When you apply some pressure

After musing last week on which engage Super League coach will be out of a job next the answer was not long in coming. Paul Cullen found himself out of work earlier this week after his Warrington side suffered a shock defeat to Castleford Tigers on Monday night, the bottom-placed side coming from 14 points down with just 12 minutes left in the game to earn a sensational victory.nnCullen’s departure was no surprise given that he has been under pressure for a long time now, particularly this season. With the squad at his disposal the Wolves should have been right at the top of the league this season: anything less than the top four would have been a massive disappointment. That is the pressure that coaches like Cullen have to work under.nnIt is the same pressure that eased Peter Sharp out of a job, and will build up on his successor Richard Agar; the same pressure that keeps us guessing which coach will be next in the firing line; the very same pressure that all coaches, players and directors feel every week.nnIt seems strange that the pressure of being involved in Super League hasn’t been diminished by removing the threat of relegation. After all it was that pressure, we were told, that drove clubs to make short-term decisions and short-term signings rather than long-term plans including youth development. By taking that away we would have a more stable top-flight competition and an influx of young English talent.nnBut it is self-evidently true that the pressure remains. In previous years Hull would be a club threatened by relegation and would have to make a short-term decision to beat the drop such as a change of coach. Now the threat is removed the club is free … to make a short-term decision such as a change of coach. Nothing has changed; what was the point?nnThe reason for this is that a poorly-performing club will always lose fans and sponsors which results in the loss of a great deal of revenue. Added to that is the pressure to go up, into the play-offs, towards the Grand Final and the Super League championship. That is unless the RFL decide to remove the ridiculous concept of “winning and losing”, which forces clubs to make short-term decisions and short-term signings.nnOf course this is just one aspect of the whole promotion-and-relegation debate, but the argument that clubs are now free from pressures that cause knee-jerk reactions does seem a bit silly, and now Sharp, Cullen and the rest of us know how untrue it really is. nnWhere have the fans gone?nnA crowd of around 14,000 for a game between Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos was disappointing as this used to be a fixture which guaranteed a crowd of over 20,000. The first time the sides met at Odsal after the Bulls’ return from Valley Parade 21,000 people were on hand to watch; why has the figure dropped by 7,000 in just a couple of years?nnPart of the reason is that Bradford, although still a massive club within rugby league, are not quite the force they once were. The fact that the Bulls are only in fifth place and that the Rhinos won the last two games fairly comfortably will not have been a boost to crowd figures. But the main reason for this decline is that the games are played far too often: four times in the regular season and likely a fifth in the play-offs. nnThis over familiarity diminishes the interest and intensity of such games more than one teams decline; for example, derbies between Liverpool and Everton were always massive even when the Blues were at the foot of the table, the reason being that the sides only met twice a year. Hopefully crowds will increase if Super League fixtures are organised on a home-and-away basis next season.nnNew plans for Cumbrian franchise bidnnWith the franchise system in the offing a lot of talk has been about a Cumbrian franchise being admitted into Super League, and that is what Barrow Raiders vice-chairman Tony Colyer has called for. His vision is of a Cumbrian Super League team acting as an umbrella side for Whitehaven Workington and Barrow, who would be the club’s feeder teams.nnIt’s a superb idea on paper, but in practice beset with difficulties. Where would this side find the players to compete? Presumably from Lancashire and Yorkshire, or down under. Where would it play? Carlisle seems the only suitable venue but that’s a bit of a journey for fans, especially Barrow. It would be like setting up a club out of nothing and expecting it to compete.nnThe biggest problem is that the fans are not likely to support such a venture. They owe their loyalties to ‘Haven, Town or Barrow, not to Cumbria; one ‘Haven fan likened it to a merger of Widnes, Warrington and Castleford. Hopefully the Cumbrian franchise doesn’t come about because it would be a flop and an embarrassment.nnKeep Your Eye On Rugby Leaguenntony.williams@lasttackle.com

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