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Justified anger in the Championships

by: Gareth Walker, October 14, 2013, 12:18 pm

Gareth Walker

Gareth Walker

First published in League Express, Monday 14th Oct 2013

The Championship clubs waded into the restructuring debate with both feet last week.
And who can blame them?
Halifax Chairman Michael Steele, his Dewsbury counterpart Mark Sawyer and Doncaster owner Carl Hall were among those to public criticise the cancellation of the RFL’s EGM meeting, which had been scheduled for last Wednesday, following moves made by Ian Lenagan to rally certain Super League clubs.
Fax’s statement said they found Lenagan’s analysis “self centred and wrong”, while Sawyer said that the Rams felt the RFL’s proposals had been “in the interest of the whole game – top to bottom”.
Hall went one, in fact several steps further in a damning release, asking, “Who the hell does Ian Lenagan think he is?” and “I thought Rugby League people were family people, with morals”.
Whatever your view on the proposed restructure, or how and when Lenagan has gone about trying to dismantle it, one fact is undeniable – this horrendous uncertainty has left every club in limbo, but perhaps none more so than in the Championship.
Under the RFL’s radical new proposals, they would have seen only nine of their 14 clubs make it into the coveted top two divisions of 12 from 2015, making next season absolutely crucial.
So clubs like Hall’s Doncaster and Sawyer’s Dewsbury, which are currently mid-table sides who could find themselves on either side of the cut-off point, have recruited accordingly for next season.
They did so in the widespread belief that the RFL plans would be brought in, even though they were far from universally supported.
Now where do they stand?
For what its worth, this column’s viewpoint is this – the two leagues of 12 into three of eight was unnecessarily convoluted and a simpler system would be far preferable, with the return of promotion and relegation paramount.
But to challenge it a matter of days before the RFL meeting has benefited nobody, and has left a large proportion of the professional game (presuming we are still one sport, and not just 14 clubs) in limbo.
We are now faced with the prospect that this might not be sorted out until after the World Cup, so as not to deflect attention away from Rugby League’s showpiece event.
And, while I agree that all eyes should be on the World Cup, this matter needs sorting quickly, for the sake of our clubs.
Last week two Championship coaches got in touch to ask when the start of the 2014 campaign will be, so that they can plan their pre-season schedules.
The answer is that nobody knows for sure, and now nobody knows what will be at stake next season either.
For a professional sport that is unacceptable, and such short-term planning can only lead to negative results.
This should have been sorted out by the beginning of this year so that everyone knew where they stood. Instead we are now scrambling around in a very public manner with nothing definite for 2014 and beyond.
And any public challenges to the RFL’s proposal could have come way, way before last week.
As this column has noted on so many occasions before, clubs currently in the Championship have much to offer the sport in this country, and deserve the opportunity to eat at the top table if they earn it. And that doesn’t mean once every three years, where you might miss out even if you win everything during that time.
That opportunity needs to be reintroduced as quickly as possible, and within a clear, fair system.
And, while Super League clubs are undoubtedly the main breadwinners for the game, that’s only because they happen to be the 14 clubs in the top-flight at present. To overlook those outside the elite, and to dismiss their needs, is both foolish and short-sighted.
Almost all of those 14 clubs have been outside the elite at some point in their history, so they should not be looking down their noses at anybody.
This is a game-wide issue, and needs to be treated as such by everyone concerned.

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