You don’t get much coverage of Rugby League in the newspapers during the close season so I’m sure you won’t have missed the news from other parts of the sporting world, Mr Henry and his basketball skills which led to the inevitable conversation about video technology in football and people of course bring up rugby as a shining example of the use of video technology. Which always make me feel a little smug, for such a long time rugby league has been an innovative sport, not afraid to reassess and change itself, always trying to improve the game for spectators.
You may also have read the news about Lords cricket ground possibly selling their name to a sponsor and you’ll be sure to think we’ve been doing that for years. I even thought to myself, what’s the fuss! We have a team who sold their whole name – The Vodafone Warriors – and people are up in arms over the name of a stadium.
I also read one of the silliest things I’ve read in a while – the suggestion of merging League and Union (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article6916206.ece). We’re practically two different sports with a few similarities. Rugby Union fans won’t want to give up their boring kicking and “tactical” scrummaging for the faster pace of Rugby League.
It’s all well and good being ahead of other sports in terms of refereeing and being forward thinking with your sponsorship but now is exactly the right time to push rugby league. Rugby Union is undoubtedly our biggest rival in terms of spectators, as a sport we can’t compete with football and I don’t think we ever will.
But at the moment Rugby Union is struggling with a game becoming ever more bogged down by a slow boring rucking game interspersed with the tennis style kicking that has plagued the game for such a long time.
Now is exactly the right time to have a Super League club in a rugby union heartland such as Wales. Whilst die hard union fans aren’t going to come flocking to watch Celtic, fringe supporters bored by the slow pace and boring play may well be enticed by the 13 a side game.
Rugby League on the other hand is buoyant, there is a growing international game – Australia are no longer world champions and England have finally shown some promise of gaining ground on them. France are slowly becoming a competitive force and making the step up from being the customary whipping boys of the international scene and many lesser nations are embracing the game (even if it is with a handful of Aussies in the team)
Personally I think the time is right to establish a global governing body for the sport to help with the on going international growth and to iron out the differences in play and refereeing between the two major leagues.
This season has also seen a competitive Super League with many exciting games where results were far from guaranteed and predictable. Even though we did see Saints and Leeds contest the grand final again, you certainly wouldn’t back that as a certainty for next seasons Old Trafford show piece.
This will all make the next round of licensing for Super League very interesting. I personally would love to see Widnes in the Super League and I think there may well be a casualty or two from the current list of top flight clubs. However the argument for a club in Cumbria is massive, it’s seemingly unbelievable that the county has not had a top flight club for so long.
The future of Rugby League looks positive but it may well ask hard questions in the heartlands of the game, nobody wants to see the traditional, historic clubs out of Super League but there simply isn’t room to accommodate everybody and expand the game into new areas.