The licensing system was brought in by the RFL back in May 2005 to start in 2009 in order to allow Super League sides the time to plan for the future.
The last season of promotion and relegation was in 2007 and from then on clubs had to apply for a licence to compete in Super League from 2009-2011. With set criteria needed to be met, licences were given on an A, B and C basis with a points system used to decide which license a club would be awarded.
Taking that set criteria into consideration, just how would Super League look like now if licensing returned with, what is expected, a 14-team Super League A?
Catalans Dragons – The amount of strides the French club has made since coming into being in the 2000s has been tremendous. They are the role model for any expansion side, with a strong French essence within the playing squad, a superb stadium, a brilliant fanbase and a committed owner. Winning the Challenge Cup Final and getting to the Super League Grand Final will ensure they are at the top of the list.
Hull FC – It’s a no-brainer really having Hull FC at the top license award. With superb facilities at the MKM Stadium – though owner Adam Pearson has repeatedly spoken out about a potential move – and a competing squad on the field, Hull tick all the boxes. That being said, their on-field product has left a lot to be desired in recent seasons, but, under Tony Smith, that could all change.
Leeds Rhinos – With the upgrade of Headingley complete, Leeds stand out as the ones with arguably the greatest facilities in Super League. Truly bringing the old stadium into the modern era, chief executive Gary Hetherington and owner Paul Caddick have transformed the club. And, with Rohan Smith seemingly doing the business on the field, turning Leeds around from the disappointment at the start of 2022, the Rhinos will be the first in the pile.
St Helens – Another club that would sail through the licensing system is St Helens. A new stadium, an incredible conveyor belt of youth and a superb community programme, Saints are the epitome of how a top-flight club should be run. Their success on the field has been stunning in recent seasons and are gunning for a potential fourth Grand Final win in a row!
Warrington Wolves – A club that should perhaps have more silverware under its belt is Warrington. However, aside from the empty Super League trophy cabinet, the Wolves are one of the best run sides in the competition. Under Simon Moran, Warrington have gone from basement dwellers to silverware hunters and would fly through the licensing criteria.
Wigan Warriors – They’ve got the product on the field with new head coach Matt Peet transforming Wigan on the field and they’ve got the stability off it, so it’s guaranteed that Wigan would be worthy of an ‘A’ licensing award. With, alongside St Helens, one of the greatest youth developments in the world, the Warriors would have no problem.
Hull KR – Prior to the stadium update, Hull KR would perhaps have been awarded a C license. However, with a brilliant new away stand as well as the development of a fan park experience on game day, Rovers are making important movements off the field. The standard on the field was also much improved in 2021, reaching the semi-finals of the Super League play-offs as well as the Challenge Cup semi-final in 2022. It will be interesting to see how the Robins fare under Willie Peters, though.
Huddersfield Giants – Backed by the committed Ken Davy, Huddersfield are a stable top-flight side with a new boss to match it. They get a ‘B’ rather than an ‘A’ license though because the fan numbers can sometimes let them down. That being said, Ian Watson has been key in driving standards on the field in 2022 and a Challenge Cup Final place and top four Super League spot cannot be underestimated.
Castleford Tigers – The Tigers are saved by the skin of their teeth due to the product on the field and the large fanbase attached to the club. Their attempts at a new stadium have again fallen through, with Castleford now determined, instead, to develop the Jungle after years of trying to move. Under Daryl Powell, the last two seasons were average, but Lee Radford seems to have injected new life into the club even if they did just miss out on a play-off spot on the last day of the season.
Leigh Centurions – Leigh were given the Toronto Wolfpack’s place in Super League ahead of the 2021 season, though that was perhaps a bit premature for the club. However, owner Derek Beaumont has built up a superbly run business behind the scenes, and, with Adrian Lam coming in as head coach with some incredible signings such as Tom Amone and Caleb Aekins, the Centurions are now well placed both on and off the field to become a stable top-flight side. And, they have shown just how powerful they can be, wiping the floor with the rest of the Championship in 2022.
Salford Red Devils – Salford have a brand new stadium and now an impressive team on the field, too. Paul Rowley has transformed the Red Devils from the dismal 2021 season into potential silverware hunters in 2022. Off the field, too, local businessman Sebastian Gerrard continues to reiterate his desire to take ownership of the club and the AJ Bell Stadium in order to secure Salford’s stable future. The future is certainly looking bright if you are a Salford fan, though the lack of an academy could count against them.
Toulouse Olympique – Relegated from Super League at the end of 2022, Toulouse are a club that is made for the top division. Backed by committed owners and a brilliant President in Bernard Sarrazain, the French side are ready and waiting to fill the shoes of being the second French success in Super League. With more planning and more time, Toulouse could become a force to be reckoned with.
Wakefield Trinity – Fair play to Willie Poching. At one point in 2022, Wakefield looked destined for the Championship. However, the club turned things around to not only escape from the bottom, but leapfrog Warrington Wolves into tenth. Whilst on-field things could be better, work has begun in earnest in developing Belle Vue – and it is moving at a rapid pace. With a brilliant redevelopment on the horizon, this will give Trinity the facilities to improve off-field capabilities and perhaps crowd numbers.
York City Knights – There hasn’t been a Super League side from York grace the top-flight yet, but that could be about to change in the near future – particularly if licensing was reintroduced. The pull of a major northern city, with a club that is making waves in the Championship could be too big a carrot to avoid chomping. They continue to qualify for the Championship play-offs too.