Neil Hudgell calls for detailed discussion over long-term direction of rugby league

Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell believes rugby league needs to think carefully about its future as a sport across the entirety of the professional clubs,  saying there is ‘too much instability’ and a lack of long-term development for elite clubs.

In a wide-ranging interview with TotalRL, Hudgell has indicated he would welcome changes to the league structure in the coming years after admitting that the situation on the final day of the Super League season, with four clubs (including Rovers) in the mix to go down, was `great for a week of headlines, but not for long-term stability’.

He stressed that an ideal system would be one where clubs outside the top-flight are added on merit, suggesting that promotion and relegation should be far from guaranteed, in order to protect the long-term future of clubs.

In a stinging appraisal of the game at present, Hudgell said: “The reality is that if seven or eight of us fell under a bus tomorrow, there would be seven or eight clubs struggling to exist. That can’t be right.“You’ve got to look at the game as a whole and look at how many clubs have the ambition and size to be a Super League club.

“When we were promoted two years ago they ran that Championship for Hull KR really. Nobody else really had any prospects, did they? My attitude has never changed; we need a mechanism where we decide the structure, and promotion and relegation isn’t a given, but if clubs can add value they go in on their own merit.

“That’s how they grow the competition. I can see how a Toulouse, London or Leigh could add value, and possibly Bradford a few years ago but there’s such an uncertain future there now. Who else?”

Hudgell admits he understands the RFL’s need to look after the whole of the professional game, but has reiterated the stance of several top-flight chairman in stressing that rugby league can only grow prosperously with a vibrant, strong Super League at the top, and everything below that must follow suit.

“You need a model in which clubs become relaxed about reducing the number of games, and the quality improves on the back of that,” Hudgell said. “At the minute we have too much instability and too much short-term threat that influences longer-term development.

“The RFL have to protect the interests of the Championship and there’s a commitment to promotion and relegation at the minute, but we need to be approaching a broadcaster about a clear vision for the sport.”

Hudgell also queried the state of the top-flight at present, suggesting it may be turning supporters away from the sport. He said: “It’s not healthy for the top team to be so far ahead that everyone else is nearer the bottom, and it’s an integrity issue that the top team may not get to the Grand Final having been so far ahead.

“You try and sell that to a fan who’s been going for 29 weeks and then discovers it’s all been pretty meaningless.. what have you got? There’s a lot of work that the game has to do to make sure it gets the best TV deal possible beyond 2021. Super League needs to be the flagship for the game.”