LOCAL matters take a back seat this weekend with the focus on one of sport’s great occasions; the Challenge Cup Final.
That doesn’t mean that all is right in the world of rugby league – far from it. There’s a lot of talk of sporting ‘legacy’ in the afterglow of the Olympics but our game is in danger of destroying itself.
It’ll be a great occasion when Leeds Rhinos square up to Warrington Wolves at Wembley on Saturday. But that shouldn’t hide the realities - the game is at a crossroads.
We’ve seen the debacle at Crusades and the now the running sore of the Bradford Bulls crisis. Add in the farce of the Stobart trucks ‘sponsorship’. When I look back on this season it’s not who won the Challenge Cup I’m likely to remember but the Bulls saga (Okay, if the Eagles win the Grand Final that might change).
The suits at the RFL and the club chairmen can enjoy the canopies and glasses of bubbly in the executive suite at Wembley but don’t leave the game with a hangover.
A review of the structure of the professional game was published last month. It was led by Maurice Watkins who as well as being a solicitor is a former director of Manchester United, chairman of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and a member of the RFL board. With that pedigree you have to hope he could stop the game going to the dogs.
Many of the recommendations concerned structure of the RFL following the departure of the very quickly forgotten Richard Lewis (who? – he was the executive chairman who gave the Super League away to Stobart before going off to play tennis).
Critically the Watkins Review put back on the table licensing, promotion and the sustainability of clubs. Most of us would have highlighted that without the need for months of committee meetings. Next we need action – something that unless you’re a coach and say boo to a referee – the RFL isn’t well known for.
The incentive of promotion has to return. There’s a strong case for a Super League of two divisions of 10 teams within the second having a smaller share of the TV cash and a lower salary cap. That would ease the pain of relegation.
Look again at the third tier. The head-long rush to put pins on the map and bring in new semi-pro clubs is in danger of creating a slum league and provide work for accountants as clubs go to the wall. It was claimed last year that the four new clubs joining Championship One next season would be announced ‘one a month’. So far three have been named – that’s a warning call. The game doesn’t need more Gateshead’s.
All this won’t take away from the unique atmosphere of the Challenge Cup final with the likes of Kevin Sinfield and Brett Hodgson displaying their skills – but the need for change won’t fade with the cheers.