Editor’s column: Six hopes for rugby league in the New Year

James Gordon

We’ve left 2020 behind, and while the start of 2021 promises much of the same, hopefully we can see some of these come to fruition.

A return to action and the return of fans

It will be nearly 12 months since fans attended a game in the UK when the season gets underway in March. All we can hope for is that the start does go ahead as planned. There seems to be an acceptance that the likelihood is that the season will start behind closed doors; but here’s hoping that doesn’t last for long, and that plenty of people get out and support the clubs as much as possible.

A positive new TV deal

While a reduction seems inevitable, Super League needs to do the best it can from its new TV deal; and hopefully the separation of it from the RFL’s assets mean that the Championship can attract a deal of its own – even if there’s no monetary value, the exposure to the game would be good.

One thing is for sure, rugby league ought to be careful not to alienate Sky Sports – whatever your opinion of them, they have underpinned the sport for the best part of three decades. Talk of Amazon Prime and Netflix is naive.

Even a reduction from Sky Sports, or BT who perhaps are the only realistic alternative, would still be a positive in the current climate. Rugby league does not want to end up like other minority sports, who receive nothing for being televised and instead cling on to the hope that TV coverage will generate more revenue from elsewhere.

Be proud of itself so others follow

RFL chairman Simon Johnson caused a stir at the weekend with his tweet bemoaning Sunday Times’ decision to ignore the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in their list of 10 days not to miss in sport this year.

While the media coverage afforded to rugby league by some could be scrutinised, it hardly comes as a surprise that it is ignored, when rugby league has spent the last god knows how long bickering within itself, constantly re-structuring and alienating portions of its fanbase, most notably in recent months in Toronto. If the sport wants to find its feet again, it needs to be proud of what it has got, and not try and convince people that it’s something it’s not, even if that’s what it aspires to be.

Play under the same laws worldwide

This is a pipe dream that should have been implemented years ago, and sadly doesn’t seem any closer to fruition. While the International Rugby League tries to establish itself as a governing body with power, the NRL continues to largely unnecessarily tweak its rules, with the game over here then opting to follow suit in some areas. It has led to at least three different variations of the sport, and it’s not conducive to growing the game. The constant changes and tweaks need to stop.

A true World Cup legacy

It’s a shame that the pandemic has caused a backlog of major sporting events that means the World Cup won’t have the same stand-out exposure it may well have got in different circumstances, but hopefully the roll out of a vaccine and some sort of return to normality means it can go ahead unscathed.

It will be fascinating to see if Jon Dutton and his team can deliver the tournament promised, and keep up to the high standards demonstrated so far. The combination of men’s, women’s and wheelchair events could provide a major precedent for sport, and also act as a springboard to signify rugby league’s growth areas.

What is important is that a legacy is delivered. Looking back to eight years ago, we enjoyed what felt like an excellent tournament; only for nothing really to change afterwards, missing opportunities such as in Bristol. Hopefully lessons will be learned.

Embrace rugby league in France

The election of a new president to the French Federation provides the perfect opportunity to embrace France. Regular internationals against England is one thing, but supporting their domestic competition is another must.

One of the criticisms of expansion to Toronto was that they should focus on setting up their own domestic league. Well, France has a well-established one of those, yet support and acknowledgement of that in the UK is next to non-existent. Making a bigger deal of the French league is a good way of proving the game has gone well beyond the M62.

What would you like to see from rugby league in 2021? Let us know in the comments below.