MARTYN SADLER, the editor of League Express, sets out some of the things he hopes might happen for Rugby League in 2019.
This article is a modified version of his ‘Talking Rugby League’ column from this week’s League Express.
At the turn of the year I usually prefer to think ahead rather than think back.
Over the last five weeks in League Express we have listed our top 50 significant moments in 2018, but now it’s time to look ahead to 2019 and set out some of the things I hope will happen, and that we may be talking about by the end of the year.
So here are 19 things I am hoping that 2019 brings us.
1 Rising crowds in all competitions.
2 The profile of Super League players to rise markedly, although I’m not sure what plans Super League CEO Rob Elstone has to make that happen.
3 Super League clubs to accept that they play too many matches and that they can grasp the nettle and reducing the length of the season. But I’m not feeling very optimistic about this one.
4 The Challenge Cup to revive in 2019 and the RFL to find a way of selling out the Challenge Cup Final. But again I won’t hold my breath on this one, particularly given its approach of demanding a bond from non-UK clubs, although I’ll have more to say on this in my League Express column this coming Monday (7 January).
5 No players to be suspended for doping infringements. That wish speaks for itself.
6 Zak Hardaker to come back with a bang. Despite, or perhaps because of, the mistakes he’s made off the field in recent years, it would be a great story if Zak were to return to his Man of Steel form from a few years ago.
7 The RFL to announce the details of the 2019 tour to New Zealand and the South Pacific as soon as possible. Things have been worryingly quiet on this front in recent weeks, and it would be reassuring if we were to be told that the tour is still officially going ahead.
8 London Broncos to confound the critics again and to be competitive in Super League.
9 The top five play-off system to be a raging success in both Super League and the Championship, with crowds exceeding regular-season attendances in both competitions.
10 The RFL to announce as soon as possible that the Championship Grand Final will be held at Headingley this season.
11 Rugby League in France to enjoy a revival, and the game between the Catalans and Wigan, which will be played at the Camp Nou Stadium, to draw at least 50,000 spectators, which would be half the capacity of Barcelona FC’s home.
12 Newcastle Thunder to earn promotion from League 1, to prove that an expansion club other than Toronto can work its way up through the league system.
13 West Wales Raiders to have at least five wins in 2019, to show us that a club in that part of Wales can make an impact in Rugby League.
14 No serious injuries in Rugby League in 2019.
15 All those players who are returning from long term injuries to have injury-free seasons.
16 Super League deciding it would like to invest in a new Nines competition that will involve all its clubs.
17 Super League clubs all deciding to run reserve teams in 2020, with the Academy age reduced to under-18s.
18 Super League clubs to take games on the road to test the market for Rugby League in development areas.
19 The City of Sheffield to be given at least one World Cup match, when the venues for the tournament are announced at the end of January. I worked in Sheffield for 20 years, and I’m convinced that if we took some big matches to the Steel City then there would be an upsurge of interest there.
I could probably list another 19 wishes for the new season, but 19 is probably enough to be going on with.
At the end of 2019 I’ll revisit these wishes to see how many of them actually came true.
I’m not holding my breath.
‘Talking Rugby League’ features in League Express every Monday. The digital version of League Express can be downloaded on Sunday evening from around 9.00pm by clicking here