. Yet, if you believe the surrounding media coverage they are technically a “shoe-in.”nnThis brings the whole licence process into disrepute in my opinion. No matter how you bend the rules they cannot secure more points than Widnes, Salford, Leigh, Castleford, Hull KR, etc. If Celtic Crusaders are allowed into Super League ahead of the more established traditional hotbeds it will prove one thing – Expansion is more important than tradition.nnBut the RFL need to be careful that this proposed expansion doesn’t fail like all the others – Catalan Dragons seem to be the only exception to the rule in the Super League Era. There previous French predecessors, Paris St Germain, went bust after just two years. Gateshead Thunder were forced to merge with Hull after just one season – interestingly enough after years of hard work they are topping NL2 this season after their local players are finally making the grade.nnEven before Super League, expansion has been trailed and failed. The 1980s saw Fulham, coached by former Widnes captain Reggie Bowden, spring to life. The opening match saw over 10,000 cram into Craven Cottage to watch the new team beat Wigan, relegated the season before. Subsequently Fulham, as London Broncos, were admitted, eventually, into Super League on its inception. Before that they led a relatively unsuccessful and nomadic existence.nnOther areas outside the traditional areas followed suit. Carlise City, who briefly had a fling with the great game in the 1920s, joined in 1981. They too were destined never to suceeed. They flirted with the bottom end of the league table until they merged with Barrow in 1997. The Scarborough Pirates lasted just one season as they folded in 1992. Mansfield Marksman faired slightly better as they lasted form 1984 until 1992. By then they were known as Nottingham City.nnThroughout history new teams from over the United Kingdom have sprang to existence before diminishing to extinction. Acton & Willesden, Kent Invicta, Liverpool City, Newcastle, South Shields, and Streatham & Mitcham just some of the names from the past in areas better known for other sporting pursuits.nnWales before as seen teams such as Aberdare, Cardiff City, Bridgend, Ebbw Vale, Merthyr Tydfil, Mid/Rhondda, Pontypridd and South Wales all die out after, in some cases, just one season. Evidently, it is fair to say that expansion has not been successful. Of all the current Super League sides only Harlequins (formed as Fulham in 1980), Catalan Dragons (2006), and Castleford Tigers (1926) were formed after the turn of the 20th Century. Even Castleford were reborn from an original club that ran from 1896 until 1906.nnI’d like to know what makes the RFL sure that Celtic Crusaders can succeed where various other has failed? Is it worth the risk of wiping out Rugby League in one area for it to fail to thrive in another? A malfunction now would wipe out any chance of expansion in Wales ever. nnRichard Lewis seems to already to believe that the time is right for expansion again. In May this year he told press, in Cardiff for the Millennium Magic weekend, that “There can be no doubt the sport is moving forward here. Celtic Crusaders continue to grow as a professional club, the Welsh Conference League is set for another successful season and rugby league in Welsh schools has arguably never been stronger.”nnPersonally I think that Rugby League needs a strong Welsh team if it is to move forward, especially in the international game. But 2009 is too soon. There are now foundations in Wales, some promising green shoots at grassroots level, but nothing concrete. The RFL are in danger of trying to put a roof on the house before any of the structural work has been completed. The house will fall to the ground very quickly.

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