So Super League has finished its latest expansion and we now have a Welsh team in the competition which is great.
However already eyes are turning towards a few years from now when all current clubs Super League licenses will come up for review. That means teams with below standard stadiums, poor finances and poor on field records are really having a good look at themselves and working hard to improve.
Super League has finally gotten serious about really applying these standards and the result is that in ten years time most Super League clubs will be playing out of world class facilities. Stadiums that many NRL teams would even be envious of.
Having a great stadium to play out of means so much to clubs. It means they have room to expand their supporter base, people can turn up and know they will be comfortable at games, and maybe most importantly, sponsors, corporate and media facilities are up to standard and draw in a lot of money for clubs during a home game.
Without a stadium in place, any Super League club is going to struggle, and that’s why the news about Wakefield not getting a new stadium is a crushing blow to their hopes.
So looking ahead, unless Wakefield find a stadium to play out of (And Castleford has said its unlikely they can use their stadium) then I would expect them to be out of Super League next time around.
Toulouse looks like they have been given the same nudge and wink that the Celtic Crusaders got. No extra help from the RFL, but they have just about been told that if they get up to standard, they are in. So we’ll have a second French team next time around.
That leaves Widnes out in the cold a little as I would think Super League would want to keep even number in the competition. Also, when you look at the clubs financial problems, you have to question if they belong in Super League anyway.
But lets look even further ahead, to the expansion after that……what teams could we be looking at entering Super League?
Work is being done in Scotland as far as junior development goes but at senior level the game is still in its early stages. They will probably make a bit of noise, but they are not realistically in with a shot. Especially when you consider the way Scottish Rugby Union is dying.
Spain has been talked about, and while there are little flickers of interest in Rugby League in Spain thanks to the Catalan Dragons (Who’s turf crosses into Spain), it would take a committed backing from one of the soccer clubs in Spain for anything to happen.
That isn’t as far fetched as it sounds as one of the clubs in Spain has talked about the possibility of funding a Super League team. Its a big step though and I’m not sure the RFL would be ready to take it.
Another French side is a very real possibility if they can get up to standard. VERY long term Super League will want a handful of French clubs in Super League, and you’ll know Super League will be right where it wants to be in regards to France when they admit another side based in Paris. That well down the road, but that will be an achievement you can be sure the games administrators have in the back of their minds.
The thing about adding more French teams is that, top NRL stars will flock to French clubs just for the lifestyle change. Playing in Super League is usually about sacrificing lifestyle for money. With more French teams it will be about more money, a nice lifestyle and a certain amount of anonymity that I can understand today’s NRL stars wanting.
Put it this way, if there were a few more French clubs in Super League right now, Sonny Bill Williams, Craig Gower, Luke Rooney and Mark Gasnier would be playing in Super League.
Ireland is a bit of a dark horse. The RFL has done some solid foundation work in Ireland and I would not be surprised to see a few teams playing games there over the next few years. The addition of an Irish Super League club would take Super League one step closer to that all important blanket coverage of Britain and Ireland. The goal is to have a team playing out of every country, it would be a massive boost in regards to TV money and club and League sponsorships to get to that level.
Ireland will need a similar committed backer such as the one the Celtic Crusaders have though, and at this stage they haven’t got that. Once they get that backing, you watch Ireland being fast tracked.
Then we have to think about what has been a long, hard slog for the game. A move that would probably need to be backed by the RFL outright and a move that would be a gamble.
Its been over 20 years for Rugby League in London and while it has its place, its still looking like its in its infancy. Does the city of London have enough tribal instinct to get being an inner city rivalry between two Super League clubs?
That’s the big question because the RFL would be hoping a second London team would also give the London Harlequins a kick along they desperately need.
A Second London team would be similar to a Paris based Super League club. When it happens, you know the Rugby Football League feels its in a very good position and is putting the final pieces of the puzzle together.
I don’t think London has that same feeling as say Sydney, which is a very tribal city, and I think a second London side might not work as well as say another southern based side that builds a rivalry with the Harlequins in its own right. Still, we will one day have a second London team, there is no doubt about that.
Newcastle would also have to be on the agenda for Super League. The Gateshead Thunder failed, but when you look at the terrible way it was initially set up and run, it was always going to fail. It didn’t help that an expansion club looking to capitalize on a massive new region the game was trying to break into decided to name itself after a small little suburb. Its like basing a new club in London and then naming them Hackney!
The North East is an area the game would love to break into, it fits a lot of the games demographics, its untapped as far as Rugby League goes and it helps with the games geographical spread which in turn helps sponsorships, TV deals and all the trimmings needed to expand the game.
At the end of the day, Super League is in a really exciting place as far as expansion goes.
The powers that be have finally realized that they need to push the game ahead and out of its roots in Northern England if it is to survive. Super League is just a team or two away from being a competition that other sports in Europe would be envious of.
While other sports do play European competition, its mostly a token effort that runs along side their domestic duties. For Super League, European competition week in week out will be the norm.
With this expansion will come more sponsorship and more TV money. That will put Super League at the top of the pile as far as being the top money spinners in world “Rugby”.
With all the numbers in Super League growing, crowds, sponsorship, new stadiums…..the competition is consolidating its very strong financial position. When it then decides to go all out and expand, that financial base will only grow, and at this stage there is no other “Rugby” competition in the world that is in a position to match the growth Super League could have.
In 20 years time I think Super League will be the big daddy of them all. It will be the richest competition by some way, and I think it will be to a point where the NRL has to go cap in hand to the RFL and beg to be a part of the grand scheme rather than just be a feeder system for it.
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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