Expansion; it’s been the buzzword of Super League and the RFL since the former began in 1996.
But, whilst on paper the concept of expansion is a novel idea, in reality it has been something that rugby league has always struggled with.
In 25 years, there have been a number of clubs outside the traditional M62 corridor that have been given a shot in the top-flight, but just how have these fared in this time?
6. Toronto Wolfpack
The less said about Toronto the better; they earned promotion off their own back in 2019 after failing at the final hurdle in 2018, and much was made of the first ever Canadian side to reach Super League. Founded in 2016, the Wolfpack’s rise was meteoric, but just a few months into the 2020 season and they withdrew from the top flight due to financial difficulties and new logistics needed for international travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic. To make matters worse, Toronto’s bid for readmission was rejected in November last year and so their exit from Super League was confirmed. Subsequently, the Canadian club ceased operations. Really was a case of what could have been.
5. Paris St-Germain
Having taken a leaf out of the football team’s creation, Paris St-Germain had the world at its feet in the inaugural Super League season. Unfortunately, situated in a rugby union and football stronghold, the rugby league side of operations was perhaps always likely to struggle. The early signs were actually very positive as PSG RL débuted against Sheffield at the Stade Sébastien Charléty in front of 17,873 spectators on March 29, 1996. However, the French side would win just three games all season, before a scandal over undeclared contracts led to the dissolution of PSG Rugby League in September 1997.
4. Gateshead Thunder
The exit of PSG meant that the European Super League were looking for new franchises; in 1999, the north east was chosen as the next location with Gateshead Thunder awarded a top-flight spot. They actually had a successful first season, finishing sixth and just outside the play-offs. But, Thunder left the league after just one season to merge with Hull Sharks. A new Gateshead Thunder was formed in 2000, but after being promoted from National League 2 in 2008, they were relegated the next season and then finished bottom of League 1 three years in a row.
3. Celtic Crusaders
Wales has often been hailed as a nation with untapped rugby league potential, but that was scheduled to change in 2006 when Celtic Crusaders entered into the then National League 2. They won promotion to the Championship the year after and in their first season in the second tier won a Super League licence for 2009. Becoming the first Welsh team to play in the top division of rugby league in Britain, the Crusaders reached the play-offs in 2010, suggesting that Wales could finally be realising its potential. However, they went into administration 2011 and were later dissolved, ending the Welsh dream.
2. London Broncos
Originally formed in June 1980 as Fulham RLFC, the London club entered the Second Division for the 1980-81 season. Name changes to London Crusaders (1991-1994) and Harlequins Rugby League (2006-2011) didn’t last, but the London Broncos (1994-2005 and since 2012) moniker has since stuck. They have been yoyo-ing to and from the Super League and Championship for the past decade, but the Broncos are now a permanently stable club with great owners, as well as an increasingly impressive academy. In fact, the club has been pivotal to the development of rugby league in the capital and for that they should be hailed. Under Danny Ward, London have won a great deal of admirers and could well be a Super League side once more in 2022.
1. Catalans Dragons
There can only really be one answer to which is the most successful expansion side in Super League. The Dragons were awarded a new franchise in 2005, but after the demise of PSG, question marks were raised before they even stepped on the field. And, a bottom-place finish in their first season in 2006 seemed to justify those fears. Yet, since that moment, Catalans have become a modern fighting force in the top-flight, winning the Challenge Cup in 2018 against the odds and regularly qualifying for the Super League play-offs. With a vocal and loyal owner in Bernard Guasch, the French side are well-backed financially and have the structures in place to be around for decades to come.