Gareth Walker looks back at a fascinating seven days for the third tier
It’s rarely dull in Betfred League 1 and last week showed that more than most.
Last Tuesday evening, with the other ten clubs in the competition apparently unaware, it was announced that Ottawa Aces’ RFL membership would be switching to a new club in Cornwall.
It was a move that could have many positives for the sport and the division, but one that in typical Rugby League style, was clouded by numerous underlying issues.
Consultation with other clubs was one – they clearly shouldn’t be the ones making the decision of who competes in the league, but a thorough explanation of the move might have eased some of the public criticism that followed.
Another is the constant switching of the location of individual memberships – club owner Eric Perez has currently held this one in Hemel, Ottawa and now Cornwall, and although Covid is a significant factor here, he hasn’t yet seen a team take the field in any of those locations.
Suggestions that the current rules allow too much power to those in possession of a membership have led to calls for them to be strengthened and reviewed for the future.
Then there is the issue of competitiveness.
Cornwall RLFC has outlined the commendable plan to have a team made up primarily of local players, in what is a real rugby union stronghold with shoots of league potential coming through the Cornwall Rebels community club.
“On the pitch, Cornwall RLFC will be made up of the very best Cornish rugby talent, where that is both practical and feasible,” the club statement read.
“Due to the limited opportunities currently for Cornish athletes to compete in elite level sport in the Duchy, Cornwall RLFC will be working tirelessly to provide a clear and defined pathway to not only play, but to thrive in a professional Rugby League environment – aspiration not limitation.
“Ambitious athletes will get the chance to fulfil their potential as professional Rugby League players and we want to see a Cornwall-based player representing England on the international stage.”
All of which sounds fantastic in theory, but in practice, throwing together a team with minimal experience at League 1 level is a massive ask – just ask West Wales Raiders, who have done commendable work in developing local players but who still fall some way short of competing for a play-off place.
The travelling involved for visiting teams was also raised extensively on social media among fans and players at this level, although one trip south per year – on what you would hope would be a Saturday to maximise appeal for supporters and minimise impact on those working – shouldn’t be a reason to not include a promising new club.
The following day, a club that knows more than most about what is involved in entering League 1 at the bottom, Coventry Bears, announced that they are rebranding to Midlands Hurricanes.
Club owner Alan Robinson explained: “It has become clear that we needed to diversify and develop a regional brand to sustain professional Rugby League.
“We have had limited opportunities to grow the club and needed to seek out new opportunities to grow the game and business.
“We needed to bring the game together across the region with the focus of the new club being a regionalised brand and club.”
Robinson has grown the club from literally nothing to one that beat a host of more established teams during an impressive 2021 campaign, before speaking publicly about the impact of imminent and significant funding cuts at this level earlier this year.
Coventry Bears will continue to function under the ‘Bears in the Community Foundation’ and play in the Midlands regional competition.
It’s a bold but potentially very exciting move for the sport in the area, particularly if the Hurricanes can maintain the Bears’ on-field progression.
All of which adds up to a couple more spicy ingredients to what is shaping up to be a terrific League 1 mix in 2022, especially when you read through clubs’ recruitment lists, despite the reduction in central funding.
It’s a level of the sport that still has so much to offer Rugby League as a whole.
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