Those tasked with making the decisions in rugby league when it comes to the league structure must tread very carefully: because what happens next could shape the sport’s future for decades to come.
It’s emerged this week that clubs from all three professional divisions will meet – albeit in two different meetings – to discuss what the league structure could look like from 2019 onwards.
We already know that any changes for 2018 will be minimal. We already know that there’s plenty of debate and discussion about what it should look like beyond that. But whatever decision is made by those in charge, the time has surely come for some long-term stability for the sport.
Three years ago, clubs voted in favour of reducing the amount of teams in Super League from 14 to 12. They voted in favour of returning promotion and relegation, albeit via a convoluted format which, to be fair, has proven to be fairly successful.
But now, there is rumour, gossip and speculation that clubs could vote the other way this time around, with talk about Super League returning to 13 or 14. Licensing talk will not go away. It has left some clubs, particularly in the Championship, fearing the top-flight could once again become a closed shop.
Rugby league is magnificent at innovation. It is, in essence, the one thing the sport does better than most of its competitors in this country. Whether it’s the Super 8s, Magic Weekend or anything else, we have always been pretty good at raising the bar and trying new things.
But the time has come to an end for tinkering now. Changing the structure every three years has to become a thing of the past. Rugby league is now in a position where it craves stability, and it craves long-term security. Clubs shouldn’t have to be fighting a battle in the media every three years to try and get their opinion across before changes are made.
The sport should have a clear direction in where it is heading. If that’s licensing (though it appears to be a backwards step in the opinion of this columnist), then so be it. If it’s a commitment to the Super 8s for another two, or even three, cycles of three years, then great. If it’s straight promotion and relegation, fantastic.
But rugby league needs to agree on something and stick to it for once. Don’t forget that all structures will have flaws – in reality, there probably isn’t a perfect method for the sport’s leagues to adhere to.
We have such a great product on the field, it’s often overlooked and forgotten due to petty politics away from the pitch. It’s time that became a thing of the past. Let’s find a structure, agree on it and stick to it for at least a decade.
That way, everyone will know what the future holds and can plan accordingly. It may give some clubs the best chance of survival.