Cornwall is set to become the latest English county to stage professional Rugby League, after Tuesday evening brought the announcement that Cornwall RLFC have been given the green light by the RFL to compete in League One from 2022.
Heading the new club is Eric Perez, the Canadian who helped found Toronto Wolfpack and tried to bring the sport to Ottawa before the intervention of the Covid pandemic.
He is now changing course to re-locate the club in England’s most westerly county, many miles from the sport’s heartlands with the Cornish Clough – an iconic bird in the county – selected as the club’s emblem.
A number of local media outlets in the southwest covered the story when it first broke.
The website Cornwall Live was one of them, also giving a mention to the local community club, the Cornish Rebels, while the news has also featured on the Falmouth Packet website and in nearby Devon on the Plymouth Sports Gazette.
There has also been some national coverage, from the BBC and the Independent.
However, the wider Rugby League public has responded to the news with mixed reactions.
Rugby League clubs, from Hull KR to a number of Cornwall’s future League 1 opponents, offered their best wishes on Twitter, and many people joined them in extending a welcome to the new club.
But reaction was split with some describing the news as “very exciting” and “fantastic”, and others labelling it as “ridiculous” and “some poor attempt at a joke”.
There is some scepticism around their prospects, especially in putting together a squad for the start of the season.
But Wigan supporter Michael Lavelle has come down firmly on the side of the new club on Twitter, while criticising its critics.
“Rugby League is so insular in this country it’s shocking,” he said.
“If a team can’t commit to playing one away game in Cornwall a year then something is massively wrong with them. The player pool in this country currently isn’t big enough so taking the sport to a new area could fix that.”
Salford fan Roy Ellaby supported that view, while making his own suggestion to the new club: “|Keep seeing comments ‘part time players having to travel there and back on a Sunday and then prepare for work…blah blah…’. Common sense says that Cornwall’s home games should be scheduled for a Saturday afternoon.”
The new club has said it wants its team to be “made up of the very best Cornish rugby talent” from what is a Rugby Union stronghold.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that the biggest welcome comes from the Cornish Rebels community club.
“Cornish Rebels is pleased to finally be able to publicly pledge our support and welcome to the news of the new professional Rugby League club Cornwall RLFC,” said a statement on their website.
“Since establishing the sport of Rugby League here a decade ago, our Chairman John Beach along with Development Director Rob Butland have always been clear about the ambition to bring Professional Rugby League to Cornwall, and we are proud and excited that we have been able to work with fellow Director Colin Groves and Cornwall RLFC President Eric Perez to achieve this.
“The Rebels will continue to work to establish a pathway for Rugby League players in Cornwall, and this most recent step in our journey is indeed a great one. We now have a platform which the talent we know exists in Cornwall can access, develop and shine upon.
“The Rebels are proud to have been appointed by Cornwall RLFC as the stewards of the sports Development in Cornwall, and there is much more to come as we push towards our goal of accessible opportunities for all who want to play the game of Rugby League.
“We want to take this opportunity to thank, wholeheartedly, every player, volunteer, sponsor, associate and friend of our club for their part in the start of our journey, and we look forward to working with all of you again in the coming years.”
On the Totalrl.com fans forum, one player for a Rugby League club in the amateur South West League expressed doubts that the players there would want to commit to the game at semi-professional level, saying on the TotalRL forum that “we’re under no illusion that 95% our players are anything other than Union players who are giving the game a go in their off-season. That said, there’s some lads down here who are highly talented and actually love playing League.
“Would they want to aim to focus on League and go semi-pro? I’m not sure there’d be that many at this point in time. The game is growing at grass-roots level but it’s still early days.”
But Cornwall resident Christian B put forward a more optimistic opinion.
“In pursuit of a little balance, herewith some optimism:
“First, Cornwall punches far above its demographic weight when it comes to producing rugby players and athletes. A good example of this is the Bill Beaumont RU County Championship which, over recent years, has been dominated by four sides: three Rugby League heartland counties (Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire) and Cornwall.
“So, looking ahead to the future, Cornwall is somewhat likely to become a net exporter of Rugby League players. Also note that its population is in excess of 560,000 – more than St. Helens, Wigan, and Widnes combined.
“Second, the game we all love has just embedded itself as far south and as far west as it is possible in mainland Britain. Celebrate it!
“Third, those travelling to follow their teams will be sure to receive a great welcome at The Memorial Ground in Penryn for the club’s first season. My son has played for Penryn RFC juniors, and I cannot speak highly enough of those involved with the oldest Rugby club in Cornwall. What is more, it is just minutes away from some of the most beautiful scenery you will find in the country.”