Another seismic day in rugby league history that raises more questions than answers.
First of all, credit to Leigh for passing the application process and securing a place in Super League. Perhaps if Toronto’s bid to re-join was as thorough and high quality, then all of this could be avoided.
Sadly, Leigh – as a place, a club and a group of fans – are subjected to abuse for nothing more than because of where they are from. It’s hardly their fault that there are three strong Super League clubs around them, and yet here they are, still able to be a top Championship club that has now been given a third chance at establishing themselves in the top flight.
The “my dad is bigger than your dad” culture that was created during the Nigel Wood era has created a toxic environment in rugby league that it threatens never to recover from.
Super League isn’t the be all and end all. Just because an area isn’t in that competition, doesn’t mean rugby league isn’t expanding. It needs players in these areas, first and foremost.
Rugby league, unfortunately, is a minority sport yet people that should no better continue to peddle the myth that simply sticking teams in well-populated areas will suddenly prick the interests of blue chip companies and every broadcaster in the land. There are other sports that prove that this simply isn’t the case.
London as a place can be as big as you like, but if they’re only attracting 2,000 fans each week, it’s not going to attract sponsors; and they have had 20 seasons in Super League that has ultimately proved this.
It’s this constant pressure that the game puts itself under regarding expansion areas commanding big money deals. It’s not going to happen overnight.
The biggest success of London right now is the players that they are producing – something which can happen whatever league they are in and as they proved in 2019, they can make it on their own without a leg up that places undue expectations on them.
Trying to find a solution to their nomadic existence, surely the primary reason they haven’t been able to grow their fanbase significantly, is the next priority.
York’s marketing efforts over the past couple of years have turned them in to the hipsters choice, and a new stadium will help them kick forward further. What they don’t need is to be fast tracked in to Super League with a weight of expectation on their shoulders, when clearly they are progressing quite nicely without it. One of the learnings from the failed Super League expansion efforts of the past must surely be running before you can walk. Let’s not forget too, that York has had a rugby league team since 1901.
They will be better for the experience of applying, and for the attention that it has brought them.
It was a relief that Bradford didn’t get the nod, despite their undoubted fanbase and city location, as they need to be able to re-build in a sustainable manner; while Featherstone deserve sympathy, rather than being lambasted for their location, which again they can do nothing about. They were a strong Championship team when there was no promotion, worked towards putting themselves in a strong position to earn a licence, and then licensing was scrapped.
A big question mark must be raised over the concept of a “European” Super League, after the clear opportunity to elevate Toulouse to join Catalans was passed upon.
After 15 years of the Dragons in the competition, a French TV deal and sponsorship benefits are still lacking and while putting Toulouse may have changed that, it’s all just hypothetical.
Even in spite of COVID, this was a golden opportunity to get a second French team in the competition. The decision not to must raise questions over the purpose of Catalans’ presence, especially as French rugby league is desperate to kick forward. They may well be better off taking things in to their own hands and focusing on developing their elite competition, rather than having their shots called by the north of England.
We wait patiently for some leadership and transparency over the direction of rugby league; because survival mode cannot be a permanent solution.
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