Finding a vision for northern hemisphere rugby league

It’s been a while and now I’ve calmed down about the betrayal of the sport by Australia and New Zealand, we have some time for perspective.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think we should have delayed for a very simple reason, that being there is zero evidence that the NRL will let players come next year and there is more reason to believe they will delay again (and in effect seek to cancel the tournament all together). 

Australia has put no money forward as a bond so they have been surrendered to and no cost has been imposed. I think come June or July next year we’ll be in the exact same situation we were in this year.  

Build our own baby

If nothing else though, it should crystallise the need to build our own baby in the shape of a four or five nation tournament that does not involve any pacific nations. France requested a game in the mid-season but it appears as if we will be getting a France vs England game on the continent this year.

Sadly though, other nations such as Wales or Ireland are denied the opportunity to play England and we’re going to hear the usual delusions about this. That England are too good and they should play nations of their level, ignoring the fact this already happens and those games are financially and commercially worthless.

There is no viable northern hemisphere tournament without England in it. Will that mean some uneven scores to begin with? Inevitably but if you’re alternative is begging Australia, you don’t actually have an alternative. But no one wants to watch England vs Scotland (for example).

Wrong again, the TV audience for England vs Scotland in the 2016 Four Nations was as good and, in some cases, better than England vs New Zealand or Australia. The obsession with Australia is for rugby league tragics, not for the casual audience we are seeking to capture.  

An annual four nations with England playing every nation away and we can take England vs Jamaica to London, before a final at home. This will give the other games between say France and Wales meaning, as they seek to make a final versus England.

The game has lost £15m and the one area where we can start to claw that back is in an annual free-to-air tournament, which allows the other nations to actually capture the commercial and sponsorship income streams that would come with such a tournament. Or we can keep crying about Australia… 

Another restructure – protectionism at its finest 

On the club side, we are hearing reports of yet another restructure and once again, it appears we will get it wrong. Clearly Super League is stagnating for a variety of reasons. One, many of the stadiums are not fit for purpose being either too big (Salford or Huddersfield but bar big games, you can add Wigan and Hull FC) or not developed to a good standard (Wakefield). This means the amount of games Sky can show the product at its best is limited to the same handful of clubs (Leeds, Saints, Warrington and Catalans if they get a feed). Out of a 12-team league, that’s not a good return.

However, were the powers that be to look at the Championship they would see Toulouse, Newcastle and York all in thriving cities with the infrastructure and commercial potential to step up. 

Again though, instead of increasing Super League to 14, reducing central funding and giving room for these clubs to grow the commercial pie whilst making the product look significantly more attractive on TV, (York vs anyone in SL will look fantastic in their perfectly sized 8,000 ground, an all-French derby has the potential to transform the sport in France), we are left with the stupid idea to go to 10 teams.  

Toulouse are currently top of the Championship

So, it’s the worst of all words : More loop fixtures and the very teams that could come up and challenge the established top six are held back by an absurd bottleneck, forced to play Batley and then this will be used to show why they aren’t “ready for SL”.

We’d also ruin the Championship to boot, whilst spreading the money even thinner to teams in the Championship who will never contribute to the TV deal.

I think what clubs that don’t support an increase of SL are forgetting is that were the game to go to 10 teams in SL it would certainly be franchises and the clubs that currently don’t offer anything to the product from a TV perspective now (Salford, Giants) would certainly not be in that ten. Better to lose a few hundred thousand to two other teams than get nothing at all. 

This is all the more frustrating because despite the negativity, I don’t think the game realises how close it can be to a great top 14 SL comp. We have a big six now, add Toulouse and you get a French derby. Newcastle has the perfect set up, as well as being prepared to spend the money to challenge the established order (Newcastle vs Leeds anyone?). Wakefield will soon be sorting out their ground and this could turn them from consistent basement dwellers to getting closer to the cap. We could go within two years from a big six to 10 teams all in with a serious shout of the play-offs and a Grand Final. For a 14-team comp, that would be a great strike rate.  

The potential for rugby league in the northern hemisphere, both at club and international level, really is there. We just need to have someone with the vision to see it.

7 Comments

  1. Interesting! No Mention of London Broncos? a side which the owner David Hughes has kept professional since he took over, who were so unlucky to get relegated last season!and set to move to an amazing new stadium, Plough Lane, Wimbledon FC. The club has always had an Academy set up as good as any top Super League Club, look how many London produced players are in Super League! IF we let London fail, then we are back to a M62 Corridor sport, which broadcaster will not be set alight with, two teams in France, yes nice! but no attraction to UK Broadcasters, RL small thinkig as ever.

    • You are dead right.LONDON is the answer.No other business ignores its largest and most lucrative market like English rugby league does.

      “It`ll never work in London ” say the flatearthers.Well they said an NRL team would never work in Melbourne and after YEARS of struggle look at it now.

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said. We could have a great competition here , as far as reducing the number of teams a 14 team super league makes perfect sense . We should also stop Australia dictating how the game is played.

  3. I like the sound of a 4 nations tournament every year, who cares if there are some blow out scores for England, I would still watch it and I’m sure the other teams will improve soon enough.

    I also like the idea of Superleague being increase to 14 (or even 15/16) teams- reducing it to 10 teams will literally kill the sport as it will be so dull having the same old teams playing each other all the time. I haven’t found a single fan in favour of the 10/10 format, I can only assume it’s to do with the big clubs trying to get more money from the TV deal, which is understandable given their concern about falling revenues/attendances etc, but surely they can see it’s not the long term solution.

  4. Some great points raised there. Every RL supporter I’ve spoken to wants the SL to expand not contract just because the usual suspects want more money. I do think London need to be in the mix as well though. The European nations competition would be good too, just give it chance to grow and develop.

  5. To make the international game better would be the likes of Wales, Ireland, Scotland play against England on a regular basis. If Toulouse was in Super League the French national team would improve and you can see younger french players coming into the sides now.

    I’d allow more french teams to league one to make that league attractive to investment London Skolars v Villeneuve sounds appealing and to new audiences you would go this game has a big international appeal.

    For competitions to be stronger you need time and the chance for them to grow. I’d love to be incharge and have a vision for this game.
    If you have 14 teams in the top competitors two go down it gives other clubs in the championship more chance to react the top flight. Imagen if Workington or Whitehaven played Warrington or Leeds for them clubs to have the chance to host them teams would naturally increase revenue not just the hope of playing them in a cup draw.

    Sort it out rugby league of risk folding in a number of years.

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