IT’S been one of the hottest debates in rugby league since the summer era began: should promoted teams be exempt from relegation?
It’s an interesting topic because, as the sport has seen in the past, Catalans Dragons were a perfect example of being exempt and being able to thrive.
The French side were given three years’ exemption from relegation in the mid-2000s, but no other side has been afforded that luxury ever since.
And, for former Toulouse Olympique star Chris Hankinson, who was relegated from Super League with the French side in 2022, promoted teams should have a year’s safety and believes rugby league has missed a great opportunity with Toulouse.
“I think rugby league has missed the jump on it, it’s a great city. You get excited in the week for a Catalans or Toulouse away fixture,” the new Featherstone Rovers signing told League Express.
“In a full-time environment it’s a three or four day experience. You’ve got to go and play overseas, it’s hard with the travel but it’s exciting for the players. I think they do belong in Super League, in the Championship or in rugby in general.
“It does open a can of worms because you can say that from previous years why is it only exempt for Toulouse?
“Teams that do come up do need a year to adjust. There is only Hull KR in recent years that have been able to stay in the league once promoted.
“London were very unfortunate as they went down on points difference. You do need that time because it’s hard to recruit players.
“To recruit a player for two years with the possibility of being relegated after one or surviving but being in that fight for relegation, it’s so tough because you don’t know what league you will be.
“A safety cushion will see better teams. It will only build the competition because you will get better players.”
For Hankinson, that experience at Toulouse was superb – and he was particularly fond of the French culture.
“It is difficult at first,” Hankinson told League Express. “It’s very difficult because you don’t know a lot of what people are saying.
“If you buy in, which I did, you take the culture on itself. They are big on respect, they greet you and go over and shake your hand and kiss the women on the cheek. I did love that side of things and then the language comes later on.
“Rugby terms come first but we had a coach in Sylvain Houles who was very good at English. I did really want to crack on with my French though too!”