New Featherstone Rovers coach Brian McDermott talks about his "regret"
AS Brian McDermott made his return to rugby league with Featherstone Rovers today, one topic was always likely to be high on the agenda.
Promotion to Super League for the first time in his new club’s history? Yes, of course.
That is the principal reason why the four-time Grand Final-winning former Leeds Rhinos coach has been brought to Post Office Road to try and get Featherstone out of the Championship.
They have lost the last two promotion deciders against Toulouse Olympique earlier this month and, ironically, versus a Toronto Wolfpack side in 2019 which was coached by McDermott.
However, as delighted as many Featherstone fans will be at attaining a coach of his pedigree, many will also have been wondering about the topic of comments McDermott made in the immediate aftermath of that Million Pound Game in Canada.
Back then, on the pitch as Toronto celebrated, an impassioned McDermott said: “Super League needs to be able to sell a final to some potential investors or a TV deal which says it’s going to be competed by big city teams.
"Because in five years’ time if the Super League final or the Challenge Cup final, is still competed by some small towns in the north of England, whilst it’s a brilliant story - and Featherstone are an absolutely fantastic story, so are Salford - but wherever we are going to sell that to is the interesting point...”
Toronto was supposed to be the start of that but, unfortunately, as everyone now knows, their time in Super League was infamously short-lived with the club unable to fulfil their fixtures following the initial lockdown when the competition resumed in August last year.
That eventually led to their demise and Leigh Centurions were brought in to replace them this season only for them to suffer immediate relegation.
Leigh will be one of the main rivals for Featherstone - a West Yorkshire town with a population of around 15,000 - in 2022.
Asked by The Yorkshire Post if he feels Featherstone fans will be pleased to see him on board after what he said about Super League needing big city teams and not necessarily northern towns, Wakefield-born McDermott insisted: “I didn’t say anything about what Super League needs.
“It was about the growth of the game: getting new eyeballs on the sport.
“Eye balls with people who have big wallets and want to get involved and invest in the sport.
“I have no issues - I’m not an administrator, I don’t control the game - but I was asked my opinion and the context of that question was should Toronto Wolfpack be in Super League or not?
“We are talking about the growth of the game and getting it to wider audiences.
“We’d just beaten Featherstone in the Grand Final and I said at the time what Featherstone are doing is fantastic.
“What they are as a club is very, very good. What (head coach) Ryan Carr did with the team that year was incredible.
“And if anyone wants to know how to grow a club go talk to (Rovers chairman) Mark Campbell.
“I understand that if you didn’t want to truly understand and listen to what I was saying, I could understand how you could get wound up.
“And I wouldn’t use that platform again. I regret using that platform to say what I did.
“But I didn’t say anything against Featherstone. I didn’t say anything against small towns in the north of England.
“But the growth of rugby league - in terms of bigger broadcasting deals which everyone is suffering with right now, lack of investment which everyone is suffering with right now - isn’t going to come by having the same, or relatively the same Super League teams, from the north of England.
“Nobody disagrees with that. All I tried to say, the Wolfpack at the time was facing a hell of a lot of opposition - even the concept of us being in Super League - from some media and fans.”
McDermott, who helped Championship side Oldham earlier this year on a consultancy basis, added: “Everything I said on that day, it wasn’t a crack at any club.
“It wasn’t to highlight a problem with any club. I’ve got ultimate respect for Wigan, Saints, Featherstone, Swinton, Oldham and those types of teams.
“They are very traditional and rugby league needs those in the comp’. But it also needs something added.
“It isn’t either or. It needs to be added.”
Given how close Featherstone have come to promotion thus far, firstly under Carr and then this year under his fellow Australian James Webster, McDermott knows things are well-set for that crucial next step.
Admittedly, Leigh and ambitious Newcastle Thunder both operate full-time squads and Toulouse have already gone up in such a manner.
But McDermott, 51, remains confident Featherstone can achieve their aim as a part-time squad.
“If we were to look at all the hours we train compared to Super League, I’m not sure it would be anything less,” he said.
“Rehab’ and sports science that Super League clubs can offer would be the difference but can we get promoted as a part-time club?
“Yes, absolutely. That's my task: to make it happen.”