Opinion: A potential way forward for Rugby League?

I’m a massive advocate of the expansion into North America; I’m also a big fan of the expansion into France. To be fair, expansion to anywhere when done right.

The big issue we are facing however is the maintaining of existing clubs. Now to be clear, I personally despise the reasoning given by people against expansion which is ‘but what about the traditional clubs with all the history??’. Firstly, history means nothing. The only way we can preserve and grow our sport is looking forwards, not backwards. But secondly, even with expansion, we can still look after these clubs.

I think Rugby League is a simple sport. And with all the super 8’s, middle 8’s etc, I think we are making the simple on field product, massively over-complicated off the field.

I have an idea. And I know this won’t work for everyone, and I really hope it doesn’t so we can there can be an active, adult debate on this.

My idea consists of splitting the full time game and the part time game. Right down the middle. Run completely separate competitions. This idea also takes in both sides of the franchise & promotion/relegation argument.

So, hear me out…

Below are 2 tables, or divisions, purely based on last season’s standings, nothing else. In the first ‘Super League’, we have the top 10 teams from Super League 2017. In ‘Super League 1’, we have the remaining 2 teams, plus the full time teams in the Championship, plus the addition of the North American teams which have been promised (on top of Toronto and New York). Now this is the full-time game.

Promotion and relegation between these 2 leagues exist. At the end of the regular season, you could either name the top of the league Champions (which I would prefer), or hold a top 4 play-off. The winners of the top 4 play-off would be the ‘Super League’ champions, and the winners of the ‘Super League 1’ playoff would be promoted (replacing the bottom team in ‘Super League’). Nice and easy.

*denotes the fact I believe these are/plan to be full time

This then brings onto the 2nd side of the game; the part time game, and also the side of the game where we need to lay some groundwork.

There is no promotion/relegation between these leagues and the ‘Super Leagues’. I’ll point that out now although I will revisit this later in the article.

The reasoning behind this split is simple; it ensures the part time teams are not forking out expensive away trips, it also means players don’t need to take time off work. But it also keeps the teams in existence and could potentially be seen as the ‘proper’ side of the sport due to the history and tradition of the clubs. So, based on the league standings of last year, the leagues would look like this:

The good thing about this split, with it being part time, is you can still get involved if wanted with some form of expansion. Over the Channel, there are 2 part time leagues that looks like this (I have renamed it French RL Championship for consistency with the above):

So between these 2 countries, obviously dependant on finances, you could have an Anglo-French Cup, or at the very least a play-off between the Championship winners from each county. But the key thing here is consistency. 2 divisions which are both run part time.

This could lead to other European countries setting up similar structures, and these could work together to expand the game. Think of this set-up in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Italy; possibilities are endless, and other than maybe a cup, or a one-off game between league winners, then each county in remaining within their country and is helping their own countries to grow into the sport. The key is to keep all these leagues part time. What issues would we have with this?

Now going back to the split between full time and part time. We don’t want full time teams in a part time league. It’s not only unfair, but it also doesn’t churn out the best of games the majority of the time. But I know what some people are thinking, how can a team progress to the full time game? So 2 things; firstly, not every team wants to. Batley for example have always been against having a full time team, and others just simply can’t afford it.

Secondly, the teams who can afford the switch need to firstly meet one criteria; they must have won the ‘British RL Championship’ (or the relevant countries top part time division) at least once in the 3 years prior to the time they want to make the switch. At that point, there is a big decision to make. Do you, at the start of said season, advise the team finishing bottom of ‘Super League 1’ will be relegated? That doesn’t solve the issue of having a full time team in a part time league. So you don’t relegate anyone. You sort out a balancing between the full time leagues so at the start of the season you know whether or not 2 teams will be promoted/relegated etc. Yes one league may have one more team than the other, but why does that matter?

The last big thing we need to think about is the running these leagues. For a start, Eric Perez needs to be onboard with the entity running the ‘Super Leagues’, that guy is doing wonders. For me personally, I would we have ‘Super League’ run the pro-leagues, and the RFL run the part time leagues (similar in a way how in football you have the Premier League running the top division and the Football League running the others).

You would also have the involvement of the RLIF and the RLEF (and NA equivalent), just as you have FIFA and UEFA at football. We can learn a lot from that sport…

Finally, the Challenge Cup. This is the time where the part time teams go up against the full time teams. Straight knock out. 20 full time teams above, 24 part time (in the UK alone); you could then invite amateur teams of other European part time teams. And the part time teams are always the home team when drawn against full time opposition (check out the German Cup in football; that sport again!) Just imagine a Challenge Cup fixture of Rotterdam vs. New York, who’d have thought that 5-10 years ago?

Anyways, please let me know your thoughts. I know it won’t please everyone, and I know there is a lot more information we need to consider. This is extremely high level and following articles will go into this hypothetical structure in more detail, per section. But hopefully if you fall into one of the categories below you may look at this in a positive light:

– Pro expansion

– Against expansion

– Pro promotion/relegation

– Pro franchise system