Editor’s column: New York and Ottawa should go straight in to Super League

James Gordon

The North American dream is happening, it seems.

So why waste time putting New York and Ottawa in League One?

The main justification for this experiment is that it opens rugby league up to new markets and potentially lucrative sponsorship and broadcast deals.

A press mention in the New York Times teased at the sort of coverage the sport can only dream of.

Rugby league is only going to get one chance at this. So do we really want the first glimpses of a New York rugby league team to be them playing at, with all due respect, the Vestacare Stadium in Oldham? That’s hardly going to have these blue chip companies and massive TV companies falling over themselves as we’re led to believe.

It may be because they’ve not played at home yet, but it feels like this is a bit of a dead year for Toronto after their disappointment at not going up last season.

Their first two seasons were meant to be a procession, leading up to the real reason they’re here, and that is Super League. Credit to them for sticking with it and progressing up the pyramid, but rugby league needs to learn from the Wolfpack process and perhaps accept that the best way to have franchise teams, is to put them straight in to the top flight, whether it is franchised or not.

After all, that’s what Catalans did – and they are ultimately the only success story of expansion teams in the Super League era.

Twitter is a funny place when it comes to this debate. I have been called all sorts of names for questioning the point of Catalans, and now for dubbing the North American adventure as ludicrous.

Things have to be taken in to context. It is a complete contradiction to be claiming big money deals will come as a result of New York and Ottawa’s inclusion, when you have (again with all due respect) some of the towns and grounds that currently sit in Super League.

The RFL and Super League need to decide what they want to do and what they want to be.

Shoe-horning overseas teams into the current pyramid isn’t doing much to grow the game, if anything it has gone backwards since the inclusion of Catalans (not because of them), so they need a better strategy.

Wasting the opportunities that Toronto and New York bring would be a mistake. But so is rushing them through in to the existing (failed?) structure with little thought.

Putting these cash rich clubs in the lower leagues drives up salary expectations and makes existing teams push themselves beyond their means just to compete.

It weakens the lower end Super League teams as players that would perhaps have been tempted to play for them, have taken bigger rewards at a Toronto.

If Toronto go up in place of London Broncos this season, is that really expanding rugby league?

Super League had 12 teams in 1996. It still has 12 teams. That’s despite the continuing push for expansion.

What’s the solution? We all have our own ideas, but someone somewhere has to pick one and stick to it.

With the genuine possibility of three North American teams, perhaps someone should have the foresight to introduce a conference system in to Super League.

Three North American teams, three French teams and then say 10 English teams. Figure out a sensible fixture format between the conferences that enables all 16 teams to play each other to make up the Super League table.

No relegation from North American and French conferences, to preserve the franchise format, but have relegation to “English Conference Division 2” (and beyond) from the English division, to preserve the traditions of that and also give the English expansion sides, such as Newcastle and Coventry, the chance to move up. Ask all teams wanting to be full-time to compete in the conference system.

You could even turn the French league in to “French Conference 2” and give the winners of that the chance to apply to expand Super League’s French conference.

Eventually, all of those conferences could expand and there would be less cross-conference games.

Currently, it feels like rugby league isn’t geared up for “expansion”. Expansion to me would be more teams joining the top flight, not new ones replacing others.

We await with bated breath the verdict as once again, the make-up of rugby league continues to take headlines away from the on-field action.