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What the rugby league calendar could look like following IMG’s recommendations – Challenge Cup, internationals and Super League changes

IMG today presented the recommendations arising from the Reimagining Rugby League Consultation Project – a key part of the first phase of the agency’s 12-year strategic partnership with the sport agreed in the spring.

In addition to drawing on IMG’s global expertise, the recommendations have been made following extensive consultation with key stakeholders across Rugby League, including clubs, broadcasters, sponsors, media, players, representatives from the community game and international partners, as well as a survey of supporters attracting almost 20,000 responses. This is the most comprehensive piece of consultation ever undertaken on the sport.

IMG’s recommendations have the overriding aim of driving the long-term value and impact of the sport.

In summary the recommendations are:

  • A re-positioned calendar which optimises flow, narrative and engagement, incorporating regular ‘peaks’ of interest and a compelling season climax.
  • A calendar aligned with the global game to facilitate an international window in October and incorporate a mid-season international.
  • Participation in the top tier to be based on a range of on and off field measures, delivered through a club grading system with the aim of supporting financial sustainability and encouraging investment into clubs.  ‘Category A’ clubs will be guaranteed participation in the top tier whilst ‘Category B’ clubs will be re-assessed annually with the highest-ranking clubs occupying the remaining slots in the top tier.

Promotion and relegation will continue on the field of play between the second and third tiers with tier two increasingly filled with strong Category B Clubs.

  • An expansion strategy to be developed that targets and supports the growth of the Women’s and Girls’ game, and also growth in new markets.
  • Participation of clubs outside of the UK to be capped and with additional standards to support domestic growth.
  • Operations to be centralised where this can maximise efficiencies and drive incremental revenue (e.g. ticketing and digital infrastructure).
  • A new brand strategy to be introduced and aligned with the above commercial strategy.

Clubs have been invited to a follow-up meeting on October 13, at which they will have the opportunity to provide further feedback, and support will be sought to enable the Rugby League executive and IMG to work on the detail of the recommendations.

One of the less spoken about topics of these recommendations is the new calendar. Not included in the official recommendations is a suggestion that we will see the end to loop fixtures, the Magic Weekend alongside a new date for the Challenge Cup Final.

The Challenge Cup is moving back to August in 2023 after it was held in May this year – the traditional time of year for the Cup Final.

It seems that the cup final could return back to May under these recommendations meaning the early rounds of Super League would work alongside the Challenge Cup rounds as was the case in the early days of Super League.

The supposed end to loop fixtures and the Magic Weekend would see the league season trimmed down to just 22 games meaning Easter would certainly not require any double headers which were set to end in 2023 anyway.

IMG have also suggested that there should be an international window mid-season which could work alongside the NRL’s own window which would become a part of the year by year calendar with internationals set to conclude the calendar after the Super League season.

Here’s what the calendar could look like:

February: Start of Super League

March: Start of Challenge Cup

May: Challenge Cup Final

June: Mid-season international break

September/October: Play-offs and Grand Finals

November: Internationals

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. OzLeagueFan

    September 29, 2022 at 6:26 am

    IMG have also suggested that there should be an international window mid-season which could work alongside the NRL’s own window which would become a part of the year by year calendar with internationals set to conclude the calendar after the Super League season

    “The NRL’s own window” is June is the period used for State Of Origin – the three matches between Queensland and NSW.

    At first sight it seems that would be a great time: the Aussies are playing each other and all the Brits, Kiwis and Pacific Island players in the NRL are free to play internationals.

    The big problem is that half the “Aussies” playing State Of Origin are Pacific Island players: they meet the eligibility criteria for State Of Origin, (had to be in Oz by age 13 etc) but they claim allegiance to Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, etc either because they were born there or because their family comes from there.

    So, having internationals mid year will be unpopular with these players.
    It will also be unpopular with NRL clubs: they get hit badly be injuries from SOO each year. They have no interest in internationals ate all, and certainly not during the NRL season.

    As it is, pre-season training for the NRL 2023 season is scheduled to start at the beginning of Feb 2023. The comp will start at the beginning of March and will run for 31 weeks. That leaves Oct, Nov, Dec, and Jan 2024. However, the collective bargaining agreement between the NRL players association and the NRL stipulates a minimum of 8 weeks contiguous leave for players.

    The 8 week window seems to start when the club finishes the regular season or when it gets knocked out of the finals. In 2022, West didn’t make the finals and Tim Sheens;; Wests’ “new for 2024” coach; wanted to start some “pre-holiday” training while the finals were running. Wests were told by the NRL they could not do that – the players had to go on holiday.

    The two clubs that contest the Grand Final (this weekend) will go on leave from Monday, so that rules out their players until the end of November.

    So any internationals played in November involving NRL players will be limited to players from teams that did not make the finals. And those players will have been on holiday for two months. They may have recovered from injuries, but they will have been out of training, and I suspect that they will not be thinking “rugby league”.

    I think IMG needs to talk to the NRL (and NRL Players Association) before reworking SuperLeague.

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