Super League to “take over rugby league”

James Gordon

The ongoing uncertainty over the future structure of the game has reared its head again this week amidst reports of financial strife at lower league clubs Barrow and Keighley.

The recent controversy of the Super League press conference involving new chief executive Robert Elstone, flanked by Wigan owner Ian Lenagan and Warrington counterpart Simon Moran, led to criticism from some other clubs and the RFL attempted to diffuse the situation by confirming no changes had been agreed.

However, eagle-eyed observers noticed a reference to the future make up of the game in the long statement released by the Cougars on Friday, detailing their current money struggles.

It follows earlier speculation that Super League would become a two-division competition, with the League One clubs left over forced to revert to amateur status.

That could mean the likes of Keighley and Barrow leaving the professional game if the proposed changes come to fruition in 2021.

The Keighley statement included: “The Rugby Football League have now made it clear to clubs such as ourselves, Barrow and Whitehaven that there is no longer a pot of money available to save these community clubs and although they will support with the advice and professional administration that they are looking for a return on investment for all clubs in the professional game.

“As a club we need to bear in mind that from 2021 that the Super League will be taking over Rugby League and the proposal is that there will be 20/24 clubs forming a Super League and a Super League
2 with those not involved being moved to the National Conference League as an amateur club.

“We need to act now to make sure that the Keighley Cougars can be part of the new structure in 2021
and continue as a professional sports organisation within the borough of Keighley.

“This means that if we lose Keighley Cougars, the chances are that we will never get it back as a
professional Rugby League club.”

There are currently 38 clubs within the three professional divisions, including two from Wales, two from France and one in Canada.

It was stated in the recent Super League press conference that the Super 8s would be ditched for 2019, though this hasn’t been confirmed by the RFL.

Any significant changes to the game’s structure are unlikely to come in to force until 2021, when the current broadcast deal with Sky Sports runs out.

The lower league clubs have been assured that their current funding, which comes via that broadcasting deal, will remain in place until then.