As our great game recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, Ralph Rimmer (pictured) said the sport needed to take “a good, hard look at itself”. And he’s not kidding.
That would have been true without the ongoing pandemic, but with it, it’s even more important, because without exaggerating, we’re talking about a battle for survival.
As chief executive of the Rugby Football League, Ralph needs to really step up and show he’s worth the big bucks he receives by steering the ship through some very choppy waters.
Just as back in 1895, when the breakaway clubs held that momentous meeting in Huddersfield to form the Northern Union, it’s all about money.
The coronavirus crisis has obviously cut vital income supply lines for all clubs, and Ralph was hardy reassuring when he said: “There’s a lot of pressure, and some may not be able to rise to it. We are here to ensure the majority get through.”
Of course, we don’t want to lose any clubs, and I hope the powers-that-be are as flexible with those in England, Wales and France as they seem to have been with Toronto Wolfpack as they consider a possible return to Super League after the Canadian club’s damaging withdrawal from the 2020 season.
No club is comfortable, any many are reliant on one person, or a few, putting the cash in, be that the likes of Catalans, Huddersfield, St Helens and Warrington in Super League, Featherstone, Leigh and London Broncos in the Championship, or Newcastle and Keighley in League One.
The next TV deal is clearly going to be crucial, especially for Super League to continue in its current form, but we also have to think about the welfare of the sport as a whole, including the amateur and junior teams.
In the Championship and League One, playing behind closed doors is simply not feasible, and given that there are no guarantees that the situation is going to change significantly enough any time soon, it’s easy to see a scenario in which clubs start next season but soon run into financial difficulties, and are struggling to pay staff and players with all the fall-out that brings.
My proposal is to allow clubs the chance of a sabbatical in 2021, giving them time to regroup and get organised ahead of 2022, by which time there will hopefully have been progress on a vaccine and the country as a whole is getting back on its feet.
Those in the Championship or League One who feel able to could form one division for 2021, with a promotion place up for grabs to provide a genuine incentive.
While we’re about it, I believe it is time to rethink the sport’s governance, get back to one leadership body, but make it independent.
Down the years, we’ve seen all too often that clubs act from self-interest, and it’s more important than ever to look after the sport as a whole, because any structure is only as strong as its foundations.
No one can have any complaints about that six-match suspension for Wigan’s Morgan Smithies.
He got two for headbutting and four, plus a £500 fine, for his ‘dangerous contact’ challenge on Castleford’s James Clare.
If anything, he got off lightly with four for the ‘crusher challenge’, which has absolutely no place in the game.
We seem to have made some progress on getting rid of the ‘cannonball’ and ‘chicken wing’, and the ‘crusher’ also needs to be quickly kicked into touch.
It’s against the ruled and spirit of the game and the RFL has to apply a punishment that fits the crime.
Coaches also have to accept some responsibility and tell their players such tackles are not on and take meaningful action when any occur.
Smithies is a good young player who doesn’t need to resort to these tactics, and hopefully he has learned a lesson from this disappointing episode.
Warrington, Castleford and St Helens also had reasons to be cheerful after the latest set of Super League games.
But Rovers were sensational in beating Wigan 34-18, without a shadow of a doubt the team of the week.
It must have lifted the spirits around Craven Park following the news that owner and Chairman Neil Hudgell is to stand down.
I’m particularly pleased for Tony Smith, and I have to laugh to myself when I hear the pundits questioning the way Rovers play.
I’ll tell you what, it’s far more entertaining than the fare served up both across the city at Hull FC, and by Thursday’s opponents Wigan.
Those two play that methodical and predictable way, going through the ‘processes’ and seeing what happens at the end of a set.
I find it dull, and I reckon their supporters do as well. They deserve better – after all, the sport is meant to be entertaining.
I’m a big admirer of Tony, who, let’s face it, hasn’t done too badly during his lengthy coaching career.
He wants his players to have the freedom to express themselves and do things a little bit off the cuff when the opportunity is there.
And you can see the players buy into his approach; they want to perform for him and enjoy playing the way Rovers do.
Greg Minikin helped himself to a hat-trick, and Jez Litten and Jordan Abdull also produced particularly eye-catching performances.
Tony’s philosophy is to let the ball do the work – Hull and Wigan please take note.
Talking of Hull, what’s going on when they are so decisively defeated by a side with so many first-choice players missing?
The players Andy Last was able to put out should have done better than go down 37-12 to weakened Warrington.
Fair play to the Wolves, who have put together a very handy run of victories to climb to second in the table.
The players who came in put down markers to give Steve Price the kind of selection posers a coach wants to have.
Meanwhile, Blake Austin was brilliant, and I have to say I thought he looked more like his old self without Gareth Widdop alongside him.
That’s further food for thought for Pricey.
After three defeats on the spin, Daryl Powell badly needed a positive reaction against Salford and he got it … eventually.
He won’t have been happy at his side being 18-0 down, but will have been pleased with the character his side showed to get back into the game and claim that 37-30 win.
I thought Castleford’s big players stepped up, with Paul McShane and Liam Watts excellent.
Ian Watson will clearly be disappointed, but at least Salford gave it a go.
So did Huddersfield, but with Simon Woolford missing so many regulars, St Helens’ quality was always going to be too much, and so it proved as they won 54-6 to go top of the table.
It’s a worrying time for the Giants faithful, what with four straight defeats since the resumption and Simon Woolford’s pre-match revelation that he expects to leave at the end of the season.
Given that Huddersfield started the season so strongly and Woolford’s comments about having “unfinished business”, supporters are bound to wonder whether there’s more to it than just recent results.
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