Leigh Centurions – A Fan’s View

Each day this week, I will be speaking to a supporter from each of the clubs seen to be involved in the race for a Super League spot in 2009. Firstly, I spoke to Leigh Centurion’s supporter Michael Norris, a 44-year-old CEO from Wigan working for Micap PLC.nnHow do you think the RFL will view your bid? nIf the spirit of the exercise is adhered to then I think the bid will be viewed very positively. I have seen the bid presentation which was very professional and set out how Leigh performed against each of the specific criteria. I can see no reason why the bid will not achieve a “B” classification, which as far as I can work out will guarantee entry to SL.n nWhy do you think Leigh should be included? nI could go on about tradition, history and heritage but I think this process is looking at different metrics. The reason I feel Leigh should be included is that whilst other more “established” SL teams have constantly deferred the necessary investment in infrastructure in favour of short term issues (such as signing more Aussies to avoid relegation) the Leigh club have put many years of effort, in conjunction with their partners, to bring about the fantastic new stadium at the Leigh Sports Village. I find in ironic that now that the time of reckoning approaches a number of clubs are suddenly announcing plans for stadia to appear at some time in the future. This is not acceptable – it has been known for a number of years now that the RFL expected significant infrastructure upgrades to help present the game in a good light as a vibrant 21st century entertainment brand and too many clubs took the short term fix. Well for me the time has passed for promises.n nWhat will Leigh add to Super League? nNow I will talk about tradition, history and heritage! Leigh is a Rugby League town – drive through the town on any day and you will pass countless rugby pitches, outside of Primary and Secondary Schools, on general purpose sports fields and in great sporting clubs such as Leigh Miners, Leigh East and Leigh Rangers. The town eats and sleeps Rugby League and is a slumbering giant awaiting a wake up call. Not many years ago over 9000 turned up at Hilton Park to watch Leigh versus Wigan in torrential rain and Leigh’s travelling support has always been very strong. With the new stadium in place, and given time to invest in Youth structures and to work at re-establishing itself as a premium sporting brand in the area, Leigh RL would enjoy an average gate of well over 7000 and take sizeable away followings to swell the coffers of its peers.n nWhat do you think of the other teams’ bids? nI have not been privy to other team’s presentation so it would be unfair for me to comment. All that Leigh RL could do was give it their best shot. I would be very surprised (and suitably impressed); however, if there are 14 better bids than the Leigh one!nnWho do you think the RFL will choose? nAgain, if the spirit of the process is adhered to then Leigh and Widnes should join Super League. I would also expect that Wakefield or Castleford would fail to achieve the “B” grade and should then be in direct competition with Salford for the two remaining places.n nWhat do you think will happen if Leigh don’t get in? nI believe that one of the criteria for success should be the ability to deal with failure! In this instance Leigh RL will continue to thrive at NL1 level. The new stadium will allow the club to be much more proactive in its marketing towards children and families and a commitment to invest in junior development and community work will continue the production line of young players coming out of the vibrant local amateur scene. I have no doubt that Leigh RL would bounce back from a rejection, become the premier club at NL1 and apply successfully for SL in three years time. I do not believe, however, that certain applicants will survive if they fail to be accepted and I hope that the RFL does not allow this threat to colour their judgement.n n nDo you agree with the whole process?nNo. I do believe that off field standards need to rise significantly but this should have been done organically, by setting various criteria to come in over time, or if franchising is to come in then it should be done properly. The NFL in USA is the world’s most successful franchised sports league, but this is done on a totally arms length basis and all revenues are shared amongst the teams equally, with the lower teams having first pick of the available talent for the coming year. What the RFL is proposing is a “closed shop” rather than a franchise and I disagree totally with this. I also feel that promotion and relegation are part of the fabric of Rugby League and I think this will become apparent in the second half of a season as teams realise they have nothing to play for and crowds begin to fall off.n nWho would you like to see get a franchise?nLeigh, Widnes and Salford with Wakefield dropping out.n nAny final thoughts? nI would have much more confidence in the process if the RFL Board of Directors were not the judging entity! Whilst not a believer in conspiracy theories it is only natural that someone who has a close day to day involvement in the game should hold preferences and prejudices (no matter how sub consciously they may be held). If the RFL have confidence in the criteria they have laid down then the assessment against these criteria should be carried out by a totally independent body. nnIrrespective of the result, I would also like to wish all the applicants, whether successful or not, a vibrant and prosperous future in the great game of Rugby League.nnFinney’s Final Thought: I do believe if the Leigh directors put in an argument as good as Mike’s then we may well see Leigh involved next year! These are exciting times for Leigh. The new stadium complex is a fantastic development and the future looks very bright. I’m not quite sure that behind the scenes at Leigh is ready for the top division, but in three years they will be prime candidates.nnI have to agree that they may score more, or the same, as Wakefield and Castleford, but I believe the RFL will not upset the status quo.nnLeigh have just not, only slightly, got enough in their locker to be worthy of SL spot next year. A near miss in my opinion nnkevin.finney@lasttackle.com

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