What Is The Future Of Super League?

I’m a Hull FC fan, and today my team ran up a scoreline of 42-18 against the London Harlequins, despite the fact they were without a few injured players.

This season Wigan looks strong, as does Warrington. St Helens are not in top gear, but they are still dangerous. My Hull FC are probably punching above their weight slightly while Leeds have had some struggles, but its all relative. Their struggles would be a fantastic season for other clubs.

What is worrying me right now is the direction that Super League is heading in. Where is it going? What is the plan? Where do we want to be in 5 or even 10 years from now?

Right now there is a clear distinction between the haves, and the have nots. Some teams are clearly in the race for the title. Most are not. Most teams have no prospect of winning the Super League Grand Final under any circumstances.

This would normally be sorted out by the salary cap, however right now, there are obviously problems with the cap. Either most Super League clubs simply can not spend anywhere near what the salary cap allows, or the top clubs are so far over the cap as to render it completely irrelevant.

I tend to think its a combination of the two.

Then you have the future of many clubs in the competition, and lets face it, many teams would rate their future as dire right now.

Wakefield, Castleford, Salford, London, Wrexham and Hull KR fans would all be happy with survival in Super League at this point. That is not what you want in any competition!

As if to take an axe to the neck of Super League, exchange rates have seen the move of players from the National Rugby League to Super League slow to a trickle. Where Super League clubs could once offer great deals for players to bolster Super League ranks, now we are seeing the possibility of some English players heading from Super League to the NRL, in the opposite direction.

That has got to be a devastating sign for a competition that is already thin on talent.

I am one of the National Rugby Leagues biggest critics in as far as it having an administration that doesn’t have a long term plan on the table. The problem is, outside of the idea that Toulouse will be part of Super League and we really want a team in Wales, I can’t see any plans in place for Super League. Nothing that points to a bright future.

The England national team set up is still nothing short of a tragic mess. So much so that the national coach I believe was give them job because he was cheaper then a higher quality alternative.

The salary cap is irrelevant and the import quota is on a knifes edge with Warrington planning to announce it has basically found a way around it.

The quality of the competition overall has dropped through the floor, with only Wigan really looking like a team of any quality thanks to an Australian coach who brought cutting edge training, tactics and ideas to a club that was previously struggling itself.

The problem I see is that, if you don’t follow Wigan, St Helens, Warrington or Leeds, you going into the season being happy just to make up the numbers. Hull FC will put on a good show, but lets face if, if they wont the Grand Final is would be some type of once in a generation upset.

Super League needs a short, medium and long term plan. For me, I think on a very basic level they need to be looking at doing these things:

Lifting The Standards Management At Lower Table Clubs
How long has London been a basket case? Why are we allowing the Crusaders to be nothing more than the facade of an actual club? Is Hull KR going to fold because they are broke or not? What the hell is going on at the Catalan Dragons? Do Salford still exist?

The RFL needs to take an active role in the management of clubs. Most of them are run by people who are simply incapable of doing their job. The RFL needs to either upskill management at these clubs through training, or they need to start firing these people and hiring professionals that can manage an organization beyond a bare minimum existence.

Lifting The Standard Of Coaching
Nathan Brown is a failed NRL coach, and yet he went to a mid table club and looked like some type of coaching guru as he coached a very average lineup to play well above itself.

Michael Maguire left his back room assistant role at the Melbourne Storm to take over a Wigan club in a mess. Now have a look at them. Through coaching alone, no major imports or influx of talent, he lifted the playing standards and tactics the club had and now they are favorites to win the Grand Final.

The next step down from these two Super League coaches is huge. Smith and McClellan might have Super League titles to their name, but they are both poor coaches. Brian Noble, terrible. Beyond that, it gets even worse.

The RFL needs to set a minimum standard of coaching needed to be a Super League head coach, and to be honest, the first point would have to be at least two years experience in an NRL first grade role, be it as a head coach or an assistant coach.

Yes that will rule out every single English coach in Super League and cause an uproar, but think about this. Brown and McGuire turned their clubs around on pure coaching ability alone. Imagine if Super League had 14 coaches of their ability. Imagine the instant lift in playing standards that would follow.

Coaches wouldn’t come cheap, and I would suggest that the RFL itself should have a fund to bolster the pay packets of these imported coached. Keeping in mind that these are the people that will be coaching the Test players of today and tomorrow to most of the year, it should be seen as an investment.

Policing The Salary Cap
When was the last time a top club was unable to hold onto a player it really wanted to keep because a lower table club simply had more cap space to spend? I can’t thing of a single instance that has happened.

The current cap isn’t working, and while I am hesitant to penalize the few well run teams because other clubs are poorly run, I think Super League really needs to look at some way to equalize talent across Super League, stop obvious salary cap rorting and give every team a chance to sign top quality players.

What you want to happen is for a team like say London to become a viable option for players to play for. You want every team in the competition to be able to buy quality talent to bolster their lineups.

Imagine the interested that would have been generated had a player like Kyle Eastmond headed to London? We are not getting that right now. You either follow one of the top clubs, where you buy your talent and look forward to being in the top four or five, again, or you look forward to the prospect of losing your better players to these clubs, and hoping that some youngster can step up and give you a good couple of years before he is brought by these clubs too!

Limiting English Players Leaving To Play In The NRL
In three years time the NRL will be running on a billion dollar television rights deal that will see the salary cap raised and one, if not two expansion clubs added to the competition.

Right now the NRL draws players from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands….and now attention is turning to England. Yes, its great for the English Test side to have players with NRL experience in its ranks, but there is talk of buying English talent to fill rosters that will be pressed for depth in the near future.

The last thing Super League can afford is to lose the very few decent English players there are running around in the competition, and too Australia.

Make no mistake, NRL clubs will rape Super League of talent without a care in the world. They wont care what effect it will have on the competition at all, they will buy players and to hell with the health of the game in the UK.

The RFL and Super League needs to look at ways to keep the top English players. Whether that is by having one Franchise Player at every Super League club that can be paid from a central contract fund, banning players in the NRL from playing for England, or maybe even coming to an official agreement with the NRL itself for a limit on English imports, the RFL has to do SOMETHING because this is going to become a major problem over the next decade.

There are a lot of challenges facing the game in England. Right now Super League has become stale. Wigan looked great, but there is still a smell about the competition and its not good.

The RFL needs to step up and be proactive. It needs to put in place some drastic changes to help revitalize the competition and to life standards that are falling at a dramatic rate.

Super League is the shop from for Rugby League in Europe. The health of the Super League competition has a direct impact on the money that comes into the game, the kids that decide they want to play the game, the number of people that watch and attend the game, it all flows down from the Super League competition.

If that competition is not strong and vibrant, and its hard to suggest it is right now, the then whole game in the UK will struggle.

Change needs to come soon, because that smell I’m talking about, it could quality turn into the smell of death.

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