RFL Chairman Richard Lewis believes Rugby League is well placed to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead as the sport reflects on a strong year in 2010.
Sell out crowds at the Carnegie Challenge Cup Final and Engage Super League Grand Final, robust attendances in Super League and healthy viewing figures on both Sky Sports and BBC this year have testified to the growing appeal of Rugby League.
And as the sport heads into a year which will see the awarding of three-year Super League licences from 2012 and ongoing negotiations over broadcasting rights, Lewis feels there is cause for considerable optimism.
“We should all be excited by what lies ahead in 2011 and I am confident in the sport’s ability to continue to perform strongly in what is proving to be a difficult economic climate,” he said.
“This year has been a tough one for many clubs and while there are challenges ahead, I feel sure we can continue to grow both as a sport and as businesses.
“The TV contract we agreed with Sky Sports last year saw all the Super League clubs receive considerably enhanced distributions in 2010 whilst Co-operative Championship clubs again benefited from substantial disbursements from the governing body.
“That some clubs have continued to experience financial problems is a concern, especially as we approach the next round of licensing, but the RFL remains committed to working closely with all clubs to help them realise their potential.
“On the field, we have an outstanding game played by fantastic athletes who this year have played out some wonderfully memorable matches in all competitions.
“Who can forget Batley Bulldogs’ thrilling victory in the Northern Rail Cup final or the wonderful fightback Halifax staged to defeat Featherstone Rovers to win the Co-operative Championship Grand Final
“The capacity crowds at Wembley and Old Trafford for the Carnegie Challenge Cup Final and Engage Super League Grand Final saw two outstanding matches and the challenge now is for the sport to build on that momentum.
“Attendances generally held up well in Super League, despite the challenging economic climate, but challenges still exist at some Championships clubs.
“In full consultation with all Championship clubs, the RFL is currently conducting a review to establish the optimum structure to organise the sport at this level as it is clear that 2011 represents a golden opportunity for the sport to re-examine how it plans to move forward.
“Our own figures show that across the country more people have played Rugby League in 2010 than ever before, a trend we are sure will continue and even increase given some of the ideas that are coming out of the review to the playing season for the community game.
“The move to Four Seasons Rugby League provides us with an opportunity to create a structure for the whole sport that meets the needs of every player, from junior through community level, semi-professional and professional to international teams.
“Much progress was made internationally in 2010 and whilst England did not win the Four Nations, all the players who participated in that tournament gained valuable experience. And with the successful launch of the England and Wales Rugby League World Cup at MediaCityUK I am sure those players and everyone else will be looking forwards with great excitement.
“The success of the England Academy, who defeated the Australian High Schools in their Test series earlier this month, offers hard proof of the hard work below senior level that continues to be undertaken by Rugby League clubs across the country and bodes well for the national team’s prospects.
“We were delighted that England Head Coach Steve McNamara was able to take up his position in a full time capacity earlier this year: Steve will continue to work closely with both his colleagues in the RFL’s Performance and Coaching Department and the clubs as we look ahead to 2013.
“Steve is one of a number of key appointments made by the RFL this year and I believe the organisation and its board are now better equipped than ever before to take the sport forward.”