Many see the franchise system as a chance for the top flight to expand geographically. New teams in France and London have already been proposed by Richard Lewis while a strong body of opinion favours an expansion to Dublin and south Wales, particularly after the perceived success of ‘Millennium Magic‘.
The Lakers were surely alive to that, and with a new stadium on the horizon must have saw a chance to stake their claim to be Super League’s only representatives in South Yorkshire. But now that dream has fallen apart and the club faces a financial crisis.
That crisis is probably going to be far more acutely felt now that all Lakers players are on full-time contracts. That is the step that Doncaster took in preparation for their franchise bid, and it is that which may do irreparable damage to the club. Hopefully the club will get back onto its feet, but the franchise which was until recently on the cards is unlikely to be theirs.
Doncaster are the early victims if a system that will see the death of many rugby league clubs. There will only be fourteen places up for grabs, and for those clubs that, like Doncaster, make their preparations and don’t make the final cut, the blow will be hard to take.
This means that the bigger clubs left in NL1 will be severely weakened, if they survive at all. Come the first review after three years there will be no NL1 club strong enough to take a place in the top flight. If there is a failing Super League franchise, such as the one in Dublin or London, there will only be equally weak clubs to replace them.
By probably 2015 rugby league will have a top flight severely weakened, and a set of lower leagues that will be almost negligible in terms of what they bring to the game at large. This is the system which the RFL seem to think will bring us credibility in the eyes of the national sporting media.
I just wonder whether the average person on the street in Doncaster regard the Lakers with anything like the credibility with which they regard Doncaster Rovers. My guess is not. Will the national sporting media regard rugby league with the credibility with which they regard football? I doubt that too.
Salford City Reds look to be on a steady slide towards the Super League trapdoor at the moment, and Karl Harrison has paid the price for his side’s poor performances with his job. Whether a change of coach will pull Salford back from the brink remains to be seen, but it is hard to think of anyone who could bring the Reds up to speed with the rest of the top flight.
However, a short-term improvement is usually the norm in these situations, and the Salford players will be looking to get a vital two points off Huddersfield Giants in Friday night’s televised game. Given Huddersfield’s recent resurgence this had looked like shaping up to be a one-sided encounter. But not anymore.
It is an ironic first game for the post-Harrison Reds, given that the Giants are the very club they must emulate. Jon Sharp’s men were marooned at the foot of the table after a seven-game losing streak, but now sit fourth after a seven-game winning streak. Salford will be clinging to the possibility that they can do the same.
NL1 Comes Alive
The blue touch paper on the NL1 promotion race was well and truly lit by Widnes Vikings last week, as Steve McCormack’s side demolished Castleford Tigers at Wheldon Road. The Vikings sent out a message that Cas’s return to Super League is not a foregone conclusion, despite Richard Lewis’ line that the Tigers are a Super League club in NL1.
Even more intriguing, the Wheldon Road club were actually pushed into third place by Whitehaven’s win on Sunday. Haven will be challenging over the upcoming weeks, and it would be silly to rule them out at this early stage. The only question mark is over their stadium, and whether they will be allowed into the top flight.
The remainder of the season is likely to see a ferocious showdown between those three clubs. Widnes are now riding high, Haven have spotted their chance to get ahead of their rivals, while Cas are a club with too much character not to fight back from this setback. It’ll be great viewing from your armchair on Sky Sports, but it’ll be even better viewing from the terraces.
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