St Helens Chairman Eamonn McManus is a formidable operator.
He has been the majority owner of the Red Vee club for twenty years, and since taking over has successfully built a new stadium which the club moved into in 2012.
In that time St Helens have also been one of the most successful clubs in the game.
Whether it comes to the recruitment of players, the development of its Academy (undoubtedly one of the very best in Rugby League) or the appointment of coaches, McManus’ record will stand comparison with any other club owner in Super League.
Having said that, he isn’t often quoted publicly, preferring to let his players to the talking for him. So when he does speak it is advisable for the rest of the game to listen.
As you will see on Page 3 of today’s issue, McManus has spoken to League Express about the problems Super League faces, following the withdrawal of Toronto Wolfpack from this season’s competition, and the proposal, apparently favoured by Super League CEO, Robert Elstone and some Super League club owners, to run with an eleven-team competition next year.
The St Helens Chairman opposes this idea on two main grounds.
First, recognising that to abandon the new market uncovered in Toronto by would be madness for the competition, he believes the Wolfpack should be given time to test the market for a sale of the club, possibly to a consortium that could honour the club’s debts so it could compete again in Super League next year.
Second, he believes that a competition of only eleven teams would damage the reputation of Super League at a time when it would be at its most vulnerable.
If Toronto cannot compete next year, however, he suggests establishing a mini-licensing system under which ambitious clubs currently below Super League could apply for promotion to the higher competition, restoring it to twelve clubs for 2021.
Inevitably that is not an ideal solution, but with all the disruption already caused this year by the Covid-19 virus, what solution could be ideal? The obvious answer is none.
We hope the Super League executive and clubs will take note of what he says and will not rush into having only eleven clubs next year. That would be the worst of all possible worlds.
This is the UpFront column that appeared in this week’s issue of League Express.
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