Talking Rugby League: An open letter to Tony Sutton amid grading fiasco

ON Friday I emailed the RFL’s Chief Executive Tony Sutton to express my concerns about the impact of the club gradings that were revealed last Wednesday on the 2024 season, and in particular the grading of London Broncos as they prepare to return to Super League after their outstanding victory against Toulouse earlier this month in the Championship Grand Final.

Below is what I wrote to Tony. I am happy to make it public.

Further to the media conference on Wednesday following the release of the grading assessments earlier in the day, I wanted to email you to urge you to exercise your authority to prevent next season becoming heavily devalued.

I’m broadly in support of the work that IMG have done, but if London Broncos are going to compete in Super League next year, they need to be given some incentive to avoid relegation.

As it stands, there is nothing they can do to avoid an immediate relegation, even if they were to win the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final.

In those circumstances the Broncos could hardly be blamed if they were to remain a part-time team that would not be competitive. That would detract from the competition as a whole.

On the other hand, if they are to sign players of the right standard and compete as an effective member of Super League, then they need an incentive to do that.

The problem can be solved very easily if the RFL states that any Grade B club that finishes in 12th place will be relegated, while any Grade B club that wins the Championship Grand Final will be promoted, unless there are 12 Grade A clubs that would fill Super League.

I can’t see any other way that the two competitions would retain their credibility.

On the other hand, if we implement the IMG gradings as (IMG’s) Matt Dwyer seems to want, then I think our supporters will be turned off in droves.

We have already seen a thread on our forum that extends to more than 50 (now 80) pages, with many contributors expressing their opposition on this particular issue.

On a related subject, I recently sent you my proposal for a merged Championship and League 1 competition.

But on Wednesday I believe the Championship clubs rejected the idea of a merged competition.

Looking at this from where I stand, however, I don’t think that such a decision should be made by those clubs that are acting purely in their own interests as they see them.

For the good of the game as a whole, I would suggest we need to unify the clubs outside Super League.

See my article on this subject on, which is

I think you have a great opportunity to exercise leadership on both these two issues and I hope you will do it.

I would hate you to get the blame for the problems that will arise next year if things are allowed to continue as they are.

Kind regards,
Martyn Sadler

I’m not sure whether anyone at the RFL really appreciates the damage that will be done to Super League next season if London Broncos are already a dead duck before the season even starts.

To judge from Tony Sutton’s words on the BBC on Saturday, I don’t think he has.

And of course some of the other clubs in Super League who have been awarded a B grade in the IMG rankings will be happy to keep quiet if they think that they will be safer than the Broncos next season.

One of the things that disappointed me on Wednesday, when the gradings were revealed, was that we were not given a breakdown of each club’s individual score, in accordance with the five categories of fandom, performance, finance, stadium and community.

In my view it’s important for IMG to come clean on how the scores add up under each individual heading.

They have said they won’t publish this information and that the clubs themselves have the right to do this if they wish.

But that is completely lacking transparency. So far, only a very small number of clubs have published the details of how their grading score is arrived at.

But if we are to have confidence in these figures, we need to know where they come from.

The more I look closely at some of the grading criteria, the more unsatisfactory they seem.

For example, many clubs have objected to the catchment area provisions, which can earn a club a maximum of 1.5 points for a catchment area above 260,000 (which itself looks like an arbitrary figure), one point for a catchment area between 130,000 and 260,000) or half a point for a catchment area that is less than 130,000.

Catchment Area is defined as the population of the Local Authority District where the club’s stadium is located divided by the total number of Tier 1 and Tier 2 clubs in the same area.

That is why the Broncos, situated in the London Borough of Merton, only receive one point under these rules, whereas in reality their catchment area extends into other parts of Greater London.

I also think there are a lot of factors currently absent from the grading criteria that could have been included.

For example, the Broncos run an Academy team, but that isn’t recognised in the gradings. And the fact that they have so many players in their squad who came through that system isn’t recognised either.

I know the Broncos have reacted very calmly in public to the situation they find themselves in, but I find it hard to imagine that they feel as calm privately as they are publicly.

Meanwhile, on the readers’ forum, the debate rages on and is likely soon to reach 100 pages (with around 25 posts per page). Much of the content isn’t complimentary towards the system that is being introduced.

We can get a flavour of the discussion by quoting one of our contributors.

“It’s horrible and I knew it would be, but seeing it documented is even worse. Even the spreadsheet diehards are struggling to defend this as it’s plain as day that this approach is catastrophic and won’t bring anything like the improvements some people are hoping it will.

“How do you explain this abomination to a potential new fan of the sport in the UK? It’s inexplicable and I’m sorry to say is going to turn existing fans away. The reality really hit when everyone saw where London were.

“Two of the most exciting aspects of this season were the relegation battle in SL and the promotion play-offs in the Championship. Ripping that up for this is yet another hammer blow to the sport in the UK. IMG aren’t taking this seriously either, the planning and execution are pathetic.

“As we sit here today, we still have no idea on structures in the lower leagues for next year, you have IMG saying SL might expand very soon and London planning a pointless expedition into SL for a year despite delivering something of a fairy-tale story last season. The sport in the UK is a shambles.”

Those are strong words and I think it behoves the RFL and IMG to tell us whether that poster is wrong and, if so, why he is wrong.

The issues are too important to ignore.