Garry Schofield reflects on the recent proposals for restructuring the RFL’s competitions
So the RFL and Super League have finally woken up to the fact that substantial change is needed in a bid to provide the shot in the arm our game so desperately needs.
They’ve come up with a plan to create two divisions of ten, optimistically termed Super League 1 and 2, and pretty much condemn the clubs who don’t feature to the wilderness.
Considering some of the names who may miss out should the proposal go ahead, there would be an awful lot of proud history and quite a few passionate fans being kicked into touch at a time when we can’t afford to lose any.
It seems the powers-that-be have pressed the panic button after a threat from Sky, who obviously bankroll Rugby League in this country, and say they are unhappy with the quality of what they have agreed to pay an annual £25 million for until the end of 2023.
The word is that unless something pretty drastic is done, the broadcaster, already spending £15 million a year less they were doing under the previous contract, which is another big concern, will pull the plug altogether.
The theory is less quantity, more quality, and the irony is that when you listen to the likes of Brian Carney, Jon Wells, Barrie McDermott, Phil Clarke and Terry O’Connor talking before, during and after Sky matches, everything in the summer garden is rosy, with high levels of skill, intensity, enthusiasm and excitement.
I’m certainly not saying we don’t have any great players to enjoy or any great matches, but there aren’t as many of either as there could or should be.
It will suit the game’s governors to say the current situation is down to the effects of Covid, and it certainly hasn’t helped.
But we had deep problems long before the pandemic came along, and while it gives me absolutely no pleasure to say it, considering the alarm bells have been ringing loud and clear for so long, the people running the game should hang their heads in shame for allowing us to get to where we now are.
In my view, they’ve certainly been burying them in the sand, because the situation goes back a good ten years or more.
The advent of Super League and the switch to summer rugby was supposed to be the saviour of our game, with big crowds turning out on sunny Sunday afternoons to events that were more than just Rugby League matches.
So why do we have so many Friday-night games that clash with live TV matches and are hard for some home, never mind away, supporters to get to?
Admission prices have also gone up, providing another reason not to attend.
On the pitch, too many sides are stuffed with overseas journeymen rather than homegrown talent, and whatever those who promote Academies say, quality players aren’t coming through in the numbers required, partly due to the abandonment of proper, meaningful Colts and ‘A’ team competitions.
It’s not just the professional game that is ailing, so too is junior and amateur rugby, and the switch to summer has been really damaging.
I’m far from the only person saying that the clubs, who are almost sure to act in their own interests, have had far too much influence for far too long.
Rugby League really does need a truly independent governing body and I tell you what, as someone with passion for and experience of the game and no affiliation to any club. I’d love to be on it.
Hard work needed for World Cup to be staged in 2022
It’s coming up to a year since I first suggested the World Cup should be put back to 2022, and to be fair, you didn’t need a crystal ball to see that it wasn’t going to be plain sailing for the organisers.
I’m as disappointed as the next person that the tournament has been delayed, but given all the factors, and not just the decision of Australia and New Zealand not to come, I think it’s the best option, and now we all know where we stand.
It must have been gut-wrenching for Jon Dutton and his colleagues, who have put so much hard work in and done such an impressive job so far, and now they will have a lot more hoops to jump through as they try to meet their target of delivering the best-ever World Cup, not least somehow ensuring the presence of the Kangaroos and Kiwis.
Pushing everything back by a year might sound straightforward, but given the three strands of the event – men’s, women’s and wheelchair – and the number of locations that will come into play, I’m sure it’s a very complex task.
Will all the venues be available, never mind the training facilities, hotel accommodation and flights needed to get everyone to the UK? Will all the organising staff be able to stay on for another twelve months? Will we be better off in terms of the pandemic?
There are also the financial implications, so fingers crossed the event can make a profit, so boosting the game’s coffers as well as, hopefully, its profile, and if there is a positive from recent weeks, it’s that plenty of people have been talking about Rugby League.
And what about Shaun Wane? I believe his contract as England coach runs to the end of 2022, but when he signed that extension so early in his reign, could he possibly have foreseen having so little chance to work with the players?
After all, he’s been in post for more than 18 months, and there’s been just one match to get stuck into.
He’s a rugby man and a rugby coach, and with ongoing suggestions of a return to Wigan in some capacity, will he want to take that chance if it comes his way, or any other to get back into the club game?
Catalans not disgraced
It was unlucky 13 for Catalans, who, having won twelve Super League matches in succession, lost 34-12 on Saturday at St Helens, who are slowly but surely stepping things up as we get to the business end of the season.
But I don’t think Steve McNamara should be too disheartened, because he fielded a number of younger players against a home side with plenty of quality in the ranks, and his Dragons side were far from disgraced.
It was good to see plenty of French players included, which after so many years, is the way it should be, and if Friday’s game against Hull goes ahead, given the Black and Whites’ problems with Covid, I think Catalans will bounce back and win by 28 points.
Saints are in action at home to Castleford on Thursday, and while Daryl Powell’s team sprang a surprise with that victory at Leeds, I can’t see a similar scenario against Kristian Woolf’s men, who will triumph by 24.
The top clash of the round will be on Humberside on Friday, when Hull KR tackle Wigan, and I reckon Rovers will follow up their success at the DW Stadium back in June by forcing another ten-point win.
In Friday’s other game, Leigh will fancy their chances of getting a result against Leeds, but I think Rich Agar’s side will edge it by twelve, while on Sunday, I’m going Warrington by ten at Wakefield and Salford by seven at home to ex-coach Ian Watson’s Huddersfield.
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