Opinion: what hope for lower league teams?

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With many rumours circulating about the make up of Super League and, indeed, northern hemisphere rugby league for 2019 and beyond, Get ’em Onside looks at one of the apparently more likely scenarios…

Super League clubs are keen to ensure the majority of funding coming into the sport goes to them rather than sharing further down the pyramid; arguing that many clubs don’t offer anything to the growth of the sport. Such is the nature of rugby league outside of Super League, most teams are part time both on and off the field and many don’t have the marketing departments that come with being a full time club with a strong reputation. As such, RFL funding often keeps the clubs at this level going.

It seems quite likely that the future of Super League and funding in the sport will, one way or another, ensure the top tier clubs get a much larger share of the pie, quite possibly all of it. The likely scenario seems to be there there are two tiers of ten teams, forming a new look Super League structure. Those twenty teams would then get the funding to split amongst them. As for the rest? They may well be on their own. But who are the twenty teams likely to get a spot?

Obviously, the current twelve Super League clubs would be shoe ins to be involved. Throw in Leigh Centurions, Toronto Wolfpack, London Broncos, Toulouse and Featherstone from the Championship and you are up to seventeen. Bradford Bulls would probably be included as well, leaving two spaces – but how would they be decided? There are Championship teams who would fancy their chances, including Halifax, Dewsbury and Sheffield but also Oldham (recently relegated), Doncaster and York City Knights in League 1 who would have strong reasons supporting their inclusion. The latter are set to move into a new stadium in a year or two which would see their playing venue surpass what most Championship teams can offer. But this, of course, completely cuts out Cumbria where, if reports are to be believed, Marwan Koukash is hoping to set up a new club. The area already hosts Workington, Barrow and Whitehaven and is regarded as a rugby league hotbed, producing many Super League talents.

That last point may be something to focus on. If the money is to go to solely Super League – one tier or two – teams, solidarity payments should be paid to those outside who produce their talent. Furthermore, there should be a clear way for those clubs outside to earn their way into the Super League system; certain off field criteria met demonstrating solid structure, youth development and fan engagement. Writing as a blogger based in York, the City Knights were the team I followed when I was younger and still have a strong interest in now. Over the years, the club have played a huge part in developing talent for Super League; Danny Brough was a Knights player in the mid noughties and, more recently, Greg Minikin and Tom Lineham have come through York’s youth system and now play at the very top level. If a team like that was to miss out on Super League and funding despite the work they do then it would be a travesty.

In football, a share of transfer fees gets passed down to clubs where the individual started his career, thus rewarding those who invested time and energy in ensuring the player had the best grounding they could. In turn, if teams outside of the twenty have clear criteria to meet in order to be admitted in future to the Super League structure, it would benefit the game as a whole most probably; more youngsters developed and a stronger game thanks to teams being forced to run effectively as, without RFL funding, they would simply have to be operated properly to stay in existence. Then, a few years down the line, that group of twenty teams could turn into twenty one strong teams, then twenty two and so on. An odd number of teams wouldn’t be an issue either – NRL teams used to operate with having byes throughout the season which could, of course, give players more training time and recuperation mid season.

This, of course, is not set in stone but it is merely this writer’s opinion.

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