English Rugby League is dying.
If you have been reading my web site for any length of time you knew that years ago. I was the first to write about the financial implosion and mass death of clubs that sadly eventuated. I wrote about Rugby Union swamping the game in its so called heartlands when people laughed about the smaller crowds they were getting that would never match Super League crowds. I wrote about the made up participation figures, the “alternative facts” that the RFL were always so proud to boast about, and the loss of funding from the British government that came as a result.
I wrote about the broadcasting deals the RFL were boasting about as increases in funding that were not even in line with inflation. I wrote about how the lack of expansion was killing broadcasters and sponsors interest in the game. I wrote about the fact that eventually youngsters that wanted to play “Rugby” would stop wanting to represent their little town in northern England when they could set their sights much higher in other competitions, and other sports.
The reason I have the following in England I do is because over time Rugby League supporters in England knew I wasn’t about to bullshit to them like the RFL and their media supporters do.
With that in mind I can’t help but be bemused by English Rugby League types who think their opinions matter to the rest of the Rugby League playing world. If English administrators can’t even keep the game in England from dying, why should anyone follow any of the advice they seem so ready to hand out to the rest of the game?
This week the owner of Leeds Rhinos, Gary Hetherington, attacked NRL clubs for not taking the World Club Challenge seriously and said the NRL administration itself was weak for not forcing clubs to take part in the series that no one outside of northern England cares about.
NRL clubs don’t take the World Club Challenge seriously? Really? Welcome to 1997 arsehole!
As I have said for years, you can not expect NRL clubs to ruin their pre season and fly to the other side of the world to play what amounts to trial games in conditions they will not face again all year, against opposition they will learn nothing from, in events that are set up and run to try and help them fail, to play for a trophy they do not care about, and give them a small part of the money the game generates, off their drawing power, to head back home, acclimatize, and have to try and get back on track to defend an NRL Premiership they just won against 15 ruthless opponents who will walk over their jet-lagged corpse without a second thought.
Where is the incentive in that? At what point does any of that seem like something any clubs would be interested in?
The World Club Challenge is the equivalent of inviting last years English Premier League champions to fly to Australia for one week, just before their season kicks off, to do all the press, to train in conditions they will not face again all year, to play an opponent they may never face again, to play in Australian conditions, in a game set up and controlled by Australian officials, for a trophy that will work out who the supposed “World Champions” are, and then incredibly handing them a small amount of money for being “Half” of the promotion, the draw, and the contest.
That is absolutely ridiculous. As is the World Club Challenge.
I have no doubt there will be plenty of people in England that will be pissed off reading all of this. That is the point. I don’t care, NRL clubs don’t care, the NRL itself doesn’t really care, NRL supporters don’t care….in fact, nobody outside of northern England cares.
These English officials can go to their favourite journo’s and spew bullshit all day. None of it has any effect. At best they get a cheer from their dwindling supporter bases. The wider English media doesn’t carry what they say. The Australian media might, if they are lucky, give them a tiny amount of newspaper space as filler. The thing is, no one cares.
Gary Hetherington might feel important when he talks to other English officials running small, dying clubs and organisations, but in the grand scheme of things, on Rugby League’s world stage, his opinions carry no weight at all.
If you ran a business and someone that ran a much smaller business that was on its last legs came along and started to give you advice, telling you what you were doing wrong and what a piece of shit you are, would you listen to them? Of course not!
If English Rugby League had any brains at all, they’d stop looking for quick fixes and outside help. They’d help themselves.
Any competition that relies on the bulk of its content to come from small towns is going to fail in the long run. Broadcasters and sponsors do not want small towns, they want big population bases they can sell to.
Super League needs London, Toronto, Toulouse, Paris, Barcelona…it will not be saved by exhibition matches against Cronulla.
Either Super League really is super, or its just a relic from the past. A regional competition that is going no where. It isn’t 1895. Representing a small town and being popular at the local pub isn’t every boys dream any more.
For all the people that get fired up when St Helens plays Wigan or when Wakefield takes on Castleford, there are far more people who just could not give a shit.
The survival of Rugby League in England is about making those people give a shit about the contests on offer. Its about making them buy in, giving them something to be interested in, giving them something to aspire to, and making the “Super” in Super League actually mean something real.
When a town in northern England takes on a suburb of Sydney, don’t be shocked when no one really gives a shit. If we don’t care about it in Australia, what are the changes someone in London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Paris, Barcelona or event Toronto or Toulouse even takes notice.
English Rugby League’s failure is not something you can blame on disinterested NRL clubs. There are no quick fixes to save the English game. Exhibition matches and helping to balance the budgets of the RFL and Super League clubs with trial matches won’t work.
If only the likes of Gary Hetherington were as passionate about saving English Rugby League from dying as they are to turn a quick buck on the back of visits by NRL clubs once a year….