Super League licence up for grabs
With confirmation that Super League will remain at 14 clubs, this means at least one top-flight side will lose their licence for the period 2012-14. The lucky Championship side will be handed a licence in March, with the remaining licences awarded in July 2011.
This news will do little to allay current concerns of fans of Castleford, Wakefield and Salford, who have as yet failed to build on the ambitious new stadium plans that helped secure their current licence. These clubs earned licences thanks largely to promises of a new stadium, which at present remain unfulfilled.
Harlequins and Salford are among the clubs who could be in the frame to lose their Super League licence
Wakefield and Castleford remain in limbo as they bid to push on with their own individual projects amid council calls for a more viable groundshare option. Fans of Harlequins, who continue to struggle for crowds, and Crusaders will not be resting easy either.
Salford chairman John Wilkinson is now overseeing the start of work at their new £26m stadium at Barton that has been some 10 years in the making. The club is bidding to get it finished by December 2011 in order to maximise their chances of having their licence renewed.
St Helens, in a similar position, have since appeased the game's governing body by confirming plans to play at Widnes next year while their new home is completed. I would expect this move, alongside their outstanding youth structure, to land Saints a Category A licence this time around - the top level of licence currently possessed only by Leeds, Warrington and Hull FC.
In fact, I anticipate there will be far more A licences awarded this time, which the RFL will argue proves its new system and subsequent abolition of promotion and relegation is working, creating stronger clubs and stronger, more financially-sound business models. In short, it is a system that is forcing Super League clubs to get their backsides in gear.
The timescale for awarding the next round of licences is also designed to assist the Championship. The chosen club will be told in March 2011, giving them extra preparation time for the 2012 Super League season, with the remaining applications not being considered until April and awarded in July.
Having spent the last week or so filming in Featherstone, I have seen first-hand the hunger for Super League rugby outside of the top flight. Rovers coach Daryl Powell tells me his table-toppers are unlikely to land a licence yet. Then again, if they don't reach the Grand Final this year, they will not even by eligible.
Only a Grand Final appearance or a Northern Rail Cup victory allows a Championship side to be considered under the remaining criteria. Neither Rovers, Toulouse nor Leigh have been able to boast that since losing out on the previous licence allocation.
At present, only four teams - last year's Grand Final winners Barrow, beaten finalists Halifax, plus this year's Cup winners Batley and last year's winners Widnes - are eligible for that Super League spot. Indeed, Widnes were distraught at being overlooked a couple of years ago. Then we await to see who makes this year's Grand Final.
But given the RFL's desire to inject Super League with new Championship blood, I can't help but be increasingly concerned for Wakefield and Castleford.
It is worth stressing that although stadium plans are a vital component of the licensing consideration, it is not the be all and end all. The 14 clubs granted a new Super League licence will not simply be those with the 14 best stadiums.
Leeds and Wigan produced a sensational contest at Headingley Carnegie in last weekend's Super League games
Wakefield, however, have an additional concern. Last month, chairman Ted Richardson entered an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) with both the support of the club and the RFL. This is basically an arrangement with creditors to pay back money owed in order to stave off the threat of a winding-up order. It is in effect a stay of execution.
But despite maintaining constant dialogue with the RFL on the matter, it does present a further problem, as I understand this could now mean Richardson has no future on the Wildcats board.
RFL rules prevent any individual from holding a place on the board of a Super League club in the event they are forced into an IVA. The rule is the Super League equivalent of the Premier League's fit and proper persons test.
Richardson appealed against this ruling before an RFL tribunal on Monday in a bid to have the exemption lifted. A judgement will be made next week but his position as a Wakefield director appears untenable if he is unsuccessful. It's a far from ideal position for a club launching its bid for a new Super League licence.
Warrington's defeat by Saints perhaps outlines why some observers believe that, despite their obvious class, there may still exist some self-doubt within the Wolves side.
I don't necessarily buy that but in the big games experience is absolutely paramount. St Helens, Leeds and Wigan have that experience of success to which Warrington are still aspiring.
Finally, spare a thought for Bradford on their club record losing run. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the beleaguered Bulls, another home defeat, this time at the hands of the resurgent Catalans.