Hearns not coming to Rugby League

RFL Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer has revealed to League Express that a deal with Matchroom Sports, the company that administers the sporting empire of Barry and Eddie Hearn, will not have a role in Rugby League for the time being, although he hasn’t ruled out forging links in the future.

“What we had originally envisaged isn’t going to turn out, but nonetheless I am still in contact with Barry Hearn,” Rimmer told League Express.

“He keeps an eye on us and we will stay in contact. I still think something will happen, but it wasn’t what we originally intended.”

Rimmer was reluctant to reveal what role he had envisaged for Matchroom, but it had been thought that the organisation could be brought in to help revive the fortunes of the Challenge Cup.

Meanwhile Rimmer is also keen to restore the fortunes of reserve-team Rugby League and, despite the fact that only two Super League clubs will have reserves in 2019, he believes that the situation could change radically in 2020, with the Academy competition reducing by one year from Under-19s to Under-18s, although he emphasised that such a move hasn’t yet been decided.

“I think there will be more teams involved in 2020 and that’s a logical way to do it, but what you have to take into account is that you don’t want to have a big negative effect on community clubs,” added Rimmer.

“It’s obviously a jigsaw in terms of putting the right pieces together, but I think we’ll come up with the right solution.”

Rimmer admits he is delighted by the initial reaction to the news last week that former Arsenal and England footballer Tony Adams will become the President of the RFL from next July.

“On the one hand, I was pleased to catch everybody off-guard,” said Rimmer.

“But it came about because three or four years ago we sat down with the RFL Council and we decided that in future we would be able to go outside the game to appoint the RFL President, while retaining the cyclical element of the longest serving Council member to become the Vice-President, which is why Carl Hall will take up that post.

“We wanted to be able to go out and get people who would raise the profile of the game and open it up to different audiences. We have done remarkably well since then. Andy Burnham is currently doing a great job, for example.

“What we want is people who have a great affinity with the sport and can lift its profile. Three or four months ago I took Tony to dinner after he had delivered a couple of lectures to both Hull clubs. Clearly he is very passionate about the Sporting Chance Clinic and very passionate about sport in general and about the people he had come into contact with in Rugby League.

“He has been a real unsung hero for us for quite some time now. Following the dinner I thought ‘why not?’ So I approached him and he was incredibly humbled by the honour and I think he will be a fantastic asset for us and a great successor to Andy Burnham.

“With Andy, we have just set up the President’s Award, which will be rolled out in the New Year and will recognise outstanding work in the game. Andy is very community focused. He said at the start of the tenure that he was very interested in mental health and in the community game. His son plays community Rugby League in Leigh, for example. He has been on the touchline a long time now, and he has even played a bit, both at Masters and with full contact.

“We had a conference in Manchester as part of our review of the 12 to 18 age-group and Andy led it remarkably well.

“These are honorary positions and people give their time up voluntarily to support the sport.

“We had Air Commodore Dean Andrew as the President, and that was reflected in the work we have done in relation to the Armistice. This change in what we have done has been radical but very effective.”

Rimmer was speaking after watching the England Academy defeat the Australian Schoolboys 18-6 at Headingley on Friday night, and he paid tribute to the England players.

“The performance we have just watched was an outstanding effort by some superb young players,” he said.

“The England Performance Unit, which was launched in January, has enjoyed success with everything it has touched.

“In September last year Kevin Sinfield and I had a discussion about how we could win the three World Cups that are going to be held in 2021. Kevin came up with the performance unit, which is a central structure that serves six teams, all of which have their own head coaches and assistant coaches. Those teams are England, England Knights, England Women, England Academy, Under-16s and England Wheelchair. The all work with the same philosophy and standards.

“There is a central coaching resource that supports every team with strength and conditioning, statistics and medical support. And all the coaches come together for events organised centrally for them. Kevin stands at the front of that and guides everyone through the process.

“This has enabled us to take a dramatic step forward. This is all about 2021.

“We want to take these players into the best environment we can possibly put them in and put them under as much pressure as we can. So, for example, the Knights’ trip to Papua New Guinea was about that. You would expect the players in the Knights’ team to be aiming to play in the World Cup and that trip was about their personal development, both on and off the field.”