Peter Smith’s Inside Rugby League – Why RFL-Super League strategic group is just one step in right direction

IT’S GOOD something is being done about the worrying state rugby league has got itself into.

Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 6:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 11:40 am
Leeds Rhinos chief executive officer Gary Hetherington. Picture: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com.

Whether it’s the right thing remains to be seen.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) and Super League have created a strategic working group tasked with helping find solutions to the sport’s most pressing issues.

Its members are Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington, St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus, Hull KR chief executive Paul Lakin, Warrington Wolves chairman Stuart Middleton, RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer and the governing body’s director of operations and legal Karen Moorhouse.

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RFL director of operations and legal Karen Moorhouse. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

According to an RFL/Super League statement, the group will “consider the Game’s event calendar and competition structures and fan and viewer experience”.

The statement added: “The review will be holistic including league competitions, cup competitions and new events across Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair rugby league.

“The Game has fielded strategic interest from several credible parties in recent months and this group will consider how to make the most of these opportunities for the betterment of the sport in a coordinated way.”

Initial recommendations are expected within three months and the panel will work alongside a ‘realignment working group’ to review the governance of rugby league which, at the moment, is split between the RFL and Super League.

St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus. Picture: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com.

A few weeks ago this column pointed out the deep and growing concern there exists among almost everybody heavily involved in rugby league over the sport’s long-term future - and the fear nothing was being done about it.

It seems that message is sinking in though, recently, both Super League chairman Ken Davy and RFL boss Rimmer have spoken positively about the sport’s current situation and its long-term pospects.

They’ve received some criticism for doing so, but it’s probably better to be Corporal Jones than Private Frazer and the hammering would have been far worse if they’d simply admitted rugby league is a dead duck.

It isn’t; the game has been written off for 126 years, it has survived thus far and will continue into the future, in some shape or form.

But that doesn’t mean everything’s rosy. The game has serious issues which need addressing, mostly boilng down to a lack of money.

A reduction in the Sky TV deal will mean cuts at all levels and could be potentially catastrophic for Betfred League One clubs, like Hunslet, who face losing a huge percentage of their income. London Broncos last week announced they will be part-time next season and other clubs will probably follow.

Many in the game now doubt if there’s enough money around for Super League to continue as a full-time competition. Crowd fixtures are another concern and it seems many fans are losing interest in the sport.

There is, clearly, a very urgent need to look into the current state of the game and what can be done to improve it.

However, the strategic working group consists entirely of individuals who have been in the code a long time and are tied to either a club or governing body.

Are they really the right people to introduce new ideas? We will find out and, presumably, the working group will be speaking to a cross-section of the sport.

But rugby league belongs to everybody involved - from community clubs and players, to coaches, sponsors and fans in the professional game - and these views must not be overlooked. Rimmer says the RFL are conducting an “end of season fan review”, which is encouraging.

It’s noticeable there’s nobody from outside the game’s north of England heartlands in the working group and that’s another curious omission - as is a truly independent view from outside the sport.

While those in the game must have a say, a fresh approach is needed and an outsider - with no preconceptions - may well be able to see what those closely tied to the sport can’t.