Anyone that had read my opinions in recent years knows I am 100% behind the Franchise system that Super League will have in place from 2009.
Promotion and Relegation does not work and that can be seen in the financial position of a number of National League clubs who have gone broke trying to gain promotion.
However, now the scramble is on for the 14 Franchise’s on offer in 2009.
I’ve said for some time now that to stay relevant in the changing British sports scene, Rugby League needs to expand its horizons and spread the net to draw in more players, fans, sponsors and TV viewers.
So lets get straight to it then. These are the 14 clubs I would offer a Franchise for the 2009 season:
European Super League 2009
1. Wigan Warriors
2. Bradford Bulls
3. Leeds Rhinos
4. St Helens
5. Hull FC
6. Hull KR
7. London Harlequins
8. Catalan Dragons
9. Huddersfield Giants
10. Warrington Wolves
11. Celtic Crusaders
12. Toulouse Olympique
13. Wakefield Wildcats
14. Manchester (Salford) Reds
Many of the clubs listed above don’t need an explaination as to why they should get a Franchise. Teams such as Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Bradford are all powerful, rich clubs. Huddersfield is gaining strength, has a great stadium and in where the game was formed in the 1800’s. Meanwhile London is an ongoing expansion push that one day will pay off.
So what about the others teams and the issues surrounding their inclusion.
Just Making The Cut
The Wakefield Wildcats just make the cut ahead of the Castleford Tigers. The Wildcats are a bit better off financially and have a slightly larger catchment area. Both teams have terrible stadiums and this needs to be addressed.
Meanwhile Widnes are now in administration and a long way from even thinking of being in a position to join Super League, and Whitehaven at the moment just seem like a strong National League club rather than a Super League club.
I wouldnt be against the future inclusion of Castleford or Whitehaven, even as early as say 2011, but they still have a bit more work to do to be up to standard.
Wales Finally Gets Its Long Awaited Super League Team
The Celtic Crusaders are the darlings of the RFL at the moment and they are all but assured a franchise in 2009. Rugby League had needed a team in Wales for a long time but now is the best time to make the expansion.
Rugby League in Wales at all levels is growing and the Millennium Magic weekend is the perfect way to keep the Crusaders in the spot light every year in Wales.
Two French Super League Clubs
The Catalan Dragons will obviously be one of the teams gaining a Franchise, but Rugby League needs to fast track the development of the French game and bring more professional football to France.
Toulouse were in with a shot of joining Super League last time around but lost out to the Dragons. A second French club means more French players and more professional input into the game in France and it brings a new rivalry to Super League as well as expanding the top tier of professional Rugby League in the Northern Hemisphere.
Both clubs should have off season training and coaching camps for French players as well as both holding a scouting camp for French athletes to try their hand at the game and try and gain a contract with the clubs or their feeder teams.
Salfords Name Change
I would offer the Salford Reds a franchise with two conditions.
First, they change their name to Manchester Reds. They don’t need to move their base or anything like that, its just a simple name change and a chance to represent a larger area than they currently do. If it comes down to being in Super League as Manchester, or being in the National Leagues as Salford, I wonder which option Reds fans would prefer?
The second condition is that they work with the RFL to push for a new stadium together, and if Salford will not come to the party but another area of Manchester will, they will look at the proposals and consider a move.
I would also like to see The Reds link up with Manchester based Rugby League clubs in the lowers grades such as Oldham.
Hull FC and KR Working Together
They are bitter rivals but their rivalry makes the game all the more stronger in Hull. While the rivalry on the field and with fans should never be diminished, off the field both clubs should work together to make the game in Hull even better.
Hull FC aren’t going anywhere and neither are KR, so the idea that both teams should look to kill off their rivals is just ridiculous. They have a chance to build a rivalry that goes through all levels of Rugby League in Hull and they should both work together to make that happen.
Franchising The End Of The Super League Dream?
So does the end of Promotion and Relegation mean the end of the Super League dream for lower grade English clubs?
No. Far from it.
With the pressures or pushing for promotion now gone, National League clubs will now be able to be more financially responsible I want to see the National Leagues, not with one or two clubs that are strong and a possible candidate to move up, but with every club in a strong position on and off the field.
The Union Threat
Rugby union in England and France is at an all time high with millions of pounds being spend by union clubs in both countries on players. Its clear that elite clubs in both countries have an eye on a full time European club competition and Super League needs to get in and make that expansion ahead of such a move.
If it doesn’t, Super League will be hard pressed to gain the sponsorship and tv deals it deserves as well as being in a poor position when it comes to competition for playing talent.
With these 14 clubs Super League would be very well set. With the northern England heartlands having strong representation, the competition finally expanding to Wales and expanding further into France, any immediate expansion into news area’s for the time being would be complete.
With 14 clubs you could have a full home and away season, with Millennium Magic thrown in and maybe a Sevens competition and a couple of Test matches to fill out the calender.
The new Franchising system has many knock on effects in the game. Its up to the RFL to make the right decisions and make sure those knock on effects are all position so that the game is in an even stronger position the next time competition expansion in on the agenda.
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