In this Monday’s League Express, reporter Aaron Bower sat down with Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont for an extended Q&A. Over the course of this week, TotalRL.com will be reproducing that Q&A in a longer format – with this the first of two parts.
Aaron Bower (AB): Derek, I’m sure it’s been a difficult few weeks for everyone at Leigh – but how difficult has it been personally for you as owner?
Derek Beaumont (DB): Emotionally, it’s been very difficult. At the end of the day, the season has to be classed as a failure. I’m not someone who likes to fail at anything though, so my way of dealing with it is that it isn’t the end – it’s only a setback. You only fail when you finish or end something and we’re not ending or finishing – we’re using this season, although it’s a setback, as a springboard and motivation.
AB: As owner I suspect there are always tough conversations to be had – but how tough has it been telling players they’re out of work?
DB: It’s been horrendous. Neil (Jukes) has made all the phone calls in fairness, and I brought Keiron (Cunningham) in to do a job. I didn’t bring him in as a dog and then start barking myself! They’re making the deicisions; I come into it afterwards in terms of trying to deal with the arrangements around it, which has been difficult to deal with because I know all the guys had a real good go this season.
AB: Is that the toughest part of it all? The fact players are now frantically seeking for employment?
DB: Well, let’s be real. Some of these players were being offered around before we even knew we were in the Qualifiers. And some were certainly offered around during the Super 8s. When we beat Catalans away, I got offered some of their players – it changes week on week. I’ve had lots of agents asking what would happen if we got relegated, but I wasn’t giving anyone a comfort cloak.
There needs to be that motivation and desire to play and win. Also, they’re professional rugby players, and there’s not enough of them to go around. The vast majority of them will get jobs, and some will have better contracts with us as a result. Some may get more or less at other clubs, but it’s just the process which is difficult – and it may leave one or two really seriously affected. The person I feel most for is Ste Maden, who’s our player welfare officer.
AB: Is that the biggest problem with the system?
DB: It’s not just what happens afterwards – it’s what happens during the eight weeks it’s going on. I class myself as a strong person, who’s mentally tough, but I found it incredibly hard during that period of time. I’ll put it out there on record that the disarray this clause (which enables a player or a club to terminate the deal should they be relegated) is awful.
We’ve got two players who I can’t comment on their identity who were offered the same terms to stay and have chosen not to do so. By the same token, there were some players who we couldn’t offer a deal to stay to. What needs to be done is that there needs to be a parachute payment for relegated clubs and the removal of that clause so that if you don’t go down a league, you don’t have all this.
AB: There are all sorts of discussions ongoing regards to the structure moving forward – what’s the latest and what’s your view?
DB: What we have to be mindful of is two things; the integrity of the sport – which is paramount – and also the broadcaster, Sky. While we all have our ideas of what we want to do and our own self interests, we’ve got to look at what’s best for the game on the whole. We’ve got to have something to sell when the next TV deal comes around in 2021, whether that’s to Sky, Amazon or even streaming independently. How’s the best way to package Rugby League? How do we get the most money for it?
Sky bought into this process and I think largely, it works, in terms of motivating interest and showing there’s a way through – which it did for me initially. It’s also shown that there’s a way you can go down and come back up and next year, there’ll be Toronto, ourselves, Toulouse, London and it could be that two clubs could actually lose their Super League status. The actual format and entertainment value of it, that all works. We should congratulate Nigel Wood for that vision and putting it through but what doesn’t work within it is what nobody thought could possibly happen: and that’s someone finishing ninth of tenth and ending up in jeopardy. Without being rude to the Super League owners at the time or the RFL, I’m sure people thought that simply whoever was bottom after the regular season would struggle in the Super 8s.
AB: You’ve said you would only ever approve a system with promotion and relegation. Do you stand by that?
DB: You’ve always got to have jeopardy. If you miss out on the top eight on points difference, get some injuries and get sucked in, that’s crazy. Seven of what would have been Neil Jukes’ strongest starting 13 were unavailable through suspension or injury in the Million Pound Game. The reason you play a season-long format in any sport is so that whoever finishes bottom does so on merit.