A united rugby code ‘seems inevitable’; St Helens hangover and Wire’s record chase – Paper talk

James Gordon
A unified rugby code? Paper Talk

Photo: Adam Butler/PA Archive/PA Images

It’s 127 years since rugby split in to the two codes we know today.

Both codes currently find themselves embroiled in litigation, and desperately tweaking to the laws of each game to ensure player welfare and safety is prioritised.

In the UK, two top flight rugby union clubs have disappeared from the fixture lists this season having gone in to financial difficulty, while rugby league is still adjusting to a heavily reduced broadcast deal ahead of negotiating a new one at the end of this year.

With still separation in the geography of the two codes the question has been raised as to whether a united rugby would be the best way forward for everyone.

‘United rugby seems inevitable’

There’s a must read piece in the latest Forty-20 magazine which ponders the re-unification of both rugby codes.

Editor Phil Caplan says a drift to one code ‘seems inevitable’ in the context of the ever-changing laws in both games, which has seen union move ever close to several league rules, underpinned by a raft of coaches brought in from the 13-man game.

And of course union has what rugby league desperately wants – blue-chip sponsors awash with money and a thriving international game.

He writes: “Both rugbys are undergoing the need for radical change… Does it any longer makes sense to try to sell two variants of rugby to a changing and desperately needed potential new audience?

“Here in the UK, a single ‘rugby’ would instantly be national geographically, filling the missing pieces of each other’s jigsaw. Overseas it would be recognisably global… league already has the Pacific while union is stronger in the Americas and South Africa.

Touch rugby could finally be unified, which is the vehicle to most quickly and easily bring in more players.

“Only one organisation stands to lose out in any way – the NRL.”

It’s a fascinating read and suggestion. A move to a hybrid code of rugby rears its head occasionally. Around the advent of Super League, fans might remember a cross code clash between Wigan and Bath. In recent years, there has been talk of the Australia Kangaroos taking on the New Zealand All Blacks, the two sides regarded as the best in their respective codes.

In many ways, a united code makes a lot of sense. As Phil says, geographically, certainly in the UK, it would be ideal. A united Super Premiership, with St Helens, Wigan and Leeds taking on the might of Leicester, Saracens and Bath.

The litigation both codes are facing creates a lot of uncertainty, and it is thought that union is at even greater financial risk than rugby league. Tweaks to the laws in both codes in respect of player welfare, will inevitably make the on-field product of both similar.

You could argue what exactly has rugby union got to gain by ‘merging’ with league, particularly if it simply continues to adopt similar playing patterns and rulings; especially given the sheer size of World Rugby and its participation figures now, and their grip on the term ‘rugby’, perhaps naively squandered by rugby league after it had birthed the concept of a Rugby World Cup.

The biggest challenge would undoubtedly be how a hybrid code would prevent essentially a third version of rugby breaking out – rugby league, rugby union and the new ‘hybrid’ version.

Traditionalists and purists might well choose to stick with what they know, rather than adopt whatever the new code looks like.

Maybe that could work at grassroots level, until there is a natural move towards unification in the future, and then make the hybrid version the rugby of choice for the elite game – meaning the full-time domestic competitions and of course the international game.

A most interesting contribution in the piece is left to St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus. He is quoted as saying: “There are a number of reasons why union has to change… and very few why rugby league does. We’ve evolved our rules to get to the sport that we are for very good reason.

“The differentials between the rules will erode, undoubtedly. Whether that dictates a coming together or not… I feel that it will, because there’s also the economic pressure.

“A combined game would be far stronger than one that has been divided for 140 years, but there is still an awfully long way to go.”

Watch this space?

No more Saints hangover

Lewis Dodd says St Helens have now recovered from their World Club Challenge hangover.

The four-time Super League champions spent pre-season in Australia, playing against St George-Illawarra Dragons in a trial game, before their historic 13-12 win over NRL champions Penrith Panthers to become world champions.

Since their return, they have been beaten by both Leigh and Leeds.

He told The Mirror: “I think we have finally got over the hangover now. The effort, desire and will to win at Huddersfield was back to Saints being Saints.”

Record-breaking chance for Warrington

Former Warrington coach Tony Smith could have his own record equalled when he takes current club Hull to the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Saturday.

Daryl Powell’s side can make it seven wins from seven and equal the clubs best ever start to a Super League season – set in 2016 when Smith was Wolves boss.

Powell told the Warrington Guardian: “To be able to achieve that mark in the club’s Super League history would be awesome.”

Warrington defeated Widnes in a top of the table clash on Good Friday in 2016 to make it seven wins from seven, before ironically losing to Hull on Easter Monday.

Brand recommends Love Island

Leigh centre Keanan Brand says he would recommend Love Island to any rugby league player interested in appearing on the ITV reality show.

Brand followed in the footsteps of ex-Castleford hooker Jacques O’Neill in appearing on the popular programme.

He told The Sun: “If a player comes up to me saying they wanted a go, I’d say, ‘Go for it, 100 per cent.’ Anyone who gets the opportunity should definitely go for it.”

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