The power of suggestion

The licensing system has again come to mind over the past few weeks when I had the chance to visit two of the franchise applicants in Co-operative National League One in successive weeks: first Celtic Crusaders and then Featherstone Rovers. It was an interesting opportunity to get an impression of what these clubs are like in a way that reading about them and watching the segments on [i]Boots ‘n’ All[/i] doesn’t convey.nnIn any case I came to the same conclusion: that both clubs are at reasonably the same level. Both Rovers and the Crusaders beat my team, so a similar playing strength was indicated; this can be seen by the fact that they were also promoted at the same time. This is something often overlooked when Featherstone are written off as outsiders.nnThe stadium and facilities were of a similar level: Chris Moyles Stadium was slightly better but Brewery Field had a bigger pitch. The attendances were roughly similar as well: 1,910 at Featherstone and 1,750 at Celtic. The Crusaders crowd may have been hit by fewer visiting fans but had reduced ticket prices.nnFrom what I’ve seen though there isn’t much to choose between the two clubs, and that is borne out by the more substantial and detailed investigations carried out by [i]Code 13 Magazine[/i] and [i]Boots ‘n’ All[/i]. In Code 13 Rovers were given two points and the Crusaders three; Celtic’s extra point only in the expansion category. Sky Sports gave the Crusaders and Featherstone an extra point each for youth development.nnAll of which makes me wonder why in the eyes of many Celtic Crusaders are shoo-ins for a Super League franchise while Featherstone Rovers are merely a joke candidate. It’s the power of suggestion: the Crusaders have been talked about in connection with a franchise ever since they were set up, whereas Featherstone’s application was something of a surprise. nnBut the merest investigation shows that there is very little to choose between the two clubs, and the idea that one is a frontrunner while the other is an outcast seems silly, and is unsustainable on the evidence available. Celtic Crusaders are ahead for one reason and one reason alone: the fact that they’re in South Wales and not West Yorkshire. nnThe Rugby Football League set up their points system to show transparency and to avoid franchise decisions being taken based on the power of suggestion or a gut feeling. The gut feeling is that the Crusades offer more to Super League, but the facts show this isn’t the case. With all due respect to both clubs, neither has yet what it takes to compete in Super League in fewer than 12 months.nnControversial choice?nnOnce again the RFL have raised a little bit of controversy with their choice of Challenge Cup semi final venue. As was to be expected the Galpharm Stadium hosts yet another semi-final tie, but the controversial choice was that of Doncaster’s 15,000-seater Keepmoat Stadium for Hull against Wakefield. It has been suggested that the South Yorkshire venue is too small.nnIt is true to say that the combined average attendances of the two sides equal close to the 20,000 mark, but that’s no reason why a bigger venue should have been provided. Saints and Bradford, who contested last year’s semi at Huddersfield, had a similar combined average but drew fewer than 15,000 to the ground. This way a modern and excellent stadium will be shown on TV almost full.nnThat said, this would not have been my favoured way of hosting the Challenge Cup semi finals. A better idea would be to hold a double-header at a larger stadium such as the City of Manchester or Elland Road. A combined attendance would surely come to somewhere in the region of 30,000 and would be another big day in the rugby league calendar.nnInternationals on the agendannThis month is set to be a very interesting one for international rugby league in Europe. First and foremost is the Test match between England and France in Toulouse accompanied by the kit launce a week before; this is effectively the beginning of England’s preparations for the World Cup. With the travelling involved this is an excellent way for England to get ready for the trip Down Under.nnAs well as this, and perhaps even more exciting, is the RLEF European Nations Shield between the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, and the RLEF Euro Bowl between Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine. It’s always good to see rugby league spreading across the world, and hopefully these nations can continue in their development to the point when they can compete at the highest level, a World Cup.nnNone of these games, England included, will compare to the intensity and high profile of matches against Australia and New Zealand, or even Australia’s State of Origin. But they are welcomed by those of us who enjoy international rugby league and want to see as many people as possible enjoying the greatest game.nnKeep Your Eye on Rugby Leaguenntony.williams@lasttackle.com

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