Organic expansion clubs hopeful over rugby league pyramid

James Gordon

A new League 1 South competition is set to be in place for 2019 with assurances that it will provide a pathway for clubs to grow organically up the rugby league pyramid.

Earlier this week, Hemel Stags confirmed their withdrawal from League 1, the third expansion club to pull out of the competition in the last 12 months.

It has been a struggle for the southern clubs, particularly with the presence of resourceful clubs such as Toronto, Toulouse and Bradford in recent years, meaning organic and sustainable growth for rugby league has been difficult.

One of those three clubs, Gloucestershire All Golds, are likely to be a part of the new League 1 South or Southern Premier League competition, which is due to commence next spring.

The creation of a pathway would enable investment in development areas, notably in schools, youth systems, reserve grades and stadiums, as well as attracting finance.

The All Golds say they have stressed repeatedly to the governing body that there has to be a long-term plan to ensure a standards driven and comprehensive development structure for every club and region of the UK.

Lionel Hurst has been the principal proponent of such a way forward for many years and feels that the sport is finally close to acknowledging that it has to embrace the concept of a national identity:

He said: “It is of course essential to proceed in a steady and well balanced fashion but it must be made clear that in the ensuing years there will be promotion and relegation into and out of any new model.

“There must be a clear route to the very top of the sport for every city, town and village in the land.

“Moreover the regional divisions beneath the one planned for 2019 must be strengthened and given clear indications that clubs entering them can also plan a destination to higher echelons of the sport via promotion and relegation.”

Unlike football, there is no pathway from bottom to top in rugby league as there is no real connection between the community game and the semi-professional ranks.

This was bridged previously by National League 3 and the Summer Conference, though both those competitions no longer exist.

How League 1 South will impact the existing League 1 is as yet unknown.

Hemel’s withdrawal leaves 11 teams in League 1, including heartlands clubs like Keighley, Oldham and Hunslet, two Welsh clubs, London Skolars and Newcastle.