First of all I want to tell British Rugby League fans to stop being so reactionary.
What has happened has happened. You can blame this and that, but at the end of the day the real problem is that the foundations that the game in Great Britain is built upon are completely rotten. Until the foundations are fixed, nothing will stop the death of the British game.
The real problem for British Rugby League is that no one within Britain knows what is wrong or how to fix things.
I see so many suggestions from British fans, and all of them are wrong. There are no quick fixes to be had. There are no shortcuts.
It is only going to get worse before it gets better. It is going to be painful. More players will leave. Star players. It will happen.
The first major problem is that the financial structure of British Rugby League is completely unworkable.
First of all, there should only be two tiers of professionalism in the British game. Everything below that should be amateur football. There is a certain threshold you need to be hitting with crowds, broadcasting contracts and general public interest before you can start paying players a wage. Even the Championship struggles to reach those levels, let alone the leagues below them.
At Super League level, no club is run like a true business. Even the best clubs in Super League only survive because of wealthy backers who pour their own money into the club so that it enjoys success.
If you took Wigan and gave them the level of financial backing that the Wakefield Wildcats have, you would find that it wouldn’t take very long at all before they were getting the same results as the Wildcats, the same crowds, drawing the same players and losing their best youngsters, just as the Wildcats do.
That is a broken financial model. It is not sustainable. It needs fixed.
The salary cap needs to be lowered in Super League to a level that is sustainable for all clubs. That salary cap then needs to be policed. It is all very simple, and it flys in the face of what most British fans think needs to take place. But these are the foundations that need to be rebuilt for the game to grow once again.
British players earn less then imports, because they are worth less. They are not as good.
Lets take Joel Tomkins as an example. He felt he was underpaid at Wigan and left. Fair enough. When you think of the money Wigan spent on coaching and in the development of him as a player, it would be a decent amount of money to get to this point where Joel Tomkins think he is worth a certain amount of money.
Now, thinking of all that money Wigan has spent on him…..a club can spend that, or, then could drop a bunch of money on someone like Matthew Gidley or Jamie Lyon, and they will walk into your side, a known quantity, a finished product, and they will out perform any of the players you have spent money on developing over the years.
British players are simply not good enough and do not deserve what they are being paid right now in many cases. That is a very sad fact.
So, how do you develop better British players?
I think at this stage the RFL needs to reach out to the new Rugby League administration in Australia and try and work out some type of deal that would see the best young British players sent to Australia to play in the NRL’s Under 20’s competition. Put into place a scholarship systems that see’s young British players receive an education alongside their training as a professional Rugby League player.
We have seen with Gareth Widdop (Who’s family moved to Australia) that a British youngster coming through Australia’s incredible junior development system can find themselves playing in the NRL, in a top side on the back of their own ability. Hell, Gareth Widdop is playing alongside Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk ever single week, and is seen as a very important part of the Melbourne Storms side!
British Rugby League needs to get out of this mentality that it is “Us against Australia” because that attitude has kept the game back in Britain for decades now. Rugby League in Great Britain isn’t fighting against Rugby League in Australia. It is fighting against every other form of entertainment a young boy or girl has at their disposal these days.
It is fighting against other sports, computer game, movies, concerts….anything that can draw someones attention away from Rugby League.
When the NRL enters its next broadcasting deal we are going to see NRL clubs strip Super League of talent at will. They will have the ability to throw money at players that can not be refused. The NRL, conservatively, will be earning $250,000,000 every single year just from its broadcasting deal alone. That doesn’t even take into account sponsorship, gate taking and merchandise!
British Rugby League needs to embrace this behemoth and find a way to convince it that there is still value within the British game that the NRL and its clubs should invest in.
Why couldn’t we see the RFL work out a deal with the NRL where by each club signs one British youngster to its Under 20’s teams. They might not all become star players, but the experience will be invaluable and when they do return home, they will bolster the depth of talent in Super League which is terribly low.
There needs to be a referee exchange program in place right now. Once British referee’s are brought up to professional levels there will be no short cuts to success and clubs will need to play smarter football to be able to win. That will force coaches and players to improve, that will draw the crowds, and at the end of the day, every improvement will have a beneficial effect on the game in Great Britain as a whole.
I’ve written countless times on this web site about all of the ways Great Britain needs to improve and how many area’s it needs to fix before that will happen. The thing that amazes me is that ALL of these areas need to be improved. There is not one area of the game in Great Britain that is not in drastic decline.
The major hurdle to overcome though is to get it through the heads of club chairmen that, the health of the worst club in the club has a direct and dramatic impact on the health of the best club in the league.
When the worst club goes bust mid season, that devalues the entire competition. That lowers the amount of money the very top club can demand from sponsors and how much the game overall can demand from broadcasters because both are now having to content with pouring money into clubs in a competition that can see clubs go belly up and their money gone in the process.
Once clubs realize they need to look after the greater good, we will see the salary cap set at a more reasonable level, that salary cap policed, we will see talent equalization across Super League, that will see all teams have a better chance of winning, and that will draw in bigger crowds, attract more attention and bring more money to every club in the competition.
British Rugby League is going to continue to lose star players. The big issue will not be Rugby Union, it will be a cashed up, predatory NRL.
What British Rugby League needs to do, much like the NRL has done over the last ten years, is get its house in order. Put systems in place. Stop living beyond its means. Maximize every single opportunity that comes its way.
It it can do that, if it can get the foundations solid, then down the tract we could be talking about the behemoth that British Rugby League has become. How all Super League clubs are strong. How they are providing the game with world class talent.
That surely has to be the ultimate goal.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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