Leeds Rhinos chief sees growing confidence in Rugby League

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington believes there is a growing sense of belief that Rugby League can successfully overcome some of the problems it has faced over the last 18 moths and can effectively relaunch itself in 2022.

And Hetherington cites last week’s announcement of a new terrestrial broadcast deal for Super League as an example of a growing confidence that the game has a great future.

“Six or nine months ago there was a real desperation in the game; we were almost panic-stricken in a sense,” Hetherington told League Express.

“Super League had gone through the disappointment with Rothschilds in relation to private equity funding and we had learned that our broadcast income from Sky Sports was set to fall significantly.

“A lot of people were making statements to the media who were fearful for the future of the game.

“But I think we have now achieved some stability.

“The process of realignment with the RFL is progressing and will hopefully be completed in the near future, which will be a very significant development.

“The strategic group that is assessing all aspects of the game to make major recommendations for change is ongoing.

“While nothing is reported publicly, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

“The recent news of Channel 4 coming into our game is a very positive one. That is a sign that the whole climate has changed significantly. There is now a mood of optimism and genuine excitement and lots of opportunities for our game.

“Whatever is recommended for the future will have been extremely well thought out and will bring ultimate benefits to all aspects of the game.”

Hetherington is keen to stress, however, that nothing has been decided yet.

“There are loads of assumptions that we are definitely going to be moving to a ten-team league,” he added.

“But we can say categorically that nothing at all is pre-determined. Everything will be put under a microscope to make changes for the better, for the growth of the game and its ultimate improvement.

“The group that is examining structures includes me, Eamonn McManus (St Helens), Stuart Middleton (Warrington Wolves), Paul Lakin (Hull Kingston Rovers), Ralph Rimmer (CEO RFL) and Karen Moorhouse (RFL Chief Regulatory Officer).

“This is a piece of work that has never been done before, given that we are looking at all aspects of the game and not taking anything in isolation.

“Our aim is to produce a strategic document that will present a bigger and brighter future for everyone in the game.”

And Hetherington admits that he is happy that his club will stage the first game to be covered by Channel 4, when the Rhinos face Warrington Wolves on 12 February on the opening weekend of Super League next year.

“We’re delighted about being the first to host Channel 4,” he said.

“It’s a terrific boost for the game and great credit should go to those executives who delivered this agreement.

Hetherington is determined that his club will be able to take advantage of the potential for growth that the TV coverage will bring.

“The policy of the Leeds club in 2022 is to grow and expand successfully, as opposed to a policy of contracting merely to survive,” he insists.

“Covid has made us borrow a significant amount of money. We could batten down the hatches and reduce expenditure as much as possible, to make us mean and lean. But we’ve taken a different approach, which is to recognise that 2022 will be a difficult year financially.

“We are asking our stakeholders to give us even more support with a view to expansion. We have put significant resource in our rugby operation, with improvements to our training centre at Kirkstall.

“There will be more investment going into our women’s and girls’ teams and we will be strengthening our operation and our business focus.

“We believe that Rugby League is facing a very exciting future beyond 2022. We need to make these investments to position our club for a great future.”

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