Greg Dyke goes in to bat for York

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor, Martyn Sadler

Last week we revealed that York City Knights had come first in our Readers’ Poll that asked which club our readers would like to see promoted from the Championship to take the twelfth Super League place after the rejection of Toronto Wolfpack’s application to rejoin the competition in 2021.

We had a massive vote, with more than 5,000 people voting in total, and of those, 39.84 per cent said they would like to see York get the nod. The second placed club was Toulouse Olympique, but with 13.03 per cent of the vote, they got less than a third of the votes that York got.

I suspect that someone connected with York may have encouraged York supporters to cast their votes in the poll, but if they did, that shows a welcome spirit of enterprise.

And last week the Knights enhanced their claim to that vacant spot by revealing a smart video promoting the club, its excellent facilities in its new stadium, and the city of York.

I described the video as vibrant, positive and aspirational. You can see it if you check in to the Knights’ Twitter feed (@YorkKnightsRLFC).

And the club has also received support from Greg Dyke, the former Director-General of the BBC, Chairman of the FA and Chancellor of the University of York, which was his alma mater.

Dyke, who is still a highly influential figure, has written a letter that sets out the case for the Knights.

“I am writing in support of York City Knight’s application to take the vacant 12th spot in the 2021 Betfred Super League competition,” he writes.

“York City Knights is a club with huge potential for growth, with almost 120 years of Rugby League history behind it. The recent success of the club has meant its crowds have increased from a few hundred to an average of 2,300 in 2019. The club and its fans will provide a new demographic for the Super League and I have no doubt that York City Knights would offer huge benefits as the 12th team.

“York City Knights can offer the top class facilities required of a Super League status club.

“Their brand new home at the LNER Community Stadium is built for a team of the future, and will give York City Knights every opportunity for growth and development. I am not exaggerating when I say York City Knights has the potential to be one of the leading Rugby League teams in the country. This would also be a major opportunity to have a professional team in York playing at an elite level.

“In particular I would like to commend the far-reaching benefits of the club’s community engagement programme covering health, education and community partnerships. This only stands to grow with Super League status. The economic, wellbeing and health benefits – not only physical but for mental health as well – should not be underestimated, as sporting fans and communities face the impact and very difficult challenges that Covid-19 has brought.

“York itself, as the home of this successful club, is an internationally renowned visitor and event location. In 2021 the city will be one of the host cities for the Rugby League World Cup, as one of 16 locations that will host the qualified nations as training and team base camps. This demonstrates the confidence and support within the city to provide a world class host experience on the international playing field. York will also be hosting eight fixtures at the York City Knights home ground, all in the women’s tournament.

“I believe the potential here is huge both for York City Knights and the future benefits for the Super League itself. The League would be taking on a club and a city with an already established international brand, and I believe York, its residents and its businesses, will benefit from the wider impact of this sporting ambition.

“I wish York City Knights every success with what I believe to be a strong, compelling and unrivalled application.”

The other clubs chasing that vacant spot now need to step up to the mark which I’m sure they are capable of doing.

After all, just because York is a great city with lots to offer and the Knights are a go-ahead club, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get the nod.

After all, we could have said the same about the Toronto Wolfpack, who would have based themselves in York for the first part of next season if they had been re-admitted to Super League.

Meanwhile it was interesting to see the news in the last few days that the UK and Canada have agreed a trade deal.

It makes Super League’s decision to cut links with Canada just a little more nonsensical.

Another round of departures

The Grand Final this Friday will see more players heading for retirement.

The two most high-profile examples are of course Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham.

But they are not the only ones.

Zeb Taia, for example, will also be playing his final game before retirement, while Dominique Peyroux and Joseph Paulo will both be heading to Toulouse Olympique.

Joel Thompson from Manly, Agnatius Paasi from the New Zealand Warriors and Sione Mata’utia from Newcastle Knights will, I’m sure, be very effective replacements.

And at the moment we can’t be sure about Thomas Leuluai, although I suspect that he may go around for another year at Wigan.

Wigan’s decline in support

In last week’s League Express, Wigan director Kris Radlinski lamented the downward trend in support that the club has experienced in recent seasons, explaining that the recent rebrand of the club’s badge is part of a wider focus on trying to attract a younger audience.

It’s hard to draw firm conclusions about why the Warriors’ support is declining, but I’m tempted to suggest that one of the reasons is that the Wigan fans have been spoilt by their club’s success.

These days, if Wigan don’t win a trophy the season is regarded as a failure. But that philosophy can’t be allowed to endure.

In fact, it’s worth looking back to season 2006, when Wigan narrowly avoided relegation, but their average crowd increased from 13,894 in 2005 to 14,464 in 2006. To cheer on a losing team was a new experience for Wigan fans, but they apparently enjoyed doing it.

I think a bigger problem for Wigan – and I’ve written about this before – is that they don’t always present an attractive image to the wider world.

Too often Wigan players seem to play with gravity rather than with a sense of enjoyment, and I wonder whether that transmits itself to people watching on.

In the old days they had players like Henderson Gill, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards and many others who brought a sense of fun to the club. Nowadays it’s rare to see a Wigan player smiling, although a player like Bevan French should be a PR dream, with a great personality and brilliant ability.

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