Inside rugby league: 10 ways to improve the sport

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The Rugby Football League will be under new management next season, following chief executive Ralph Rimmer’s decision to step down.

Rimmer’s reign has certainly not been without its problems and the time is right for a change, but his commitment to rugby league shouldn’t be questioned.

He deserves credit for his role in getting the sport through the Covid pandemic - the biggest crisis in its history - largely intact.

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Anyway, with new leadership incoming, here’s 10 things - some minor, others more significant and in no particular order - which could improve the game as a whole.

Scrap golden point. Whjat's wrong with a draw? Picture by John Clifton/ golden point. Whjat's wrong with a draw? Picture by John Clifton/
Scrap golden point. Whjat's wrong with a draw? Picture by John Clifton/

1: A 14-club Super League. Is there enough talent for 14 quality sides? Probably not, but the 12-team competition doesn’t work either. Though the RFL seem obsessed with derbies, playing the same opposition four or five times in a season is boring. Fourteen clubs means 13 home and away fixtures, plus Magic Weekend to make 27, which maintains the current level of income and does away with unpopular loop fixtures.

2: Make matches start on time. If it’s advertised as a 3pm or 8pm kick-off, that’s when the ball should be in play, not five past which is now the norm - in non-televised as well as Sky fixtures. It’s not rocket science, but continual delayed kick-offs make the sport look tinpot.

3: Scrap golden-point in Super League fixtures. What, exactly, does it achieve? A draw is a legitimate result and missed drop goal-athons don’t add anything to the spectacle. It’s just another idea taken from the NRL which adds nothing positive. The fact draws are still possible, if there’s no score in two additional periods of five minutes, makes it even more ridiculous. Ironically, Leeds Rhinos finished fifth this season because of a home stalemate with Huddersfield Giants.

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4: When players move off their goal line before a conversion is taken, order an automatic retake if the kick misses. A small thing, but all teams do it and it’s ignored by match officials. Two weeks of kickers being told to try again would stamp it out.

The sport should pay more attention to its fans. Picture by Will Palmer/ sport should pay more attention to its fans. Picture by Will Palmer/
The sport should pay more attention to its fans. Picture by Will Palmer/

5: Sort out the disciplinary system. Obviously. Some of the bans this year have been farcical, match review panel charges lack consistency and punishing players for appealing is unfair. This has been an on-going issue for decades and the perfect system probably doesn’t exist, but not suspending players for minor offences would be a start. Fans want to see the best players on the field.

6: No more ‘Easter weekends’. That’s the plan for next year, apparently. Teams have had to play three times in nine days or so twice this season and you only need to watch the first half of Rhinos’ derby against Castleford Tigers last week - the worst 40 minutes of rugby league ever - to understand the detrimental impact such fixture congestion has on the sport.

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7: Start the Super League competition in March. Play the Challenge Cup as a pre-/early-season competition with the final in May. At the moment, the league season starts too early and the big events - the Wembley and the Grand Final - are packed into a short window at the end.

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8: Abolish the salary cap. Increasing it would be a start, but the salary cap only really works if all clubs spend the same amount and at the moment, apparently, not all shell out the full sum. Why should ambitious clubs be held back by other, smaller operations?

9: Listen to the fans more. Supporters were given the chance to take part in the ‘reimagining rugby league’ consultation being run by the RFL’s strategic partner IMG, which is absolutely right. The people who pay their money through the gate are the lifeblood of the sport and their views should be a priority. If fans are drifting away, the game needs to know why so it can act to reverse that.

10: Appoint World Cup boss Jon Dutton as the RFL’s new chief. The tournament doesn’t start for another month, but Dutton is an impressive figurehead who is well respected in the game and has no club ties. He’s just what the game needs.

Oh - and 11: England win the World Cup. That would be nice.