The big news this week is the announcement of the Rugby League World Cup draw for the 2008 competition. It's come as great relief to many, particularly after the rumours that the ARL weren't so keen to host the event after all.
The obvious main talking point is the "super pool", which effectively diminishes the World Cup. As I've read on many internet forums, you might as well just automatically place Australia, England and New Zealand in the semi finals.
It's been done to prevent one sided scorelines – but when has that stopped other sports' competitions being successful? Take in to consideration the Rugby Union World Cup, the Football World Cup and most recently Cricket World Cup. There'll be no Ireland shocking Pakistan in the RLWC, because the smaller nations wont be able to play the big boys.
Personally, I think the failure of previous World Cup's havent been embarrassing one sided scores, but purely poor organisation, poor marketing and poor management. I'd much rather have seen 2 knockout groups of 5, than 3 ridiculously lop-sided pools.
But a World Cup is a world cup nonetheless, and all the developing countries that make it should receive a boost. It's now up to the authorities to ensure that this competition gets the worldwide coverage it deserves. Can you really picture the front of the Daily Mirror carrying the England Rugby League team as heroes? I can't. It's up to the RFL and the ARL to stop such media ignorance from happening.
Salford for the drop anyone? They've proved last season was just a blip, just as Wakefield had a few years back. They've forgotten about the basics, and seem to be living on the back of last year's success. John Wilkinson has said relegation is unthinkable, but who else is there? It'll come down to them and Hull KR. It's interesting to read Wilkinson seems to think the Reds are guaranteed 8,000 when they move to a new ground – talk about wishful thinking.
Continuing on the low crowds theme, what a disgraceful turnout for the Harlequins-Wakefield game last weekend, at just over 2,500. I know a lot has been done at the grass roots level down South, thanks to Harlequins and, as they were previously, London Broncos, but something needs to be done about the lack of fans coming through the turnstiles. How can you justify getting such a low crowd, when a National League 2 match can draw 2,800 – as Celtic v Blackpool did two weekends ago, albeit with a promotion. It's not fair on fans of traditional clubs that they are being denied Super League status for the sake of 2,500 fans supporting an expansion side.
There's a lot to compete with in London, which is perhaps why Harlequins' media and marketing department need to have a look at themselves. How can they justify playing on a Saturday, when there's usually Premiership football and amateur rugby league on? They're getting people to play the game down there – but it's pointless, as they can't attend Quins games if they're playing!
The uncertainty in Rugby League must be unmatched in any other sport. It seems season upon season nobody knows what's going to happen. Nobody knows who Great Britain will play in a mid season test, nobody knows whether anyone will get promoted or relegated and nobody knows when St Helens are going to get a new ground.
The sooner the RFL and Super League decide upon the future of the game, the better. The chopping and changing has to stop. Take football as a prime example – it rarely, if ever changes. Since the radical introduction of the Premiership in 1992, there have been only slight changes in the formation of the 92 league clubs. It's now time for the RFL to decide that they want X number of teams in Super League and X number of teams in National Leagues 1 and 2.
For me, Super League has to extend to 14 clubs. I won't even go into who should get the 14 "franchises", but that's another matter. I'd love to see a fully professional National League 1, consisting of full time teams, but that may not happen. I'd estimate that around 20 teams can sustain full time status, and with 14 of them going in to Super League, 6 may not be enough. If possible though, a Super League "2" would be a great idea – we could then perhaps encourage more French teams to join at the second level and expand upon the game. How does this sound?
Super League – 14 elite teams
Premiership – 14 teams made up of SL rejects, NL clubs French/Irish/Welsh teams
National League – 14 teams made up of remaining NL1 and NL2 clubs
Whatever happens, the RFL need to make their bed and sleep in it. 2009 will be a massive year for Rugby League, and the RFL needs to make sure it's a massive year for all the right reasons.