Editor’s Verdict: Stop the gimmicks, and sort out the real problems

My love for rugby league is at an all time low.

For the past four weeks, I’ve been out of the country. I’ve barely missed it. And that’s coming from someone who has attended a minimum of two games a weekend for the best part of nine years, and someone who has invested significant time and money in to running this very website for the same period.

Keeping in touch with the game via Twitter while away left me none the wiser as to what players were doing well, which teams were performing and how Wakefield have pulled off a miraculous up-turn in form.

Instead I got night after night of obstruction woe, criticism of clueless refereeing and inconsistencies.

Even today, during State of Origin, the obstruction issue reared its head, when New South Wales were awarded a try that would apparently have been disallowed in Super League.

It prompted Hull-bound, Catalan stand-off Leon Pryce to tweet: “Definite no try if that was in super league! But it’s a try in origin. Are we playing the same game?????”

Imagine if the offside rule in football was different in England than it was to Brazil. Yet we still expect to hold World Cups, to supposedly unite the game.

There’s no integrity. 

The fantastic SLTV service enabled me to keep up with highlights of the games, and there were numerous instances of suspect tries given, in the absence of the video referee, which still, despite being in existence for the best part of 20 years, isn’t available at all games – teams are being duped by the inconsistency this creates. Rugby union introduced the video referee some six years after Super League, yet have now just finished their first full season where it was available at all Premiership games (TV and non-TV).

I won’t even go in to the obstruction issue, because I don’t think anybody has the answer.

Regular followers of my blog will know that I am not a massive fan of the Magic Weekend – not because I don’t think it’s a great day, but because it harms the integrity of the fixture list, playing teams an uneven number of times during the season.

Yet while I was away, a Championship equivalent was announced. The Championship Summer Bash. Gimmick by name, gimmick by nature.

This, apparently, is a step towards sorting the game’s problems, as part of the 2015 re-structure, which goes even further in to stripping integrity from the game. Because instead of making the Magic Weekend part of the unbalanced, second phase of the season, seven games (ie. the logical solution) it is instead tagged on to the first phase, making 23 games, and thus meaning four teams in each eight per season will have an extra home game – and it also means the current integrity issue of who plays who remains, something which could have been easily eradicated by holding the events after the split.

Attendances are dropping at an alarming rate. Wakefield’s game against Leeds attracted barely 5000 last week, almost half what it pulled in last year. Bradford’s demise has seen their crowds drop to 5000. Widnes against Castleford attracted 4500 – in Widnes’ relegation year in 2005, they averaged crowds of almost 7000.

Some of you may be aware of Wowcher – the discount voucher service. Again, while I was away, I received an email offering my discounted tickets to the Challenge Cup final.

The game is in a sorry state if it can’t find 80,000 fans to attend its biggest day out, its longest standing tradition, its supposed jewel in the crown.

To compound that, today fans received an email offering a 50% discount on £20 Super League Grand Final tickets – that’s the cheapest available price, now available for just £10.

So, and with all due respect, you are now paying more than double what you’d pay to watch a Grand Final at Old Trafford, to watch Wakefield play Widnes at Belle Vue.

How are the RFL ever going to sell Grand Final tickets at a reasonable price after this?

If the game ever does grow its fanbase, and that looking increasingly unlikely at the moment, it’s going to be very difficult to envisage the stage where you can tell the 70,000 people who have attended in 2014, that the price will be far greater in future years, without alienating them.

And how attractive does it make the game look to sponsors, when the sport can barely give tickets away to its two flagship events?

There seems to be an obsession with finding new fans for rugby league. What about the ones it has alienated? Let’s not pretend that the sport hasn’t been watched by enough people during its 119 year history.

Questions have to be asked about where these “old” fans have gone, and why they left. By all means, reach out to new fans, but lets look at why people are switching off.

The consistency of officiating is a reason. People blamed the abolition of promotion and relegation and the licensing system, and those are reasons too. Integrity. The cornerstone of the community and family. The basis on which rugby league grew in the first place.

The “Policy Review” was designed to help improve the game – we’ve not had any evidence of it yet. The re-structure is still to come. It may be that rugby league is heading for a few barren years to come out better the other side – the question is, will the fans see it out?

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