How to fix rugby league – Part 1

What the RFL must learn from other competitions around the world if it wants to save Rugby League in Europe.

Losing to Australia as often as England does is understandable, if extremely frustrating, after all the NRL is the most intense competition in the world and where players take part in competitive matches week-in week-out while the elite battle it out in the best-of-three State of Origin series from which the national side is drawn. 

For England to come off second best, time and again, to New Zealand on the other hand, which only has one side in the NRL and a semi-pro domestic competition, is just not good enough.

Fundamental changes to Superleague need to made, and made fast, if we ever hope to compete again at the top level. The game needs to be expanded, not shrunk, more teams need to be brought into the top flight and there needs to be fewer regular season games. The teams should work together with collective marketing budgets and even, wait for it, profit sharing so that  it’s in everyone’s best interest to boost the smaller clubs.

Super League Draft

I’d go as far as introducing a draft, where the last placed team gets the first pick of the talent – imagine your club being able to build a strong foundation around  an Eastmond, Burgess or Tomkins and start a reversal in fortune that could last for years. It would also give fans and the media a massive off-season focal point which once the internationals are over in November is severally lacking,

That last bit should really be the tip off, The RFL should base itself around the National Football League (NFL) but with a few bits borrowed from other competitions, most notably lessons should be taken from Major League Soccer (MLS). The common theme that runs between the NFL and MLS is both were relatively small leagues that have seen massive growth over the years to establish, then grow, and in the case of the NFL become the single biggest league in the world. 

Hey, if we’re making changes why not go all the way. Rugby league has always prided itself on going out on a limb to produce the most exciting game possible but the current structure limits its potential.

The NFL has seen enormous growth in the last 40 years to become the single biggest league on Earth and the RFL could do with taking not just a few leaves, but the entire book, from those padded machines across the pond.

The NFL has 32 teams compared to SL’s 14 yet each side only plays 16 regular season games. There is huge controversy over plans to increase this to 18 yet we put our boys through 28 regular rounds of brutal rugby and that’s not including the Challenge Cup – which should be scraped but that’s another story. 

All right a quick digression as to why we should get rid of  the cup. Let’s face it, it’s only the spectacle of the final that’s keeping it going. Otherwise its just extra fixtures taking its toll on our players’ bodies, taking away their ability to develop skills through training. Few fans bother attending the early rounds and the harm all those extra fixtures have on the players is far worse than the benefits the game enjoys from seeing these empty stands broadcast on national television. As a good friend puts it: “If it didn’t already exist they wouldn’t invent it”.

League Structure

Right, back to the league.

What is so great about a structure that currently benefits the status quo, where the same teams make the playoffs and Grand Finals ever year and where the smaller sides play in half empty stadia ( that’s just an expression, the reality is far worse – Quins I’m looking at you) with no hope of ever putting together a winning season?

Here’s what should be done. More, not less, teams. Talk that there aren’t enough good players is rubbish. If there aren’t enough people in the UK and France capable of filling 24 professional teams to an entertaining standard then we might as well all give up now.

A breakdown of how Superleague could look

Stevo Conference

Eddie Conference

 

 

Terry O’Connor Division

Barrie Mac Division

Wigan

Leeds

Saints

Bradford

Warrington

Castleford

Widnes

Wakefield

 

 

Brian Carney Division

Phil Clarke Division

Harlequins

Huddersfield

Catalans

Salford

Crusaders

Hull KR

Toulouse

Hull FC

 

 

Shaun McRae Division

Ian Millward Division

Whitehaven

Irish

Halifax

Leigh

Barrow

Biaritz

Featherstone

Scottish

If we’re serious about playing as separate nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, then we need teams in these countries. The crowds at France’s home games and the strength of the game in the region should be nurtured and fans rewarded with more teams. Scottish and Irish sides should be established much in the manner of New Zealand Warriors and Catalans Dragons with the intention of establishing and developing footholds in these regions.  

There has been much clamour for a Superleague side in Cumbria, why not given them two. The rivalry between the two sides would drive each other on to bigger and better things, much like we’ve seen in Hull. Which brings us lastly to London and Wales. Both need second teams to provide genuine rivalries to the existing clubs. This would increase interest and drive growth in these two key regions. The RFL should look to introduce additional teams here as soon as possible – even if it means some divisions have five teams – Major League Baseball has uneven divisions, and leagues, and that seems to be doing OK – so its not as crazy as it sounds.

Part 2 of this blog will be available on Thursday!

 

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