Talking Rugby League: What are IMG doing?

WE are ten rounds into the Super League season and we look at the league table and see six teams all level at the top, each with 14 points.

Has there ever before been such a close competition ten games into the season?

It’s an extraordinary thing and I would hope that everyone involved with Rugby League, including all the game’s full-time and non-executive directors would be shouting about it from the rooftops.

Perhaps they are doing, and I am just too busy to notice it.

But surely we need someone whose sole job is to promote all the good things that are happening in all our competitions, not just Super League.

I had been under the obviously mistaken impression that IMG would be performing that role, which perhaps just demonstrates my naiveté.

If someone did have that role, I’m sure there is plenty of raw material to work on, and not just in Super League.

And one of the good things about this season is that some of the weaker teams are growing stronger.

We see that most obviously in Super League, where Castleford Tigers under Craig Lingard have made some astute signings, some of them on loan, since their lamentable start to the season and the result is that they were able to draw a thrilling match with Leigh Leopards on Saturday.

The most outstanding performances of the season must surely be those of Salford Red Devils, principally because almost every pundit predicted them to have a difficult season.

My esteemed colleague Garry Schofield predicted they would finish in tenth place, so to see them sitting in the top six this weekend, after a narrow win at Huddersfield Giants, is quite remarkable.

Of course things looked bleak for them when they had to come to terms with losing Tyler Dupree, Brodie Croft, Andy Ackers, Ken Sio and Joe Burgess from their 2023 squad.

But the Red Devils appear to have a remarkable ability to shrug their shoulders and just get on with it, helped by some shrewd recruitment, particularly Nene Macdonald, who was outstanding in their victory against the Giants on Friday night, scoring two tries and creating another.

They have also recruited Ethan Ryan, Joe Mellor, Joe Shorrocks, Cade Cust and Chris Hankinson, most of whom would probably be described as journeyman players, but Salford coach Paul Rowley seems able to give them all added belief in themselves.

It’s hardly surprising that Hull FC wanted to offer him a coaching deal at the MKM Stadium.

It would have been interesting to see whether he could have got Hull firing in the way that Salford are, or whether there are deeper problems at that club.

I certainly hope they can find someone to step in and deliver the success that they crave in East Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Rowley’s predecessor Ian Watson continues to coach a side in the Giants that blows hot and cold and that, for some reason, seems to struggle to win at home.

After a string of away games they returned to the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday and only played effectively for the final ten minutes, during which time they scored three tries and almost snatched an undeserved victory.

They must be a desperately frustrating side to coach.

Minimal changes

LAST Thursday I attended a media conference at the RFL’s HQ in Manchester to hear about how the results of the grading system will be worked out and then revealed later this year.

The key date is the 23rd of October, when the results will be announced to the world and we will discover which teams will play in Super League next season.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Super League will look similar in 2025, but with Wakefield Trinity replacing London Broncos, which would almost certainly have happened if we had stuck with the old system of the team winning the Championship Grand Final winning an automatic promotion to the top-flight.

As it happens, the only reward now on offer for the Championship Grand Final winners, apart from a financial prize, is 0.25 grading points.

I’m not sure that will get the pulses racing.

I must admit that my heart sank when the RFL chief executive Tony Sutton unveiled a spreadsheet showing how the whole thing was going to work.

Spreadsheets are useful accountancy tools but they are remarkably unexciting.

The truth is that all the clubs are going to be forced to submit a host of details about the various facets of their operations during the month of September. And for the vast majority of them, it will be a monumental waste of time.

The only thing that counts is where the cut-off line comes between the top twelve clubs, who will be in Super League in 2025, and the rest.

I asked Tony what would happen if the teams with the twelfth and 13th highest grading scores were actually tied and he insisted that that can’t happen because of the way the grading scores are formulated.

I’ll believe that when I see it.

But even if that’s true, the implications of finishing 13th as opposed to twelfth are financially, I would think, more than a million pounds per season.

As one Super League official has already told me, if for any reason their club is not included in the top twelve, they will be straight on the phone to their lawyers to begin a lawsuit against the RFL.

It’s potentially an awful mess and I hope it doesn’t happen.

But unfortunately it could do.

I was quite surprised at last week’s media briefing to find that no one from IMG was present, either in person or via a remote link.

I’m still not sure precisely what IMG’s responsibilities are under the terms of their contract with the RFL.

When they first were given the contract, they apparently spoke to the clubs and said that they had three priorities – London, France and women.

If that is correct, I can’t see that they have helped at all in any of those three elements of Rugby League, other than by negotiating some minor TV deals in France.

I keep hoping that they are going to prove me wrong.

But it’s a long wait.

First published in League Express newspaper, Issue 3,429 (May 6, 2024)

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