Talking Rugby League: Who does most to promote interest in Rugby League?

I WAS interested to read an article about golf recently that began with the following words: “Rory McIlroy has beaten Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour’s $15m (£11.9m) prize for generating the most media interest in 2023.”

Not being a golfer myself, I had no idea that such a prize was available. And nor would I have imagined that a prize for promoting the PGA competition would have been so substantial.

Apparently the prize “is designed to reward players that have the largest impact on the PGA Tour business via ticket sales, sponsorships, media consumption and fan engagement and drive interest in the PGA Tour and the game of golf.”

Woods had apparently won the prize in 2021 and 2022 despite injury-plagued years. 

The PGA has a total prize pool totalling $100m and this year that money was distributed amongst 20 players.

Jason Gore, the Executive Vice President and Chief Player Officer at the PGA Tour, said, “The scoring model for the Program is intended to be as objective as possible with the goal of quantifying the impact each player has on the PGA TOUR.”

So of course that made me wonder who would win such a prize if one were available in Rugby League.

In Australia I don’t think there’s any doubt that the prize would be won by the young Brisbane Broncos fullback Reece Walsh, who enjoyed a superb 2023 season for both the Broncos and Queensland.

In New Zealand it would probably be won by the Kiwi coach Michael Maguire, who guided his charges to a record 30-0 win against Australia in the final of the Pacific Cup.

But who has generated the most media interest in Rugby League in our country during 2023?

If it’s a player, then we would have to consider Jack Welsby, who is the comfortable winner of the Player of the Year award that is voted for by our readers, as you’ll see on pages 18 and 19 of this issue.

But Jack doesn’t have a major public profile, with little activity on social media or on conventional broadcasting outlets.

Sam Tomkins has a much higher profile and probably does more to sell tickets and so on than any other player. So who is going to take over his mantle?

And if we look beyond the players, who would we give the prize to?

One obvious contender is Leigh owner Derek Beaumont, who last week was giving his opinion on his club’s IMG grading, while also suggesting that the Leopards would achieve a grade A by the end of next season.

He is clearly puzzled about how Bradford Bulls’ score is so close to his own club’s.

“I fail to see how any kind of scoring structure would put them so close to a team that’s in a modern facility state of the art stadium, with LED boards, with a big screen, with a fantastic playing surface. A team that in the last three years has been in Super League in two of them, it’s done the treble in the year it wasn’t in Super League in the other divisions.

“It’s just won the Challenge Cup and finished fifth and has probably got more eyes on it than a lot of clubs in terms of media attention, as well as raising the bar on the entertainment and what it’s bringing to the game.

“In my mind’s eye, and lots of fans have said it, we’re actually putting out what people think the game should be doing. That’s my interpretation of it, what we did last year.

“That can’t surely measure 0.2 different to what Bradford are offering. So if it does then the way you mark your books is wrong.”

Tigers in the money

Perhaps the best news in the last week is the revelation that businessman Martin Jepson has taken a controlling interest in Castleford Tigers.

Jepson is a property expert who deals in very big money.

When he launched his company Ergo Real Estate in 2019 he secured backing from insurance company NFU Mutual, which apparently provided £300m to pursue acquisitions in London, the South East and other UK cities.

A fraction of that money, if it were available, could regenerate the Jungle and put the Tigers on a firm financial footing.

None of us know for sure what his intentions are in relation to the Tigers, but it’s hard to believe that the outcome won’t be very positive for the club, as Matt Ellis’s ownership of Wakefield Trinity, just down the road, clearly is.

The more strong clubs we have, the better, especially when there is a great local rivalry, as there is between Trinity and the Tigers.

All we need now is someone with a spare few hundred million to make a move for Salford Red Devils.

Attendances and the Yearbook

The new edition of the Rugby League Yearbook is now at the printers and we are hoping to get it back in time to mail out the copies to everyone who has purchased a copy.

As in previous years, the Yearbook is an absolute mine of information about the 2023 season and it is an indispensable companion for any serious Rugby League supporter.

One of the controversial features of the season this year was the lack of publicity about attendances, with some clubs refusing to reveal their crowd figures.

That was irritating, both for me as the editor of this newspaper, but also for many of our readers, as they often made clear to us.

So those readers will no doubt be pleased to learn that the Yearbook lists every attendance for every match except one in 2023 in Super League, the Championship and League 1.

The only match for which we don’t have a certified attendance figure is Featherstone’s home play-off game against London Broncos.

My colleague Danny Spencer successfully hunted down every other attendance, but that was the only one that eluded him, much to his disappointment.

But he and Tim Butcher have once again produced a wonderful book, one aspect of which is our five personalities of the season.

You will see an article about that on page 17 of today’s issue.

Maguire and the NZRL

One of the most puzzling decisions made recently in Rugby League is the NZRL dispensing with the services of Michael Maguire as their national coach shortly after the Kiwis inflicted Australia’s heaviest ever defeat, 30-0 in the Pacific Cup Final in Hamilton.

Maguire had done a great job with the Kiwis, but because the New South Wales Blues also wanted him to coach their team, the NZRL decided he couldn’t do both jobs.

That was a surprising decision, given that the Kiwis play international matches at the end of the season, while the State of Origin series comes in the middle of the season, with no overlap.

They look to me to be cutting off their nose to spite their face.