Organising the future

The Rugby Football League have got to concede defeat and admit that there’s an increasing problem regarding the defection of several League players to Union.

Maurice Lindsay has used the departure of Chris Ashton to Northampton RU to reignite his claims for salary cap changes which will protect the future of youngsters in the game, by removing their salary payments from the capping system.

Whether Lindsay really wanted to keep Ashton that desperately is perhaps a matter of opinion, but it is the perfect ammunition for his continuing protests against the implementation of the salary cap.

The RFL should either increase the salary cap collectively, or make exception for players under the age of say 23. Why should rugby league clubs be exempt from using the financial powers of money men? A Roman Abramovich would be useless to a rugby league club, due to the contract restrictions.

In an ideal world, clubs would be able to carry squads of 30 or more, including several home grown players on decent wages, encouraging the growth of the game at a grass roots level, but also ensuring fringe Super League players don’t drop out of the full time game for the part time benefits of the National Leagues, which enable them to carry a full time job in industry.

Not only that, but teams like Salford wouldn’t have to carry out emergency loan deals, as they have with Berthezene from Catalans this week. Had they been able to afford to, they could have kept John Clough, who would have provided perfect back up to Mal Alker.

The loss of Stephen Myler and Chev Walker at the back end of last year were just as big a blow as losing Ashton was. In fact any player attracted by the lure of Union’s finances and international game is a nail in the coffin of Rugby League. And something needs to be done.

The world of rugby league has to work together to make next year’s World Cup a success. The qualifying stages ran smoothly, albeit with a few withdrawals, and are set to finish at the end of 2007. But there’s been nothing announced regarding the tournament. Do the Australian Rugby League really care about this event? The promotion of rugby league isn’t really an issue Down Under as it is one of the most popular sports over there, but that is in huge contrast to the situation elsewhere.

I’ve heard rumours regarding the format of the competition as they try to attempt to avoid big scores. Putting the big 3 – Australia, New Zealand and England – together would be a huge mistake. They avoided that in the cricket world cup, so why not the League version?

There are two formats that I personally would like to see. Two groups of 5, with Australia and England in one, New Zealand and France in the other. These sides would act as seeded teams, with the other 3 teams in each group made up of PNG and the other qualifiers. Although this would perhaps result in the most obvious four qualifying for the semi finals, surely that is the point? And who’s to say someone wont pull off a shock, ala Ireland in the cricket world cup?

Alternatively, the competition could run with 2 groups of 3 and a group of 4. Australia, England and New Zealand could be separate, with the winner of each group qualifying and the best placed runner up.

At the end of the day, the competition is in place to determine the best side in the world. So the best sides in the world should be going through to the next rounds, in theory. But they should still have to beat the other teams in the competition, not just the big teams. It will be a great occasion for fans of Wales, Scotland and PNG, and the rest of the qualifiers, and I doubt it will be spoilt by the odd big score, as long as their team puts up a fight.

But, regardless of what is decided, it needs to be announced soon, so we can all start planning our holidays to Australia next year! The game needs a World Cup to sustain itself as an international sport.

Since my last editorial, we have announced the LastTackle.com Challenge match, which will take place between South London Storm and South Humber Rabbitohs. This reiterates our support for the development of the game.

Speaking of which, I’m assured by my contacts that League is blossoming in the schools of London. We can’t see it now, but I’m sure in years to come, League will prosper from all the hard work with schools now.

With the progress of clubs like South London Storm, and our partners London Griffins who this week announced a seven year sponsorship deal, their could be scope for development clubs down south to help with the extension of the National Leagues. Although the previous attempt at a National League 3 failed, the potential is there for League to really make huge steps in years to come.

If London based, and other development clubs, such as Kent Ravens and Oxford Cavaliers, can sustain enough interest to perhaps run as semi professional outfits, in a similar way to how most National League 2 sides are run, as well as the likes of Bramley Buffaloes, then maybe a National League 3 could appear on the agenda again.

If a National League 3 was to be introduced again, there would need to be promotion and relegation to and from National League 2. I’d like to see a ten team division, with the majority of teams coming from the southern regions, for example clubs from the existing Rugby League Conference Premier Divisions. The geographic area of semi professional clubs needs to expand, and National League 3 is the right way to do this – but only when it is right.

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