Widnes in Super League – it’s a fix

It was less than a week ago that Widnes Vikings were awarded a Super League license for the 2012 season. Many believe that Widnes were the most deserving of the three applicants, but of course not everyone agrees. Halifax fans, for instance, argue that their bid as Co-operative Championship winners was more suitable. In fact, some Fax fans have argued that because the champions’ bid was overlooked in favour of the Vikings, then the RFL fixed the outcome – the whole process was a fix.

And of course it was a fix – if your definition of “a fix” is publishing a set of criteria and then deciding which club best fulfils it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no supporter of the licensing system. As I discussed last week it detracts from what happens on the pitch. I was there in 2001 when Widnes celebrated winning the NFP Grand Final; ten years on and the fans are celebrating the RFL chairman reading out their name on Sky Sports News. It seems that off-field politics is now more important than on-the-field achievement – but as I also pointed out that’s no fault of Widnes.

This is something that opponents of Widnes’ bid generally didn’t seem to grasp. By and large they weren’t arguing that promotion and relegation ought to be brought back, but they were arguing that Widnes had somehow cheated in gaining a place in Super League without winning the league. I think this exchange, from the Love Rugby League Facebook group, is fairly representative: 

A Widnes fan lists the club’s qualifications as: “amongst the best facilities in SL; a crowd base higher than any other Championship team and two of the current SL teams (if not three); the most solvent club financially in the game; the best youth set up outside SL and better than most SL clubs.”

To which the response from a Halifax fan was: “Omg some jokers on here tonight! Better than some SL teams? You lost to Hunslet”.

This is annoying, but nothing new really. When licensing first came into operation the RFL tried to explain it properly, while clubs were surveyed and rated on Sky Sports and in the Rugby League World on criteria as far ranging as player production and baby-changing facilities. And yet when the announcement was made people still insisted that Salford and Celtic Crusaders were the most deserving because they had finished first and second respectively in National League One.

The whole system has a problem with lack of understanding if we’re honest. Last season there was that whole business over whether Toulouse were eligible to apply (they weren’t) and many this season believe that Super League will expand to 16 clubs. One person speculated that the RFL were going to turn Super League and the Championships into two leagues of 16. This is despite the RFL’s published commitment to keeping Super League at 14 clubs, and recent published documents which state that the RFL aim to make the Championship a 14-team league and open Championship One to community clubs.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t criticise – I do it all the time. None of this is to say the RFL don’t get it wrong – how exactly does Barrow’s Craven Park fall below Super League standards while Celtic Crusaders’ Brewery Field got the nod in 2008?

It’s just irritating that people are blaming Widnes, as though they’ve somehow cheated. If Halifax fans thought their entire bid could rest being the champions then they’ve spent the last five years living in a cave with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears. Of the two clubs Widnes were the one smart enough to play the RFL’s game. As the victims of RFL decisions several times before it’s about time they were the beneficiaries, and when it comes down to it they were simply the better club. 

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