What will IMG tell the clubs this week?

This Wednesday the clubs in membership of the RFL will meet for a Rugby League Council meeting in Salford.

The clubs can expect to be addressed by RFL Chairman Simon Johnson (above), who will no doubt inform the membership about the search for a replacement for the departing Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer and Karen Moorhouse, its Director of Operations and Legal.

He may even announce the names of their successors.

He will also, I would guess, talk about the Rugby League World Cup and its impact on the RFL, both financially and strategically.

And I would imagine he would have something to say about England’s performance in the World Cup, as well as what is planned for them in the future and whether a new contract is likely to be offered to coach Shaun Wane, whose current contract, as far as I’m aware from the RFL’s previous public statements on the issue, expired at the end of the World Cup.

Shaun himself has apparently stated that he will sign a new contract. But that hasn’t been confirmed by the RFL and I can’t believe that it would be before the RFL has carried out a detailed review of England’s performance throughout the World Cup.

I would have thought that, in doing that, the RFL would want to appoint an expert panel to fully consider what happened.

We have seen the recent departures of the English and Welsh rugby union coaches after their disappointing autumn campaigns, so I would struggle to understand a decision to announce a new contract for Shaun without such a review.

Simon will also probably update the clubs on the new joint venture company Rugby League Commercial, which now has its directors in place under the Chairmanship of Frank Slevin, while Super League’s former Head of Commercial Rhodri Jones has been appointed to be the new organisation’s Managing Director.

The clubs are also likely to hear from Rugby League’s new partner IMG, who I’m told have been busily working behind the scenes to put things in place that will ultimately lead to Rugby League enjoying significant commercial growth.

Part of that will be a new TV deal from 2024 when the current deals expire.

The current contract covers only the 2022 and 2023 seasons and the income due to the clubs was severely reduced from that received in previous years.

I’m sure the clubs will be interested to know whether IMG feel confident that they can reverse that decline.

So far, the only significant proposal that we have heard from IMG is that clubs will be graded into three categories, A, B and C, with all A-grade clubs having an automatic right to places in Super League.

I doubt whether IMG will reveal which clubs will fall into which categories as early as this Wednesday, but I would expect them to give greater clarity to the criteria that will determine which categories the clubs will fall into.

And on that score, I’m sure there are some interesting things that will come out of the meeting.

On the one hand, we have many clubs with great traditions going back all the way to 1895 and even before the great breakaway of the Northern Union.

So how much will history count?

I’m not sure that, in itself, it will count for very much.

Clearly a club’s financial strength will have to come into the equation, although that can hardly be on the basis of one season, particularly in the era when the Covid pandemic has devastated the financial strength of our clubs, as we can see from our report of Wigan’s 2021 accounts.

One suggestion I would make is that all clubs that are classified as grade A should have to submit full audited accounts to Companies House, which is currently done by only a minority of Super League clubs currently, including Wigan, to their credit.

What other factors should determine the grading of clubs?

Security of tenure at their home stadium is one potential factor.

And clearly one of the main factors should be pathways provided by the clubs for young talent to come through the ranks.

That means that clubs classified as grade A should have reserves, Academy and Scholarship teams, as well as women’s teams.

But I would go further and suggest that clubs should have a minimum number of community clubs under their wing – ten, let’s say – that will provide a local throughput of local players.

And if a club can’t identify ten community clubs in its district, it should ‘adopt’ clubs in expansion areas.

So let’s wait to find out whether IMG agree with or contradict the thoughts I’ve set out here.

This is an updated version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column from this week’s issue of League Express. Go here to subscribe to the print or digital edition of League Express.