Groundshare heats up SL licence race

The surprising thing about the likelihood of a shared stadium for Castleford and Wakefield is that it hasn’t come about sooner.

The economic climate has taken a turn for the worst since the latest set of Super League licenses were handed out, and with cuts being made in education and other areas, it simply isn’t feasible for Wakefield council to fund two stadiums within their district.

However, it highlights the accelerated need for a solution, with the next licence decision moving ever closer, probably within the next 12 months.

With one Championship club guaranteed a place in Super League, and clubs already agreeing to retain a 14-team competition, at least one top flight team will need to be culled for 2012.

Both Castleford and Wakefield find themselves in a precarious position, but the ground-share gives them renewed hope and a real chance of them avoiding demotion for 2012. However, their only real rival for losing out is Salford, as it’s unlikely that expansion sides Harlequins, Crusaders or even Catalans would be cut by the RFL.

The City Reds have been planning a stadium development for what seems like an eternity and they have taken a gamble in announcing that next season will definitely be their last at The Willows, despite no real signs that their development is moving forward at a pace that suggests it would be complete for the next round of licenses.

The exact details of how the 2012-15 licensing process remain a mystery, although it is believed that any promoted Championship club is to find out in the first half of 2011, to enable them enough to time to prepare for a Super League campaign in 2012. As for any demoted top flight club, that news could be delayed as late as the autumn, to minimise any impact losing top flight rugby may have on attendances, sponsorship and on-field performance.

Either way, with St Helens pressing on with their new stadium, Salford, Wakefield and Castleford will be the clubs in the spotlight as they scrap for Super League survival.

Castleford, still licking their wounds from the harsh £40,000 fine handed down to them for homophobic chanting at The Jungle recently, will regard themselves as the best placed in the ground-share deal. They are likely to invest more in the project, courtesy of the sale of their Wheldon Road home, coupled with Wakefield’s need to pay off their existing debts.

The common sense solution would be a holding company to manage the stadium, in which both clubs and the council would have shares. It reduces overheads for both clubs and of course means that there will be a game at the ground (and the subsequent revenue generators) every weekend.

In their quest for expansion, it remains to be seen just how the RFL will welcome a ground-share. It seems the only logical way, at this time, for both clubs to get the new stadium they both desperately need, but whether it will result in one of them playing Championship rugby in the new ground is a question that will go unanswered for a while yet.

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