Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler
Get ready for another reorganisation!
It looks as though Super League will consist of only ten clubs from 2023, after going up to 14 clubs in 2022, if the proposal presented to the clubs on Friday comes to pass.
The RFL seems to have decided that relegation wouldn’t be fair this year, so Leigh Centurions are set for a reprieve.
But that doesn’t mean that promotion won’t happen and it appears that two clubs will be promoted to Super League, but only for the 2022 season.
On the face of it, the two clubs being promoted are likely to be Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers, who faced each other on Sunday, with Toulouse triumphing in front of an encouraging attendance of 4,021 spectators.
But both of those clubs, if they are promoted, will face an almighty battle in 2022, because four clubs will be relegated from Super League next year, to reduce the elite competition to ten clubs in 2023.
What a crazy year it will be in 2022!
Apparently all this has been strongly urged upon the RFL by Sky, who are said to be unhappy with the quality of some of the games they have covered in the last twelve months.
The new Sky contract will be for only two years and Sky have told the RFL that the governing body had better get its house in order if it wants a new contract from 2024.
So a reduction to ten clubs in Super League is the way to get more competitive matches, so the theory goes.
Unfortunately I think that’s a false premise.
Rugby League is a sport in which it is remarkably difficult to predict which matches will be one-sided, and which ones won’t be.
For example, it wasn’t too hard to predict that Wigan would beat Leigh convincingly on Sunday.
But who would have predicted Salford running up 70 points against Castleford last month in the week before Wembley?
If we were to take the top ten current clubs in Super League, we would still have some clubs that are perceived as significantly weaker than the rest. So would that mean we should reduce the number even further?
I can understand that the RFL might want to react to the message from Sky, but my fear is that this change would weaken Super League rather than strengthen it.
There comes a point where the number of clubs in a competition can be reduced so much that it become boring watching the same old clubs playing against each other time and time again.
To a great extent that has been Super League’s problem for much of its existence.
It’s the same few clubs winning all the time.
Until all the other clubs can develop Academy systems that emulate those of St Helens, Wigan and Leeds, I’m afraid that trend is likely to continue.
On learning at the end of last week about the proposal being put forward at two separate meetings of clubs I put out a series of tweets on Twitter expressing my reaction to the news.
It’s appropriate to repeat that content in this column for anyone who hasn’t read it already.
“The proposal to have 14 Super League teams in 2022, with four teams then being relegated to leave a ten-team Super League in 2023 will be suicidal. To have only ten teams in the top-flight will bore the pants off our audience and kill the game.
“I would make a plea to all the clubs to think very carefully about the long term effects of what they are trying to do. We have tried numerous competitive structures since the competition first went to two divisions in a search for the holy grail, which has never been attained.
“If we are going to find a way forward, it has to be one that involves all the clubs and commits all of them to enhancing the status of Rugby League in the UK and beyond.
“To condemn some clubs to a lesser status on the basis of where they happen to sit in the league competition in one particular season is absolutely nuts.
“And to relegate four clubs in 2022 will ensure that all the clubs in Super League next season will spend money they haven’t got to try and avoid that fate.
“I’ve been involved in Rugby League for more years than I care to think about, but I’ve never felt more sadness to see the sport I love making so many bad decisions as we’ve seen in the last month.
“In the next few days I’ll be putting forward an alternative structure on the http://Totalrl.com website. Structure alone won’t save the game, but it’s a starting point. We need radical new thinking that sees all parts of the game pulling together.”
I will be putting my own detailed ideas here on TotalRL.com on Wednesday morning at 10.00am.
I think they are infinitely better than what the RFL is proposing, but I’ll leave others to be the judge of that, or whether we should just do what Sky tells us.
Better news on crowds
I always thought it would take plenty of time for spectators to start drifting into stadiums again to watch live sport after all restrictions were lifted on 19 July.
I was quite concerned, for example, when Wigan only drew 5,555 spectators for their recent home game against Wakefield Trinity.
But on Sunday it was encouraging to see them drawing in 9,206 fans for their local derby against Leigh, while Warrington drew 8,014 last week for the visit of Wigan and Hull FC attracted 9,356 fans to see them against Leeds Rhinos.
Those crowds are all slightly below what they would probably have been in pre-pandemic days, but at least they seem to be on an upward curve.
Tonight there are two games in Hull, which seems crazy on the face of it, but it will be interesting to see how many fans turn out for both matches, particularly to see Hull KR against the Catalans for their first home game since restrictions were lifted.
I would be delighted to see normality returning, although unfortunately the Covid protocols will prevent that happening for some time to come.
And I’m still hoping that the World Cup will go ahead.
No one knows what the Covid situation will be like by late October, but we should surely be prepared to play on, given the percentage of the population that has now been double-jabbed.
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