The man who’ll decide who’s in Super League in 2021

Talking Rugby League – Martyn Sadler’s League Express column – Mon 16th Nov 2020

Until last week I had never heard of Lord Jonathan Caine (pictured), the man who will chair the seven-strong panel that will choose the twelfth Super League club for the 2021 season.

Perhaps that’s because I haven’t taken a great deal of notice of Northern Ireland politics, which is where his particular expertise lies.

According to some rather sketchy details on Wikipedia, he was born in Leeds in 1966 in the working-class district of Harehills, where most houses, including his own, still had outside toilets.

His father owned his own small glazing business for 35 years, while his mother, a former hairdresser, also joined the family business.

Caine worked in his father’s glass factory during the summer and helped with site deliveries when he passed his driving test in 1983.

He went from Temple Moor High School to read history at the University of Leicester and he was the first member of his family to go to university.

At university he studied Home Rule for Ireland and on leaving he became a civil servant and a special adviser to a succession of Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, where he was much admired for his work behind the scenes.

Away from politics, he supports Leeds Rhinos and still travels from London to Leeds for their home games.

He also supports the Yorkshire cricket team, and he has a particular fondness for the music of Led Zeppelin.

He will chair a panel of six other people, including three from Super League and three from the RFL.

In addition to Lord Caine, the Panel members are:

a. Chris Anderson, SLE General Counsel and Company Secretary;
b. Dave Rotheram, RFL Chief On Field Officer;
c. Graham Odlin, SLE Head of Finance;
d. Karen Moorhouse, RFL Chief Regulatory Officer, RFL Director and Company Secretary;
e. Rhodri Jones, SLE Chief Commercial Officer; and
f. Tony Sutton, RFL Chief Operating Officer.

Any Championship club wishing to apply for ‘promotion’ to Super League has to get its application in by 30 November, and the decision on the successful club is due to be announced by Wednesday 16 December, although that date could be somewhat flexible.

In participating in the application process, each applicant club must agree to the following Aims and Objectives of the selection process, which involve the Panel selecting the club it is considered has the greatest potential to:

1 enhance the commercial value of the Super League to Broadcast and Sponsorship Partner(s) of SLE (both current and potential future partners);
2 deliver value to other members of Super League;
3 be competitive on the field of play;
4 be sustainable for the 2021 Season (and beyond); and
5 as a result of being in Super League, help deliver the broader Goals of the Sport as set out in the RFL Strategy Reset document.

There are quite a lot of issues to consider there, and I’ll do that club by club, looking at the six clubs that are likely to apply.

But before I do it’s worth pointing out one important thing.

The idea that the process is stitched up so that one club is certain to emerge victorious looks ridiculous to me.

I have heard suggestions from some quarters that the criteria have been set out with Bradford in mind, while I have also heard from other sources that Toulouse Olympique are certain to be the club that gets the nod.

Having checked out Lord Caine’s background, albeit briefly, I think it would be ridiculous to assume that he would have agreed to participate in this process if it had been a setup.

And I would also say the same about the other members of the panel, most of whom I know.

Whichever club gets the nod, I’m sure the panel will consider all the applications on their merits and they will collectively try to reach the best decision.

How the clubs rank

The six clubs that are likely to apply are Bradford, Featherstone, Leigh, London, Toulouse and York.

On the first criterion, which is enhancing the commercial value of Super League to broadcast and sponsorship partners, I would put London Broncos at the top of the tree in terms of the ability to draw additional viewers to Sky’s coverage of the game.

On the other hand, Toulouse might help to generate a new TV contract in France, although that is by no means certain, but a second French club would certainly add more international value to Super League, if that value could be monetised.

Value also arises, however, from having a decent stadium, and on that basis Leigh would scoop the pool. Leigh Sports Village looks better than any other stadium on TV, although York’s new stadium will also look excellent, although it will have a significantly smaller capacity.

London Broncos and Bradford Bulls both come at the bottom of the list for the quality of their home grounds.

The second criterion is delivering value to other Super League clubs, which I assume means selling tickets. On this criterion Bradford seem to score highly, although closely followed by Leigh, with Featherstone and York perhaps in joint third place.

The third criterion is being competitive on the field of play, and this time I think Leigh come out on top, given the squad they have already recruited for next year, while London Broncos look to be a long way short at the current time, having lost many of the players who starred for them in Super League in 2019.

The fourth criterion is being sustainable for 2021 and beyond, which I assume refers to financial sustainability.

Without having a more detailed knowledge of the financial strength of each club, it’s difficult to draw conclusions on this one, but the presence of a wealthy benefactor is certainly a big help in this context, and again Leigh seem to satisfy this criterion, as do the Broncos and perhaps Toulouse.

The fifth criterion, which is to “help deliver the broader Goals of the Sport as set out in the RFL Strategy Reset document” is somewhat more nebulous, although that document does lay considerable emphasis on being able to take advantage of opportunities after next year’s World Cup.

I’m not sure which club would score highest on that criterion.

So on the basis of my admittedly simplistic initial analysis, I would say that Leigh Centurions are possibly the strongest contenders, but that’s without seeing any of the applications and assessing how each club addresses those issues.

So don’t take my word for it.

Andy Last nears his ultimate goal

Will Hull FC interim coach Andy Last pull off another memorable victory against Wigan this Thursday night, to follow up his win against Warrington on Thursday?

One omen for him might be when we think back to their Wembley triumphs of 2016 and 2017.

In 2016 they beat Warrington, and they followed it up the following year by defeating Wigan.

And in the play-offs they’ve beaten Warrington and now they play Wigan.

But then again, coincidences like that don’t usually work out in sport.

But it will be a great match to watch.

Incidentally, I hear that Hull have almost certainly signed Scott Sorensen, the Cronulla Sharks forward for next season.

But will Andy Last be the coach?

Over to you, Adam Pearson!

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