Five potential franchises that could shape rugby league’s future

As Super League looks to grow and the game of rugby league seeks to expand, there are likely to be more candidates to spread the game.

With Catalans Dragons already in Super League for more than a decade, and both Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique knocking on the door, the landscape of the top flight could change dramatically within the next few years.

Here we take a look at five prospective franchises that would positively influence the sport’s long-term future.

 

1 New York

The formation of Toronto Wolfpack two years ago sparked a rugby league revolution. The Canadian outfit became the first transatlantic sports team and as the Wolfpack continue to thrive, plans are well underway to introduce a second North American side into the European game.

Toronto enjoyed an inaugural season to remember – losing on a solitary occasion as Paul Rowley’s side cruised to the League 1 title and earned promotion to the Championship at their first attempt – something which has caught the eye of further investors across the pond.  

It was revealed that an official application from a New York-based club had been submitted to the governing body in October last year.

Salford Red Devils Director of Rugby Ian Blease recently revealed the club had held talks with the RFL with regards to taking one of The Red Devils’ home fixtures across to ‘the Big Apple’ – a move that could give an indication to the level of RL interest in America.

It is believed a potential New York team would play their home fixtures at the 25,000-seater Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

The bid – which is led by co-founders Tom Scott and Ricky Wilby and their consortium – is thought to have attracted potential investment worth up to $10 million, a remarkable figure for a concept that’s yet to come to fruition.

Speaking about the bid Scott said: “We want to grow the sport in North America and increase the pool of players which would ultimately increase the chances of success for the USA national team.”

Whilst many may believe the introduction of a further North American side could bring the the game’s integrity into disrepute, there is no doubt that the group behind the bid mean business and remain committed to developing Rugby League in their homeland.

With the level of potential investment the proposition has already enticed, a New York Rugby League franchise could significantly enhance the game’s long-term future, especially with the 2025 World Cup being held in America.

 

2 Cumbria Lakers

The potential of a Cumbrian franchise has been discussed for more than two decades, but since Workington Town’s relegation from Super League in 1996 there has been no Cumbrian presence in the top flight.

The main stumbling block that has prevented any such idea materialising is the continued co-existence of the region’s prestigious old clubs: Workington, Whitehaven and Barrow.

A proposed merger was mentioned for numerous years but of course was heavily resisted, however we could soon be blessed with a Cumbrian-based Super League club after former Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash revealed his intention to form a fresh franchise.

Koukash said: “It’s a region with more fans of rugby league than football.

“I’m not suggesting we bring teams together. What I’m suggesting is we create a club there and call it Cumbrian Lakers or whatever.

“Obviously the potential is there and for me, when there’s potential, it’s worth investing in.”

Cumbria consistently produces a conveyor belt of professional and international talent through it’s thriving amateur game.

With the catchment area available to attract supporters from and the significant financial backing from Koukash, there is no reason a Cumbrian side could not become a household name in Super League.

 

3 Ireland

Although rugby union is the dominant code, an Irish RL side could completely revitalise the sport throughout the nation.

Whilst a club might not ever reach the realms of Super League, Irish Rugby League has enormous potential.

Despite the Irish national side’s inability to reach the knockout stages of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, ‘the Wolfhounds’ produced a creditable showing at the tournament after narrowly losing to Papua New Guinea before cruising past Wales 34-6 in their final fixture.

The country has a population of around 4.7 million people, thus meaning there is a platform for both participation and spectatorship to grow and improve the quality of the amateur and international games respectively.

A potential outfit could be based in Dublin. This would not only maximise attendance levels as the club would be centered around the Irish capital but it would also prove a highly accessible and popular away trip for UK fans.

Ireland and Salford Red Devils forward Tyrone McCarthy recently expressed his views on the subject.

Speaking through his freshly launched blog on the club’s official website, McCarthy said: “I do think an Irish team being introduced into Betfred League One would be a solid start for the domestic game as my Ireland teammate Oliver Roberts suggested on social media.

“Although the domestic competition isn’t the strongest in Ireland there is a lot of hidden talent that falls out of rugby union who could make great league players.

“I’d love to see a professional team there in the next ten years, it would need to have a structure within itself to be sustainable, using existing clubs to filter in to it and running academies for development.”

 

4 Perth Super League

Arguably the most bizarre franchise rumoured, throughout the duration of this year’s World Club Challenge series – a potential Super League side which would be situated in Perth, Australia was heavily discussed.

The Betfred Super League was established in 1996 to rival its Australian counterpart – the National Rugby League (NRL) and whilst the evolution of Super League has proved both enjoyable and historical, the NRL is still way ahead.

After the demise of the Perth Reds in 1997 and Western Force’s emission from the Super Rugby [Union] competition last year – there is an opportunity for a prospective Rugby League outfit to fill the Rugby void in Perth.

However, it is believed a Perth side would not be able to reach the NRL before 2023 as new clubs often have to enter the NSW or Queensland state cups as opposed to gaining a fast-track into Australia’s premier competition – this is something that could open the doors for a Perth based Super League franchise.

Wigan Warriors Chairman Ian Lenagan believes a Super League side down under is feasible.

“The Super League is doing a lot of innovative things to take the game forward. Who knows,” said Lenagan.

“If the NRL don’t do something about Perth, with a single flight back to England it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they became interested in playing in a competition of that scale.”

Whilst travelling to Perth would prove costly and draining, a Super League franchise would allow the competition to gain an upper-hand on its Australian rival as well as encouraging players to swap Sydney for St Helens.

 

5 Cornish Franchise

Similar to Ireland, Cornwall is Rugby Union heartland. The region’s elite club the Cornish Pirates currently play in the RFU Championship –  the second tier of the RFU system.

For a county of its size, Cornwall lacks an elite sporting background. With an ongoing seven year community stadium battle, the future certainly isn’t concrete for ‘Kernow’.

A series of exhibition matches were held between Hull FC and cross-city rivals Hull KR in 1962 and whilst Rugby League in Cornwall subsequently failed to take off, the code’s progress has been far more encouraging in recent times.

In 2010 competitive Cornish Rugby League was formed by Joe Catcheside, an RFL representative.

Since then, ‘The Cornwall Rugby League Association’ and it’s member club: Cornish Rebels RLFC have both been established and continue to develop as participation levels in Cornwall consistently rise.

Talented youngsters who fail to make the grade in Rugby Union could be lured into switching codes if there was a prospect of forging a career with a professional Cornish side.

As is the case with Ireland and Cumbria, Cornwall boasts a wide catchment area and is consequently capable of housing a premier Rugby League club, whilst the uncertainty of the Truro stadium bid also provides a platform to build a first-class stadium facility.

Where would you like to see a professional rugby league club established? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Comments

  1. NY and Cumbria sound really positive and optimistic

    Unfortunately can’t see much in the other 3…though I would love to see progress in Ireland

    But please please….not the Cumbria Lakers….it sounds horrific!

  2. New York – Yes
    Cumbria – Championship level at best, so no point
    The others – forget about it

    Id like to see Paris have another go, good crowds early on. French players are better now. Although any new team needs to start in a lower division so they can win some matches and build up a following. No new sport will catch on if you’re getting beat every week.

    And a 2nd and 3rd Canadian side.

  3. How many of you actually go watching Rugby League?

    I am a season ticket holder at championship side Leigh Centurians and really enjoy watching them. I go to a few away games now and again but not the long distant one’s, not just becuase of money, but also due to time.

    And very few teams with the exeption of Halifax and Feathersone and ne or two others (and thanks to them for suppoting their teams, actualy bother to bring any fans to away games, and the distances involved is only probably 60 to 70 miles btween most grounds in the Championship.

    The biggest game of the season last year was the million pound game and we were lucky if Catalan brought 50 fans to Leigh.

    So can someone explain why expaning the game overseas is a good idea aprt from for TV viewers? I might go one to Cataln, once to Torronto and once to Tolouse (and have a bit of a holiday at the same time – but not every year.

    This expansion idea will kill off the atmosphere at home rugby league games in the UK.

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