Our attempt to put the 2012 annus horribilis behind us didn’t last long did it? After months of speculation, Salford joined the Crusaders, Wakefield and Bradford in the growing list of financial failings under the franchising system. Its groundhog day. Again. And again.
This must bring in to question the franchising system and the viability of professional rugby league in Britain. But are the RFL ready for this debate? It would seem not. Nigel Wood’s head has been in the sand for so long now, the tide has come in. Apparently our game is in rude health. This is because Rugby League is the second most popular sport on Sky Sports. Yet these viewing figures have little impact on the state of our game. Just like viewing figures for the X Factor don’t affect the state of the music industry. The only joy we get from Rugby League these days, is the endorsement of our sport by footballers on twitter. A picture of Wayne Rooney holding the World Cup became a major news story.
Salford’s decline is an even bigger soap opera than the X Factor. Starting with the mad appointment of Matt Parish (remember him?) who was promised the earth, and was given Stephen Wild on a free. As the big clubs creamed off England internationals (Myler, Ratchford et al), Salford suffered the debacle of the final game at The Willows. Remember their opening game at their brand spanking new ground? No not the defeat against Leigh. The grand opening against the mighty Castleford. The snow almost stopped it before it had begun. I think the rugby gods were trying to tell us something. The only bit of good news so far for their supporters is the reported signing of Martin Gleeson, who will be pairing up with his old mate Sean Long. What could possibly go wrong?
Yet it seems, the rugby league community have exhausted all their words and energy on Bradford and cannot be bothered to save Salford. Either that or we are just getting used to the annual demise of a Super League side. Unfortunately the players are again left in the dark, But this isn’t just about salvaging a failing rugby league team.
With an era defining World Cup on the horizon, the sport in England is in a terrible state. We have no main sponsor, no chairman and the lucrative Sport England cash is to be slashed by £10 million. If there is an Olympic bounce, we certainly aren’t feeling it. It is clear now that there is not enough quality to support 14 clubs, just as it cannot support an eight team playoff system. There must be serious questions about a breakaway between the top 10 clubs, for their own sake, and our own.
As we embark on the biggest year in our history, we have started with a bump. We are at a crossroads in our history and the evolution of our game. The feel good factor of the Olympics will happen once in our lifetime, and we have one last shot at taking our game to the masses.
A successful World Cup and a successful England team would provide a huge shot in the arm for our game that no sponsorship could ever do. It seems the RFL have accidentally scheduled the World Cup at a great time for our country. You only have to look at the BBC Sports Personality awards to see that sport is the ‘in thing’ at the moment. If we get this right we can attract those bandwagon jumpers, the ones who have took up cycling in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ heroics and do the ‘mobot’ on the way to work.
And so we must turn to our England heroes in waiting. Just six games, to define the future of our game. Sam Tomkins and Sir Kevin, our game rests in you lifting that trophy on a rainy night in Manchester. We can even have an open topped bus parade through the streets of Salford to celebrate. One can dream eh?