The Rugby Football League has announced that Super League will be cut from 14 teams in 2014 to 12 teams in 2015. There are more decisions to be made over the coming months about competition structure and how the relationship between Super League and The Championship will work.
All of the decisions being made come at a very important time for Rugby League in Great Britain. The game is at a real crossroads with clubs facing financial hardship, competition from other sports, competition for players, competition for sponsors….the decisions made now need to be the right ones.
In this article I want to cover a number of the more important decisions that face the game, the effects those decisions will have on the game, and what I believe is the way forward for Rugby League in Great Britain.
Cutting Super League Back To 12 Teams
This was a decision that had to be made. It is one that I applaud.
With less teams in Super League we will hopefully see the quality of games improve. We will see broadcasting and sponsorship money used more wisely as club grants will rise as there are fewer teams to share it with.
The overall player pool in Super League simply isn’t deep enough to sustain 14 clubs. When you consider that the NRL will sign a number of players from Super League in the future, and that there will be fewer quality imports joining Super League clubs, the competition simply had to be cut back.
When the competition initially expanded to 14 teams it was done in an effort to try and expand the game into new areas. Because of woeful management, that didn’t work out. Super League simply can’t afford to carry so many poorly run clubs any more.
The competition simply had to be cut back to 12 teams. Its a great move.
The Return Of Promotion And Relegation
There is talk that promotion and relegation will return. This would be devastating to the game in Great Britain.
We all agree that there is not enough money or quality players to sustain more than 12 teams, that means we are going to cut 2 clubs who are deemed not to be of Super League quality.
On the back of that decision, we would then bring in Promotion and Relegation. That would see one of the 12 clubs deemed worthy of Super League being immediately replaced by one of the 2 teams that were removed from the competition because they were deemed to be not up to the standard required!
That would be absolute madness!
Rugby League in Great Britain does not have the money to see one of its elite clubs every year decimated by the Relegation process, and it certainly does not have the money or playing strength to afford to have one Championship club every season spend beyond its means to not be able to build a Super League quality team in the space of 2 months in the off season.
Promotion and Relegation stops clubs from being able to build for the future. It stops clubs across most of the competition from being able to attract star players. It stops them from being able to hold onto top juniors. It stops them from signing top coaches.
Players and coaches want stability. They want to know that if they commit to a club that that club will not be going anywhere. The Huddersfield Giants are a great example of this.
With Promotion and Relegation in place, there is no way the Giants could have build the squad they have today. Players have committed to the Giants knowing that they were not a top side, but they offered stability. They were building something. Now look where they stand!
The NRL doesn’t have Promotion and Relegation. The Parramatta Eels, Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs, Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs are the last 7 clubs to finish at the bottom of the NRL ladder over the last 7 seasons.
Can you imagine how stupid it would have been to see any one of these clubs go through the process of being Relegated? Stripped of players and coaches. The loss of sponsors. The fall in memberships.
When you take a look at that list of clubs you have to remember that 4 of those NRL teams listed above have played in the Grand Final within the last 7 years as well! They can do that because of stability. They can build for the future. Coming last, having one bad season, does not lead to a club being torn to shreds.
Promotion and Relegation does not work.
Super League Wooden Spooners Vs The Championship Premiers?
One idea being thrown around is that the Promotion and Relegation is not unconditional. That The Championship premiers would need to play a game against the Super League wooden spooners and win to earn their place in Super League on the field.
I think this would be a waste of time. Even if you look at the worst club in Super League right now, the London Broncos, they are so much better than any club in The Championship that its not funny.
The Championship Needs Some Sort Of Connection To Super League
I am the first to admit that The Championship and its clubs need some sort of direct connection to Super League. If Promotion and Relegation is not the solution, what is?
I have written before that I would like to see Super League teams play a full home and away season against each other. The Championship teams play a full home and away season against each other. Then have each team in Super League play each team in The Championship once.
Come the end of the season, the top 6 teams in Super League would go through to the finals, and the top 2 teams in The Championship would join them.
That means if a club from The Championship is good enough to win Super League, they can! They can be there on Grand Final day at Old Trafford.
Duel Registration Needs To Stay
I find it ridiculous that duel registration gets attacked by so many people. It is clearly the best way to develop players at all levels. It is the system that has been in place in Australia for forever. It works.
The game does not benefit from having a percentage of its professional players not being part of the wider, active player pool. Super League clubs have extended squads beyond the 17 they name on the filed every week. The players that miss out on selection in the top team are still, for the most part, professional players. They get professional coaching. They train as professionals.
To be able to send those players to Championship clubs, get real game time in a full on competition, and raise the standard of the club they are playing for, all at the expense of a Super League team, is a great thing for Championship clubs and the game in general.
Rugby League in Great Britain can not afford to waste any amount of talent. Even the fringe Super League quality players.
Just because a Championship club has links with a Super League club, it doesn’t make them any less of a club. To have those links to the very top of the game is actually a good thing! For Championship players to be able to line up alongside a higher quality of player is great!
Players need to be allowed to develop. They need to be able to step up through the grades if they are good enough. If a star player at your Championship club is playing well enough to get a call up to Super League, you should be happy for him!
If your club gets a handful of professional players join your Championship clubs squad, you will get to see a better contest. A higher quality contest. How is that a bad thing?
We all want to get the most out of Rugby League in Great Britain. We all want to see it improve. Duel Registration is one way to improve the quality of competition in the lower grades as well as helping players develop. How can that be a bad thing?
Super League Is Slowly Starting To Become An Even Competition
It has taken a long time, and sure, there are still huge blowout scorelines and a few teams look like they don’t belong in Super League. Still, when you have a look at the competition right now, Super League is more even than it has been for years!
We have big spending clubs that are being beaten by lower table clubs on a more regular basis than ever before. When the likes of Huddersfield, Wakefield, Hull KR and Bradford play big spending sides, the result is a lot less predictable than it once was.
A number of mid table teams have drawn players from the top sides. Sure, they haven’t got the stars or the big name players, but they have been able to attract fringe players from big spending clubs. They’ve been able to offer players a start in the top grade that big spending clubs couldn’t.
This all has us to a point where, given a few more years of junior development, a lot more mid to lower table teams will be able to challenge the big spending clubs on a regular basis. Games will be more competitive and that can only be good news for the popularity of Super League.
All of that work can’t be thrown away because of rushed decisions made for the best interests of a few teams outside of Super League that have no right to be in Super League.
The Super League Salary Cap And Keeping Top Players
This is the brutal reality. If an NRL club really wants a top Super League player, they will take them. They can offer far more money than any Super League club can afford. There is no way to stop top players leaving for more money.
Some people have suggested Super League bring in a marquee player system. The problem is, no one can afford it! The competition is financially unsustainable as it is right now. Cutting back to 12 teams will help, but there is still a long way to go.
I would like to see the Super League salary cap cut back to £1 million. Quite honestly, that is paying Super League player base more than it is worth!
Clubs need to realize that the new future of Super League is all about developing youngsters. Look at how Wigan are maneuvering themselves to be in a position to develop youngsters to replace their stars that are leaving. Look at how they are setting themselves up to lose one player, and replace them them a junior they have developed and given Super League experience.
Wigan know that they won’t be able to compete with the NRL financially. So they are turning themselves into a talent conveyor belt. The worst that happens is that Wigan will get transfer fee’s from NRL clubs for each player they lose. When they happens, they have another player waiting in the wings.
That is the future of Super League in the short to medium term, and its not all that bad really! Some of the youngsters in Super League that are finally being allowed a chance to shine in Super League are doing really well.
Super League doesn’t need to spend more money to get better players. It needs to develop them. It needs to work smarter, not harder.
Looking For Support From The National Rugby League
If Super League can become a sustainable competition that is developing juniors as well as players that NRL clubs want to sign, the NRL will start to look at Super League as an asset.
When that happens the Rugby Football League needs to have a few ideas in place that will help Super League grow. Whether that is a player trading system of some kind, duel registration between Super League and NRL clubs a draft for imports looking for join Super League to help with talent equalization across the competition…every option needs to be looked at.
Looking Towards The Future
Rugby League in Great Britain can’t afford to bury its head in the sand and pretend that everything is fine. There are realities that Rugby League in Great Britain needs to face up to.
If the right decisions are made, Rugby League in Great Britain can prosper. There is no doubt the game is at a crossroads though. Lets hope the RFL have the right vision for the game in Great Britain and that this is the start of a new era of Super League.
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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