Joy for the fourteen

So the decision is finally made, and it’s not really a surprise at all. The Rugby Football League have chosen to keep the current twelve Super League clubs along with Celtic Crusaders and Salford City Reds in a move that will surprise few; whether people will like it or not is a different matter.nnAlthough you can easily poke holes in the applications of Castleford Tigers and especially Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – the RFL certainly did on their website – you can’t really argue with the decision to keep the current twelve. After all the playing difference at all dictates that those currently in the top flight are the strongest clubs.nnThe same can be said for Salford, top of NL1 and winning the Northern Rail Cup. Although their stadium is well below par (and the new one realistically nowhere in sight) it has successfully hosted Super League for many years. The argument about expansion into Manchester is a nonsense, but nonetheless the club is in a string position.nnCeltic Crusaders are a different matter. As someone who cares about expansion the worry is that they are unready for Super League and capitulate, thereby damaging rugby league in south Wales. The club is relying on overseas talent despite legitimate claims of grassroots in the principality; the stadium is well below Super League standard their supporter base is merely speculative.nnDisappointmentnnSome of the teams having not made the cut can feel a bit disappointed. Widnes Vikings are one club which appeared to have a strong application, with better facilities, youth development and support than Salford or Celtic. The Vikings, it seems, let down by their administration last November and their (relatively) poor playing strength. nnThe same appears who have done for Toulouse Olympique who also had a strong application going by off-the-field measurements. But the concern was that there just aren’t enough quality French players for a second Super League club just yet, especially when many of Catalans’ key players are from down under. nnLeigh Centurions had a good application based around their new stadium, which – unlike those of other clubs – is actually built already. They surely had as much going for them as the Crusaders. The same can be said for Halifax who were written off as rank outsiders quite inexplicably. Featherstone Rovers conceded that they had little chance long ago, and such proved to be the case.nnSo what now for Super League? The RFL will be hoping that their decision pays off and Celtic Crusaders can compete in the top flight. The Crusaders, along with Salford and certain of the current Super League clubs have a lot to prove if their admission into Super League is to be justified. Improvements in youth development must be seen at all clubs – especially ones nearer to the bottom – if the system itself is to be justified.nnTo the futurennThe National League competition needs to remain vibrant if it is to continue supporting Super League and to be a competition worth winning. The RFL have little impact over this: the decision lies very much with the supporters and whether they continue to support the leagues.nnThat one club is guaranteed promotion in 2012 (according to the RFL in November) will keep interest alive, at least in the 2011 season. It will also leave a glimmer of hope for Widnes, Leigh and Halifax who must be favourites now to go up next time around. That’s unless the rumour of Toulouse joining National League proves to be accurate, but surely not …nnMore expansion might be on the cards in 2012: Toulouse for one, Edinburgh for another (given the Murrayfield Magic) idea and perhaps less likely ideas such as Dublin, the Midlands and Moscow, which have all been suggested with varying degrees of seriousness in the recent past.nnUntil then all we can do is sit back and wait to see what works and what doesn’t, and hope that the game doesn’t get any more bad publicity. The RFL have made a brave decision in creating this system and choosing the clubs: it remains to be seen whether the decision is brilliant or foolhardy. nnKeep Your Eye on Rugby Leaguenntony.williams@lasttackle.comnn.

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