Can Super League recover lost ground on the NRL?

In a recent issue of League Express we revealed that Wigan’s teenage forward Harry Rushton was on the radar of the Canberra Raiders, and that the NRL club was ready to make a bid to sign the youngster and take him under their wing.

Harry, who is pictured above, is only 18 years of age, and he hasn’t yet played a first-team game for Wigan.

It now looks as though he isn’t likely to, unless he returns to Wigan after his stint at Canberra expires.

Of course there is a growing colony of former Super League stars playing with the Raiders.

George Williams was the latest to go and he is clearly making a mark in the NRL competition.

George followed in the footsteps of John Bateman and Ryan Sutton from Wigan, while Josh Hodgson from Hull Kingston Rovers preceded them, as did Elliott Whitehead, who joined the Raiders from the Catalans Dragons.

So young Harry won’t be short of team-mates with familiar accents.

But the question that is troubling me is whether he is just one in a potentially long line of players who NRL clubs might target.

In Herbie Farnworth, who is currently tying down a place in Brisbane Broncos’ first-team squad, we have another example of a young player who has gone to Australia without having played a first-team game in Super League.

Prior to Herbie, the player who set the trend for heading to the NRL without having first plied his trade in Super League was George Burgess, who made his debut for South Sydney in 2012 and was voted the Dally M Rookie of the Year in 2013.

Ironically, George is now playing for Wigan.

And in one sense, the problem for Super League is that the players who are currently going over to the NRL are enjoying great success there, which inevitably means that more clubs are likely to cast their net in our direction, particularly when they sign players without having to pay transfer fees.

So when clubs talk about reducing salaries for players in Super League because of financial pressures, even though that is perfectly understandable in the current financial climate, it inevitably increases the attraction of heading to the NRL.

And when we bear in mind that we won’t have a reserves competition in Super League next year, we have to ask whether our young players will be well served by staying in our own competition.

In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald Phil Gould, who these days is a prominent Channel 9 commentator, suggested that the NRL should make a bid to buy Super League, primarily because of the inroads to North America that Super League is making.

The problem is that Gould and his colleagues see Super League as a feeder competition to the NRL and the danger is that more people, including players, will also see it that way.

We have to hope that Super League can recover quickly from its financial woes and make up for the ground it has lost since it shut down in March.

That is going to take some doing.

This article is an amended version of part of League Express editor Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column that was published in this week’s League Express