IMG’s overhaul of Super League: Five rugby league clubs it would favour the most

IMG struck up a 12-year deal with rugby league in 2022, aiming to ‘re-imagine’ the sport following a period in the wilderness.

In terms of what grading criteria could be given to clubs in early March remains to be seen, but areas such as on-field product, facilities, digital growth, women and wheelchair sides, youth development and community work are likely to be taken into consideration.

But, which five clubs could IMG’s overhaul potentially favour?

London Broncos

There has already been murmurings from IMG about the need for a big presence in the capital – after all, a great London rugby league side could help spread the game in the south. The London Broncos are, of course, the team in line to take up that mantle, but it could well be a case of ‘been there, done that.’ The London teams of the past that have made the top flight have failed to inspire big crowds at their respective venues along the way, though an impressive crowd of around 1,800 at the Cherry Red Records Stadium for the Broncos’ Championship owner against Batley was a stark improvement on 2022. The interest is clearly there – as the impressive Rugby League World Cup ticket sales proved – it just remains to be seen whether that can be tapped into.

York Knights

A brilliant new stadium with a young head coach in a great city cannot be underestimated in terms of its pull and with no Super League side in North Yorkshire, the York Knights certainly look a great bet to thrive under what new system IMG throws up. With a successful women’s team, great community links, superb facilities and a committed owner, the future is bright for York. In terms of the thing to improve on, the Knights need to put their Super League-quality off-field success into action on the field under new head coach Andrew Henderson. A strong home core support will also work in York’s favour.

Newcastle Thunder

If North Yorkshire is an untapped source then so is the North East of England. Newcastle Thunder have big ambitions, though the 2022 Championship season was a major disappointment and now Chris Thorman’s side is back to being part-time. Thunder are capable of springing a surprise or two in the second tier, but they will have to improve drastically on the field following last season. That being said, Newcastle have superb community links and a healthy home support alongside a brilliant facility at Kingston Park. It may come too soon for Thunder, but the future is definitely bright.

Toulouse Olympique

At present, Toulouse Olympique are in a bit of a pickle. Financially, the French club needs to plug a gap following their relegation from Super League whilst they have just 19 squad members ahead of a gruelling Championship season. Despite this, Toulouse have wonderful facilities at the Stade Ernest Wallon, a brilliant coach in Sylvain Houles and an impressive French presence whilst IMG spoke about an initial cap of two French teams, paving the way for Toulouse’s rise back to the top tier. It will be interesting to see if the French side can bounce back immediately in 2023.

Bradford Bulls

Everyone remembers the Bradford Bulls-Leeds Rhinos clashes of the early Super League era, the Bullmania and the packed crowds at Odsal. Unfortunately, the Bulls have been in the wilderness in the past decade, though the West Yorkshire club look to be finally making it towards the light and out the other side. Now with a thriving youth set-up, a stable off-field ownership, superb crowds, a great recruitment board and a great head coach, Bradford are heading in the right direction. Of course, the Odsal situation needs addressing with a ‘Plan B’ in mind following the government’s snub of the Levelling Up bid which will be one major tick in IMG’s boxes. Get near the top of the table and the Bulls will have almost cracked it.