DON’T shoot me down but I think 2019 is going to be the year Rugby League becomes great again. While you might gasp in disbelief at such a notion, hear me out for a quick moment. On the surface, 2018 was a debacle.
The league restructure was a painful fiasco handled by a bunch of people in a way that can only be described as a moronathon. Teams failed to field full teams on countless occasions. At least three professional clubs nearly went out of business.
The Challenge Cup attracted its lowest attendance in 73 years. For goodness sake, certain clubs were even asked to pay to play in the competition. Yet, despite all of that, while waves continue to crash on Rugby League’s banks, in the undercurrent, the tide is slowly changing. 2018 was the year clubs started to realise things need to change and there are a number of examples to prove it.
The most obvious sign came from Super League, with clubs taking ownership of the competition and finalising its split from the RFL. A power-grab? It may well be. But in a short space of time changes have already been implemented.
The new rule changes being introduced are a step in the right direction. They’ll encourage a quicker game with less stoppages and more action. It is a move that brings the sport into the modern era.
Off the field, clubs are starting to develop their media techniques. Salford have done a remarkable job marketing Jackson Hastings. He, for the first time in a long time, has become a poster boy for a club.
Others, such as Batley and Swinton, have started to produce more video content to engage with their local communities. Even further down the pyramid, Coventry Bears produced an excellent season launch video.
These clubs and others are making efforts to bring the sport into the modern era. Reverting back to on-field matters, more clubs are spending more money on big-name players. Warrington, St Helens and Leeds, in particular, have caught the eye with the arrival of marquee talents that will raise the profile of the sport.
Even Hull KR and Toronto have thrown their weight around with big-name signings that will catch the eye of a worldwide audience. They are bringing the sport into the modern era. Do you see a pattern occurring here?
The evolution of the Women’s game has been monumental. It has, guess what, brought the game into the modern era. Rugby League has been stuck in the past. In many ways, it still is. But finally, the sport has come to terms with it and is trying to break the mould.
While much more is needed yet; better marketing, better governance and a long-term strategic plan would be a good place to start, there are a number of promising signs that suggest the game is heading in the right direction.
That has to continue, however. There are still frailties that threaten to hold the game back. For every fantastic decision, such as the 1895 Cup, there is the depressing idea to make teams pay to play.
However, for the first time in a while, there are enough positives to suggest the sport is ready for lift off. And the best thing of all? Sky finally got rid of those robots!
This column was taken from Issue 453 of Rugby League World magazine, out every month, and available on the Total Rugby League shop here.