We have to go way back to 1895 when Rugby League first made an appearance on these shores.
For Australia, the sport didn’t come into being until 1908. And, their creation of the top division (the NRL) in 1997 was also 12 months later than the European Super League equivalent. Yet somehow, they have always seemed one step ahead.
The initial optimism associated with the creation of Super League in 1996 has slowly eked away, with many people now declaring that the summer game is in disrepair. Apathy with both the Challenge Cup and Grand Final has left the sport in a poor place in the UK, whilst the Australian game thrives.
With Robert Elstone working his notice as executive chairman of the Super League, there is a need of new direction in the upcoming months and years – something which can finally put Rugby League on the map after 126 years.
Calls for the NRL to invest in Super League have gathered pace in recent seasons due to what many people feel was the lack of adequate leadership. This pace accelerated further in December 2020 when the NRL actually looked into buying our competition. A controlling stake, they found out, would cost a mere £75 million which looks a steal considering the product on the field, though it does reflect the state that Rugby League in this country currently finds itself in.
The statement “cash is king” could not be more true in a capitalist world and the scramble for the best television deals is rife within all sports. But, whilst Super League are struggling to save their £40 million per season Sky TV deal, the NRL have had no such problems. Indeed, last year, Australia’s most prized competition struck a deal with Fox Sports worth approximately £203 million per season on a seven-year deal.
Not only do both events mark how highly the sport is thought of in their respective countries, they also prove just how lucrative each competition is. In essence, Super League: not very, the NRL: very.
Securing such a deal even close to the triple-digit-million mark would be an incredible shift in fortunes, enabling clubs to upgrade their facilities and attract and retain the fittest, strongest and fastest athletes instead of losing them to rival sports.
That, in turn, would generate greater quality. An improved pool of players would create higher standards at all clubs whilst the increased cash injection would give sides an edge when it comes to marketing and production off the field. That could then inspire larger sponsors to bite the bullet and join the sport.
Of course, the enhanced player pool would drip down to the grassroots – a feature of the game where Australia thrives too. Despite having a population that dwarfs its southern hemisphere counterpart, there are less young people involved in the game in England than Down Under. With the knowledge and understanding of how to develop the grassroots engrained in the NRL, it would provide a massive boon to that part of the sport over here.
However, the gulf in class between the youth in the southern hemisphere and those in the UK system could actually be to the detriment of our youngsters. More young signings from abroad would inevitably stunt the growth of our own, which could have repercussions for the national side.
Add this to the fact that Rugby League is more of a cultural phenomenon in the UK and the two competitions could rub each other up the wrong way. Who’s to say what would work in the NRL would work over here? You only have to look at the attitude of both sets of fans to new rules including golden point and six again and the difference is quite stark. You can’t make decisions like this blind.
As many people say, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But when your own grass is basically just soil then there comes a time when you need to change your fortunes. The NRL could well provide that.