I’ve never quite understood the urgency for a “level playing field” or the need for more clubs of an alleged certain size. Rugby League hasn’t ever been a level playing field and each era has had a dominant side(s) going back to Oldham in the early 1900’s through to the Leeds side who won Grand Final after Grand Final. Sport isn’t a level playing field either. Financial power, whether it’s through clubs being able to buy the best players, others investing into their infrastructure or a combination of the two, paints the story of sport and also that of Rugby League. I think we’re far too bothered about the opinions of people who don’t have an opinion and worried too much, as fans, about people that don’t like Rugby League and probably won’t ever like Rugby League. Let’s be honest, whether Saints go and do the “threepeat” this year or whether Warrington or Catalans get a first Super League crown, it’s not going to have a huge effect on the sport. A new name on the trophy isn’t going to suddenly fill the emptying stands, it’s not going to wrestle some more column inches in 2022 away from other sports, billionaires aren’t going to buy up the teams or the competition and we won’t suddenly be awash with new fans of the sport across the country here or in France.
We get far too hung up on how many teams have won Super League. Since 1996, Football’s Premier League has had six different winners. Since 1996, Super League has had seven different teams who have ended the season as league leaders. Even if we open it to include every Premier League season, it only increases to seven different winners. For the most part, people aren’t that bothered that the “title race”, at very, very best, four teams have a serious chance of winning the competition and most seasons, there’s a clear gap between 1st and 2nd or 1st and 3rd. There’s much more to play for in football mind but anyone with an interest in that league aren’t shouting for Everton or West Ham United (unless they support them) to win the league, however, that’s the case in Rugby League. To compare with Rugby Union, who have had Grand Finals since 2003, we have had four winners of our Grand Final since 2003, whereas Union has had seven different winners. Even then, like Super League and like the Premier League, Wasps have won 4, Leicester have won 4, Saracens have won 5 (I don’t know if they were stripped, mind) and Harlequins and Exeter have won 2 apiece, so there’s definite signs of dominant clubs there, too. I’m not the person to ask here because I’ve had to look all of that up in regards to Union as I’m not a fan but I can’t imagine that fans or journalists are particularly stamping their feet for Gloucester or Worcester to win their Grand Final, either. Are we really that bad in comparison? We’ve had eight Grand Finalists since RU copied us and started having Grand Finals, RU has had eleven.
I support a football team that’s spent the twenty-three years I’ve supported them flitting between the fifth and sixth tier, so pretty comparable to some teams outside of Super League and probably bigger than some too. I don’t expect nor want the same funding or Sky money as Manchester City, I’m not sure why anyone with a straight face or any level of seriousness would suggest we must do that in Rugby League or put part-time teams into the same league or ‘conference’ and double down on it, too, especially a journalist in the sport, who’s now compared himself to Bill Gates. It’s abundantly clear that what is good for St Helens isn’t what is good for Widnes or what is good for Swinton or West Wales, sorting a strategy that suits everyone is impossible and there’ll be some “losers” from any strategy or structure change. Any new structure has to allow the current best to take off whilst also offering opportunities to everyone else, regardless of their level and what their relative idea of opportunity is.
I don’t think we particularly need anything that radical or daft. I certainly don’t see how you can put teams on the same pitch with such vast financial and physical disparities and call it level or a league structure, as Sadler has suggested. I certainly don’t think we need to overcomplicate things in terms of how a league table lies or how winners are determined (please for the love of God not ‘Club Call’ again). Personally, I think there’s more to Rugby League than domestic league games and I’d like to see fewer league games whilst either attempting the rejuvenation of the Challenge Cup in the form of group games or more importance shown to it or through any other tournament or format that someone sees fit, whilst doing it properly by giving it time to actually grow into something and for the finances required to push the sport as a whole.