Leeds will no longer be a name to resonate at the top of professional rugby union after Gary Hetherington confirmed the title has become redundant.
In changing the name of Leeds Carnegie to Yorkshire Carnegie from next season, Hetherington has accepted that as Leeds on its own, the club can never again be sustainable and successful in the Premiership.
Explaining the reasons behind the radical decision, which is the brainchild of the club’s executive chairman Sir Ian McGeechan, Hetherington said that the only way to become established in the top flight is to relaunch as Yorkshire Carnegie and attract fresh investment from around the county.
They are seeking between £2m and £4m of investment from throughout the county over a three-year period. That is what they believe to be the minimum cost of sustainability in the Premiership.
And if the venture doesn’t work, then Hetherington is warning that Yorkshire can forget about top-flight rugby union.
“For the last 15 years there’s been a lot of money pumped into professional rugby in Yorkshire, particularly at Rotherham, Doncaster and Leeds, and we’ve not been able to deliver between us a sustainable or successful Premiership club,” said the chief executive, whose own Leeds were relegated three times in six years from the Premiership.
“And it’s getting a lot harder. The reality for the county is can it ever deliver Premiership rugby with a team that is sustainable and successful?
“The answer in most people’s eyes will be no, unless we come up with a bigger and better model than we’ve got at present, because those people who have historically committed the money need to see that there is some realistic hope.
“And that is what I believe is now being provided to the county – an opportunity that delivers a new and different model, and it’s got to be bigger and better.
“It will need to be new investment, and we are hopeful that will be forthcoming.
“If it isn’t well-received then at least we’ve provided the opportunity and had a real good go, and if ultimately the county turns its back on this opportunity then I believe it’s gone for ever.
“Those who have been in professional rugby at Premiership level understand how difficult it is and how much of a challenge it is, and it is only getting tougher every year. This is a personal view but I believe if the county doesn’t embrace this opportunity now it will regret it in years to come and I think the opportunity will be lost.”
Asked about the future of the Leeds name, Hetherington said “that would become redundant”.
He did stress that Carnegie are debt-free, have broken-even for the last five years and could happily go along treading water in the Championship. But they could never be sustainable as Leeds Carnegie in the Premiership, even if they were to win promotion this season.
The venture requires ratification from the Rugby Football Union, the Yorkshire RFU and Premier Rugby, but Carnegie do not foresee any stumbling blocks. The club will also play games around the county, whilst retaining their home at Headingley and having all the current structures of Carnegie rugby at their disposal. They will retain their working relationship with Leeds Rhinos under the Leeds Rugby umbrella.
McGeechan has been the driving force of that ever since he returned to the club he played for in their former guise of Headingley four decades ago.
“At the moment my worry is the best Yorkshire talent has to go elsewhere for Premiership rugby,” said the Lions legend.
“I want it here. We want it to be so good that players are desperate to come back.
“What we want is a top professional club playing against the best teams in Europe and the Premiership.”