Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

It wasn’t meant to be an instant panacea. The instigation of the Super Eights, in its first year, was never proposed as a cure-all for the sport.

Yes, it does bring back interest to more – but not all – games. However, there are endemic, systemic issues about the numbers playing (with worrying drops in community participation nationwide) and overall finance that are unchanged.

The new, still unfamiliar until it pans out formula has resonated principally with the already converted, it hasn’t registered with large numbers of new fans on tv, current figures 15% down, or commercial partners.

As a result, the overall marketing pot has only increased slightly and been used to promote the sport differently, with contemporary, player and coach led, atmospheric promotional films made to a far higher artistic standard than ever before.

They have been used at the start of the season, for Magic and now the 8’s split, principally on social network sites, targeting a different, wider, younger audience – a tweet by Jason Robinson to 70,000 of his followers far more cost effective and, likely to hit the right mark, than an unaffordable poster campaign or advert in the national press.

But, every message matters.

Before the latest promo was even widespread but as part of a concerted plan to raise awareness, #super8s trended briefly and the 90 second film got a showing on Sky Sports News to admiring smiles.

Nevertheless, some of the most well-meaning, die-hard fans, although admiring its style, decried its likely impact – possibly a bit like the 8s themselves.

There were always going to be holes in the new format. Catalans, for example, who came close to Old Trafford from eighth last year with wins at Leeds and Huddersfield, won’t this time, eight points off fourth spot required and only 14 to play for.

The same, realistically, applies to Hull so those two sides will, effectively, be spoilers. That means six are left, exactly the same clubs in similar positions as last year; the 8s concept was not suddenly going to magic new, evenly-spread stars and change the finance dynamics overnight.

The Qualifiers have generated the most interest to date, with the most meaningful game in round 23 the shoot out at Widnes, Danny Craven’s drop goal ensuring they will have four home games not Salford which, on the 4g pitch, is a huge advantage for the Vikings.

There, a game that last season which would have had little meaning, suddenly did; not every minute, maybe, but more of them mattering – and to 5,500 fans.

The Championship upper echelons have trod water for the past couple of weeks and the Shield looks awkward to sell with three of the semi-final spots already sown up before the competition starts.

The real success, though, has been Sheffield with the additional income they will now receive – along with Halifax – leading to announcement that the Eagles will go full time next season and continue to build slowly.

That’s a true measure of the 8s concept.

The whole week was dominated by transfers, in much the same way the old winter pre-Challenge Cup deadline used to be when rabbits were pulled out of unsuspecting hats and column inches and excitement generated as a result.

The danger, but one that always comes with relegation in particular, is that so-called ‘journeymen’ imports become the short-term fix norm; exhibit A, Dane Chisholm.

The stakes are so high that they mitigate against persevering with or bringing through youngsters, which materially affects having the finances to reintroduce a genuine, competitive reserve grade, for which there is an increasing groundswell.

What is worse? Middling name, highly paid underperformers from overseas or the blight of dual registration that potentially undermines the Championship’s veracity?

The truth is they are still the only alternatives when not having sufficient numbers of quality players coming through.

We have to wait until Wednesday until the fixtures for the 8s are released which, being creatures of habit, is a danger, especially for those who are scheduled to go to Perpignan at short notice – important fixtures for the Dragons, too, if their next couple of months are not to peter out.

It’s an unenviable planning mix involving football grounds and television requirements and there is also the need to factor in playing the same side too often in a short space of time.

In the next ten games, for example, including the Cup, Leeds and Saints could face each other three times.

Leeds won the right to host the two sides below them at home with Kallum Watkins on fire which augurs well for the Kiwi Test series in the autumn that will now be sadly bereft of poster boy Shaun Johnson.

For whom McBenji will play for in the Four Nations – Scotland or New Zealand – is still conjecture but it seems ‘big red’ Keith Galloway will be wearing tartan.

The Hull sides gave very good indications of why their Academies might need to merge if they are to be anything other than mediocre in the immediate future; Kieran Dixon ‘goannaing’ his way to the try line.

Warrington look ominous, particularly going into a Cup semi final, finishing the first phase four points off a top four spot with the sides above them to play, and that’s the great coping unknown in the top 8s, never before have the fixture runs been so tough for all the teams.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have some wound licking to do.

Some good news stories were buried under the transfer avalanche; York got the go-ahead for their ground redevelopment and Cheltenham Phoenix player Zac France looks as though he will make a full recovery from a serious spinal injury.

The broadest smiles are in Widnes the morning after.

 

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