RFL need to plan ahead

Halifax coach Martin Hall has raised an issue which has caused concern among those with the interests of the National Leagues at heart: what will happen to the lower leagues come 2009?

Hall points out that there is a level of uncertainty over the RFL’s plans to do away with promotion and relegation. Part of the problem is that the clubs aren’t certain whether the planned franchise system will go ahead; the other part is that the clubs don’t know whether they will be chosen or not.

Halifax, for example, have decided that they cannot take a chance on running a full-time squad next season because they might not get to Super League even if they will the NL1 Grand Final. This is all quite ironic considering the big argument in favour of ditching promotion and relegation was that it will allow clubs to plan ahead.

Not every club will err on the side of caution as Halifax have sensibly done. Doncaster didn’t. They smelled a franchise place in the offing and went all out to get it, including running a full-time squad. That’s why their subsequent financial problems were so devastating.

It could happen to a bigger club; it could even affect a current Super League club. Clubs like Wakefield, Hull KR, Widnes or Castleford could set everything up for the franchise place that they would surely receive, only to find their carefully-made plans count for nothing when that place is given to Dublin or Barcelona.

So what can the RFL do about this? The first thing they must do is set out all their plans for Super League in comprehensive detail so as to leave nobody in the dark. Plans have to be put in place to have the fourteen Super League clubs named as early as possible.

They must also come up with detailed plans for the National Leagues. If places do go to Toulouse, Dublin, Barcelona et al, then Super League will truly become “Super League Europe”. That would leave NL1 as the highest British league.

It may not be too late for the RFL to try and seduce the National League clubs with a vision of a National League Championship or National League Premiership that will actually mean something. After all, the winners will be the national champions of Great Britain.

If the RFL don’t do this then they will only give credence to the school of thought which suggests they don’t care about the lower league, only the bright lights of Super League Europe. Maybe that is true; hopefully it isn’t.

[b]Saints full of confidence[/b]

It was always going to be a tad disappointing to see Les Catalans Dragons lose at Wembley, just as it was with Huddersfield Giants at Twickenham last year. But, like last year, St Helens thoroughly deserved their win.

The Saints managed to overcome a period in the first half that could have seen the advantage swing either way, especially when the video ref ruled out a possible opening score for the Catalans. Two tries before the break put St Helens in control, and a classy display in the second half made sure they would retain the cup.

With this win behind them the Saints are looking to repeat their league and cup double of last year, and become the only team to win the Super League and cup double two years running. They’ll be full of confidence, but there are a couple of teams ready to try and stop them.

[b]Plenty to fight for in NL2[/b]

London Skolars managed to attract a bumper 1,288 crowd to New River Stadium for their big NL2 clash with York City Knights, but were beaten comprehensively by the in-form Knights. This was a big win for York, who now look like earning a play-off finish.

The Skolars are still in the play-off places however, thanks to Oldham’s defeat of Hunslet last week. However, Hunslet and Swinton are not far behind the Londoners, each with two games in hand; the race for the play-offs is far from over.

One team that might not be in the play-offs is Celtic Crusaders; the Welsh side look like taking automatic promotion. However, a loss at Oldham in tomorrow night’s game would be a huge blow for the Crusaders as it could see Featherstone move to the top of the table. It’s bound to be a great game.

[b]Keep Your Eye On Rugby League[/b]

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