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Rugby league chief comes out fighting

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George Riley George Riley | 17:39 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

In a week that has seen a successful move to Monday night Super League and will culminate on Saturday and Sunday with the Magic Weekend taking place in Manchester for the first time, Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood has come out fighting.

With Bradford Bulls' financial plight prompting fresh concerns for the health of the sport and MP Andy Burnham leading calls for a return to promotion and relegation, Wood has issued a passionate defence of rugby league and its management by the governing body.

I sat down for an exclusive interview with Wood for a 5 live Sport rugby league special, which will be broadcast from 21:00 BST on Wednesday. He loves his rugby league and we spoke for 45 minutes before I'd even turned the microphone on.

The RFL agreed to the interview despite its initial wariness about the potential for another battering at the hands of the national media. My view was that any governing body is more likely to attract criticism for being silent than for anything it could say. But Wood is clearly hugely frustrated at having to do interviews like this.

Andy Burnham

 MP Andy Burnham has called for the return of promotion and relegation to top-flight rugby league. Photo: Getty

"I've been in this job since October 2007 and it does get frustrating having to fight fires but if it was too hot in the kitchen I'd need to get out," he says. "This is the best sport in the world and more people are starting to understand that. We do have to fight our corner in the media to make sure the sport is properly respected."

First on the agenda: Bradford. The Bulls clearly feel the RFL could have done more; the RFL is adamant it has bent over backwards for the club. How serious is their financial plight and who is to blame? Is their crisis symptomatic of a wider problem in the sport?
Wood labels Bradford's problems a "high-profile blip".

"It would be wrong to roll out the example of Bradford and say it is evidence of a widespread malaise in the sport," he says. "We have some excellent clubs in the Super League and Championship that are well-run. Club finances are first and foremost a matter for the people who run the clubs. I am satisfied that at the top end of our competition we have some very well-run clubs indeed."

Wood admits he would have expected more of the Bulls, saying: "Asking the fans for money to bail the club out is not a good position to be in and those who were managing Bradford at the time need to understand that."

So who is to blame? "The responsibility for any business's finances lies with the board of directors in situ. They are in power and set ticket prices and season ticket prices and player contracts."

Wood insists Bradford's financial situation was beyond the RFL's control and I suggest to him that the Bulls feel he could have done more to help them.

"I've heard this a number of times and I don't really know where we are supposed to go," he counters. "We don't run clubs - they are independent businesses owned by independent shareholders and those shareholders elect boards of directors to manage clubs.

"I don't see the [Scottish Football Association] being hauled over the coals for the financial mess Rangers are in. Or the Premier League when Portsmouth got into some difficulties. The RFL's job is to create the best possible environment for well-run clubs to flourish and establish themselves. It is still down to local management at club level to make the best of the opportunity the sport presents."

Wood calls the game's salary cap a "very definite and deliberate attempt to assist clubs to be able to develop on a sustainable basis" and says the RFL is heading for another year of profit.

I suggest attendances are more of a concern than how much the RFL has in the bank and point to a crowd of just 2,574 for a Challenge Cup quarter-final between Huddersfield and London.

"I agree with you that wasn't the best look," says Wood. "But that shouldn't detract from the overall health of the sport. I'd rather focus on gates being up 8% this year and we're on target to deliver 1.8 million spectators over the season."

Wood's PR is excellent and the stats do back up his faith in the job his team are doing.

So why the constant criticism of the RFL? Is the issue that it doesn't market the sport as well as, dare I say, rugby union?

"I get challenged on two issues more than any," says Wood. "That the game is no good at marketing and promoting itself, and that we need to win more internationally. These are the two hammers that keep getting landed on the sport. We haven't got the same public school network that rugby union has had or the same strength in the game in the Celtic nations, nor a strong South Africa like union has.

"But I'd argue in all other aspects league more than punches its weight."

5 live rugby league, with special guests Jon Wilkin, Jamie Peacock and Eorl Crabtree, will be broadcast from 21:00 BST on Wednesday


  • Comment number 1.

    Everything was going well until he had a pop at union and it's supposed public school old boy network. How many people who play union does this man think attended public school and if leagues such a great game why is it still limited to the M62 corrider? The answer may lay in his bigoted response

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi George. I always think the Magic Weekend should be the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup. Would increase gate receipts for the cup, provide a one off spectacle with knockout rugby on a neutral ground and not remove a home game for one of the teams in the league. Still looking forward to seeing the games this weekend though!

    As for the marketing aspect, I think all sports struggle to compete with football in this country which isn't just the most popular sport but is also the second and third most popular sport as well with League One sides averaging higher attendances than most RL, RU and Cricket sides. Against this monolith the other sports have to divide up the scraps and League struggles with the money needed to bring the game into new areas and market it properly. Brian Noble once called the Broncos/Quins the best kept secret in London because they aren't a well known sports team in the area. The future is bright though because despite the gloom and doom the game is expanding and there are schools in London now playing League which was unthinkable 20 years ago.

  • Comment number 3.

    @1 "why is it still limited to the M62 corrider?"

    You ever heard of the Catalan Dragons or the London Broncos to say nothing of the amateur teams throughout the South? League is far, far bigger than Union in Australia as well. Whilst I agree with you that Woods comment on Union showed ignorance, your own reply is guilty of the same crime!

  • Comment number 4.

    i think NobulusP is a few years behind us all, if its still in the M62 corrider then how come we got teams like Catalan and Toulouse doing so well ?!?, dont tend to see the foriegn teams getting involved in the union game unless its for some mickey mouse cups or the greedy wage's that the outcasts like wilkinson go for. you put the sport down but why are you taking our best players then and calling them your own? names like Chris Ashton, Andy Farrell and Owen Farrell to an extent, stephen myler and Jason Robinson. time you wised up on you facts good sir before you go for a spot of tea with you private school chums

  • Comment number 5.

    I am not so sure about the arguments for the game being played in the M62 corridor, as we have seen a successful Catalan Dragons team and glimpses of success from London and the now defunct Celtic Crusaders team.

    What i think we are suffering from is a lack of public support across the country, ask anyone along the M62 and they will know of the Super League teams, the Cumbrian teams and other RL teams. Ask anyone in Gloucestershire for example and they may have heard of Leeds, Wigan, Saints?

    The wider population (except for a couple of pockets of West London and Catalonia) do not know about our game and need to be educated in what a top sport it is. I see this very much as the RFL's task.

    It is a good move getting the Monday night slot on Sky, and the RFL should be applauded for getting this. Hopefully this will prove to be a step in the right direction for our sport, though we should temper this with an air of caution as the crowd of 15,000 at Headlingley was lower than we might reasonably expect for such a big game...

  • Comment number 6.

    Come on scoot19 - you've just said you think he's years behind and you're argument is like that of a school child. Mickey mouse cups? Like the Heineken Cup? That generates millions of pounds for the sport in TV fees and sells out national stadiums? And the fact that players move to clubs that pay them more is pretty understandable seeing as they have a limited amount of time in the sport (irrespective of the code). Whilst I'll agree and say Nobulus' response wasn't well thought out or researched, your response makes RL fans look like cavemen! RL is by far the more exciting sport, but this whole 'them and us' is killing any opportunity of getting RL to the levels we want to see it. The development plan the RFL has is a long and steady one, but with the number of kids playing at a good level in the Midlands and the South the demand for senior clubs will rise and rise. In 10-15 years we will truly see RL as a nationwide sport. Until then try to enjoy the game and not be so negative towards other sports without looking into it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Slow and steady wins the race. In playing numbers, league is making huge strides outside the M62 corridor, in London, Wales, and further afield in places like Serbia and Lebanon.

    Problem is, that's going to take decades to translate into competitive, home-grown teams. Patience is needed.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think the "Public School" comment, rather than being in ignorance, is made due to the fact that the vast majority of schools still have Union on the curriculum, rather than League. Look at the County sides in Union up to U-18, the greater percentage of players are from fee-paying schools - hence the comment. At school level, League struggles to get a look in.

  • Comment number 9.

    Pointing to the London Broncos, Catalan Dragons and the disaster that was the Crusaders doesn't really answer Nobulus' point about the limited geographical spread of the game. And S/he is absolutely right to point out the nonsense of the "public school" influence. I saw a post on an RL forum which stated, as a fact, that virtually every player in the RU premiership came from a fee-paying school...

    There then followed a rant about the media/RFU conspiracy to hide RL prom the millions of people who would love the game, if only they weren't forced to go to awful RU games by their employers (who only sponsor the game to keep in with their public school mates).

    The complaint that RU takes its best players is a little rich, too! Leaving aside the fact that it's up to the players concerned, I don't recall there being any guilt about "taking" many good RU players (particularly from Wales) in the past.

    The attitude of many RL fans (not all, I accept) appears to be a bewildering mixture of arrogance ("the best game in the world", "The Greatest Game" and so on), hatred towards Union (but willing to try transplanting a "club" into South Wales because the Welsh like rugby) , and acting like a spoilt child (It's not fair! People would rush to RL games if only the scales would fall from their eyes). Can you imagine the reaction if the RFU decided to create a team, put it straight into the Premiership and then base it in, say, Hull because people there like rugby?

    The truth is, of course, that there is no conspiracy; any newspaper/broadcaster would happily produce pages/hours of material about RL if there were a demand. But accepting that unhappy truth would not feed the victim mentality which appears to be such a big part of RL.

    One slightly tongue in cheek suggestion to end. If RL wants to differentiate itself from RU, and if the "public school" connection is so offensive, why not change the name of the game to something which isn't the name of a very famous public school...

  • Comment number 10.

    Firstly the comments on Union are just fact, Union has a better schools network and a stronger hold in South Africa. Nigel Woods comments had nothing to do with bigotry. Also what more could the RFL have done for Bradford? Nothing, they’ve already done too much. By buying Odsal the RFL have a vested interest in the future of the Bulls and surely that can’t be right when the RFL are handing out the licences. While on the subject of licences, I agree with Andy Burnham, promotion and relegation should return. Widnes are a joke, no matter how good your chairman is, no matter how good your ground is or you history, if your team is poor on the pitch the whole league is cheapened. They were mid table last year and didn’t use the time well to prepare for Super League. If you look at Featherstone’s cup run, they would be a better addition to SL that Widnes, and they beat Cas and gave Wigan a game because they had a consistently successful team over the last few years. Widnes have managed to prove all the arguments for a licence system were flawed. Well done lads...

  • Comment number 11.

    We never played Rugby Union at school and League was played by schools around us - the high schools were feeders for the likes of Dewsbury, Batley, Featherstone - and some of the lads - Francis Cummins, Burgess Brothers - went on to make it in the "big time" so to speak

    Problem being is that it was all very concentrated. When I went to Newcastle University there were I think only 2 League teams, and neither were very well run and did not seem to have the infrastructure or backing of the sports department as the Union team which had 7 teams, plus the intra-mural divisions.

    RL is dependant on the backing Sky gives it and if they ever decide to pull the plug it would be an absolute disaster. However the fact Sky are still happily promoting RL means there must be some money to be made somewhere for them

    RL needs to broaden its horizons, a lot of people I see in the south of England have never heard of RL teams and thing its a cavemans sport, but then when I sit and watch a game with them they think its faster, more exciting, more physical and more entertaining.

    Perhaps Mr Wood should be doing more to get RL noticed at school level in the south and to promote the sport more than letting Sky do all the work


  • Comment number 12.

    Hugely interesting topic and a hint of something which I think is the issue the RFL face at the minute. Wood describes himself as 'firefighting' and I think the RFL are guilty at the minute of doing this on multiple fronts and it leads to some short-sightedness. What has made the RFL a very good Governing Body for the last decade was that it had a clearly defined strategy that guided various elements of the sport:

    - introducing an 'Events' element which has seen the Grand Final grow to be a hugely successful occasion alongside the Magic weekend and an improved programming of internationals (leading to next years world cup)
    - a long term approach to increasing participation and 'knowledge' of RL through development work in schools and aided by the switch to summer
    - 'licensing' - whatever the rights or wrongs and peoples views, it was a clearly thought out, long-term approach to try and deal with some of the biggest issues facing the sport

    All of the above gave us a sense of direction that we could buy-in to. It was about making the sport better and bigger. My feeling is that we’ve lost that sense of strategy and how everything fits together or at least, the communication has broken down!

    This is both an effect and cause of the organisation having to ‘firefight’ on so many fronts and leads to it segmenting up everything it is doing or expecting everyone to deliver on every agenda without the focus they need – I’m seeing this on the ground at the minute!

    Given we're losing someone who has been a very good Chair – the appointment of the new Chair is unbelievably important. They need to reaffirm a sense of direction for the sport and buy us all in to that it stands now, there are far too many not bought-in and some are spitefully taking the opportunity to have a dig. Overall – it’s time for a review of the direction the sport is taking – not a free-for-all wanting to change this or change that, but a stock-take on what it is the sport as a whole is all about...

  • Comment number 13.

    Rugby league is a national sport but sadly does not get the press it deserves. Most news paper editors are posh so go for union and therefore do not give the attention it deserves to league. There are hundreds of clubs all over the country and is huge in Cumbria. No where near the M62. Sky have put Superleague on tv on Mondays because it attracts the most viewers after Soccer. Union gets very few spectators in anything other the internationals when most are just going for the spectacle. Just look at an attendance, most are clearly made up.

  • Comment number 14.

    Agree to a point with #9. We need to stop having a go at union and slagging that off as our method of promoting league. It isn't just posh boys that play union. I live in Chorley - next door to Wigan and all schools around here, West Lancs & Preston play union. There are league teams, but Chorley/Lancashire/Blackpool all folded as nobody went (compared to the population that could've).

    Union does have more of a tradition and calling themselves 'rugby' doesn't help us. But I don't thing we should change our name unless we just call it 'league'.

    As for Burnham - he would say that as he wants to stay MP for Leigh.

    My opinion is that without the current system, Catalans would be a yo-yo team (would've been relegated first season in) - and so would teams like Widnes, Salford, London, Fev, Wakey and Leigh. They would never improve and I doubt the new grounds at many league clubs would have ever been built. (Teams have had to improve facilities to be eligible for a licence). But that's just my opinion.

  • Comment number 15.

    The comment about "public school network" could possibly have been put a little more succinctly, namely that Rugby Union has many friends in high places - hence the reason that the number of column-inches devoted to the sport in national newspapers (southern editions) is derisory. If, on the other hand, Mike Tindall gets a pimple on his nose, you'll have the like of Stephen Jones giving the matter an entire page.

    As someone once put it "Rugby League is played by the son's of miners. It never stood a chance", or similar.

    Second, let's make a bit more of the matter of attendances. Not so long ago two RU premiership sides filled Wembley Stadium. League fans (from every club in the land) didn't even bother to half-fill it to watch England take on the greatest national sporting team on the planet.

    The game is being asphyxiated by lack of mainstream media coverage, and when it gets it the sport simply looks like its dying.

    Breaks my heart.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm at a University in the South of England, the SRL(Student Rugby League) has made concentrated efforts into helping universities set up their rugby league team and allowing them to compete in merit leagues against local teams. They have also tried to make as many team enter their Cup competitions.
    Our university set up our first rugby league club last year and competed in the merit league for our first season. Next eyar we're hoping to enter the BUCS for our second season as a club.
    Many people that played for us had never heard of Rugby league before. They were mostly Rugby union players but once they switched to League they enjoyed the pace of the game which tends to be quicker than union. I certainly had never heard of Rugby league before I came to uni, but i look forward to playing many years of league, I have now found out there is a Rugby league team very close to where i live at home.
    I believe that rugby league is on the up, it may be gradual and slow, but it is on the up.

  • Comment number 17.

    I live just outside the 'RL zone' and i can safely say i've never seen a game on tv on in a pub, (were people have turned up to watch, not just the previous event being left on) anywhere. I once had a chat with some friends why this has never caught on around here and we all agreed, no relegation or promotion and the unnecessary play-offs at the end. I'm i right to say you can finish 6th and be grand final winners??!!

    It can market itself all it likes but for the non-believers, people need to understand the 'consequences' of whatever sport they are watching. The best team finishes top (and wins) with third from bottom living to fight another day.

  • Comment number 18.

    Firstly, where do politicians get off on commenting on sporting matters? Shouldn't they be concentrating on the plight of the country at the moment?? Does Burnham really believe that we don't realise he's just after exposure and votes and doesn't really give a monkeys about the league structure in RL??

    Secondly, I love both codes of Rugby with a preference for League (and I'm from down South). Whilst historically there was an obvious bias in favour of Union, those barriers are surely now shattered - to keep having a pop at 'public schoolboys' or 'flatcap northerners' only goes to demonstrate how stuck in the past we are as a nation. The area I'm from is particularly conservative (I don't mean politically) and is a union stronghold, and there's not a public school in sight! But I still think there's room for both codes but will take time to develop.

    I don't think Mr. Wood was actually having a pop at union and it's network, rather he was illustrating what League lacks - a solid foundation down south. But I think it will come. I never could understand that you either had to like League OR Union. How narrow-minded some are!

  • Comment number 19.

    I like rugby league as a game but comparisons to union are not helpful in long term plannning.

    In my opinion the strength of league lies in the constant running and all action style. It is almost as if the teams are made up of two sets of backs from the union code, and just told to score tries. Union on the other hand has all these forwards getting in the way!!

    This should be the selling point.

    Im not criticisng union, I love it, as I do league. Just looking for an angle to promote league.

  • Comment number 20.

    The problem in popularity is nothing to do with any imaginary "public school network", the problem is that league just isn't a very exciting or stimulating game to watch. They should get rid of the silly 6 tackle rule and just let both sides compete for the ball, that would make for a much better game.

    The league itself is very well marketed, its just the dull and predictable nature of the sport itself that lets it down.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't give a damn about people arguing the why's and wherefor's of RL. That's part and parcel of sport! BUT for gods sake keep the MP's out of it! They have made a mess of the country? Leave our game alone!

  • Comment number 22.

    #20. Please go and troll elsewhere.

    Having grown up in a traditional league playing area but lived in various location around the UK, I see the popularity of league increasing all the time. Schools are taking up the game across the country, clubs sides are emerging in non-traditional locations, the student sides are on the increase and the game is being played in the Armed Forces. This has only been allowed to happen properly since 1995 and will take a lot of time to develop further. With viewing figures increasing and primetime slots on a Monday night, Sky see the value of the game and its increasing popularity resulting in the new TV contract worth a whopping £127m over five years. With the introduction of Northampton, Hemel and Gloucestershire to Championship 1 next season, the 2013 World Cup and young players breaking into SL from all over the UK and overseas (a German is on the verge of breaking into the Leeds first team!), the game is gradually improving year-on-year and will continue to do so.

    However, there are issues, and the Bulls are a prime example. However, this is down to mismanagement by the clubs themselves rather than the RFL. How, the Bulls management can say the RFL didn't do enough is beyond me. I am not particularly fond of the club call gimmick during the playoffs and the current situation with the Yorkshire Amateur Summer League looks really poor when you compare it to the other summer leagues who made the switch this year.

    The current licensing system is still relatively new and not liked by all but has its benefits. Many SL clubs are starting to improve how they are run; the current regime at Wakefield are a prime example. This is also starting to be felt below SL level in the Championship; Featherstone in order to reach SL have become a really well run club boosting income from £600'000 a few seasons ago to £1.5m, all because standards are having to be driven up. In time, with clubs improving, I hope a criteria-based P&R can be re-introduced, but only when clubs are at the right standard. This will take time and slowly but surely, many clubs are getting there.

    As for the media, the RFL can't really influence this too much. However, the employment of a new international marketing company is a step in the right direction. Sky did some great work this weekend advertising the new Mon night concept in the Sun and the Times. I'd love to see more of this in the future to coinciding with the Stobart marketing deal. The improvement in the international game, which is happening all the time is the key to cracking the media in my opinion.

    The future is bright for RL. It is improving all the time, which is reflected in TV viewing figures, participation levels across the UK and exposure to the sport. It isn't perfect and issues remain as with any sport or business, but we are getting there.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think people are getting a little overexcited about lack of P&R, and the play-off system having an adverse effect on the game. Virtually every other sport in the world uses play-offs at the business end of the season, except football, and probably the biggest club game in the world, the Champions League final, has just been won by a team who finished 3rd in their league to qualify last season, and 6th this season. Football doesn't seem to be struggling. And the sport that rugby league is most compared to in the postings, Rugby Union, has its play-off final this weekend, and may not allow relegation to occur due to stadium requirements.

    The play-offs offer a great end to the season, and will only be competed between 8 teams whilst SL is 14 teams and there is no P&R. Once listening has done its work, I reckon P&R will return, with teams promoted if they meet stadium criteria, like in the RU Prem or Football League. 12 teams also seems to be a more sustainable number in SL than 14, but by having a larger number, the RFL are giving the most teams 3 years maximum income to fund stadium changes. Maybe at the end of this license period the RFL will just cut those who have not complied. Would put Wakey, Cas, Hull KR and Bradford most at risk, but with the latter being the RFLs key tenant at Odsal, hard to see that happening.

  • Comment number 24.

    @22 Great post! Agree with everything you say!

  • Comment number 25.

    As a RL fan, I think the idea of using the Magic Weekend for the Challenge Cup Quarters is great and should be pursued. Also. Clubs and the RL should look at including the Challenge Cup with season Tickets - there is nothing worse than seeing empty terraces on TV.

    One point that occured to me some time ago relates to the RU event at Twickenham where the RU broke the attendance record for a club game. Wasn't that match part of a bigger event with a top group like McFly playing? Clearly, a lot of people came to see them and the RU were able to piggy back on this. Why doesn't the RL do something similar?

  • Comment number 26.

    RU is a fashionable game, played in a fashionable area of the country, RL is the opposite. So despite RL's obvious superiority as a sport to watch and play it suffers as a result in terms of media coverage (RU is largely supported by the southern middle and upper classes who hold influence in the national press and BBC).

    The RFL have however made great strides, crowds are well up, internationals are regular and profitable, stadia are improving year on year at the top level.

    These are all facts, and the frustration of RL fans only comes from impatience and passion for the game in this country.

    And anyone who thinks RL is struggling needs to take a trip to Sydney or Brisbane.

  • Comment number 27.

    #9 - Possibly one of the best posts I've ever read on these tawdry boards. Hilarious and accurate, a tour de force.

  • Comment number 28.

    The best way to broaden the appeal of Rugby League would be to do away with the ridiculous 6 tackle rule and bring back contested scrums. Oh, and how about having 15 players on each team...;-)

  • Comment number 29.

    leagues problem is, and may always will be, that it suffers the percetpion that it is Union tweaked into a slightly different sport so that Union players could play professionaly back in the day.

    As such it is regarded as UNions junior cousin.

    To me it should truly differentiate itself by getting rid of the scrum. It's a pointless waste of time in league as it isn't really contested and could give rise to innovative rule changes that would really make the 2 codes entirely different.

  • Comment number 30.

    The whole argument about the M62 corridor is quite ironic as the hotbed of Rugby Union is in Yorkshire, the fact there are no Premiership clubs is quite a sad state of affairs. Compare Yorkshire 1 to other leagues of a similar level and there is some difference in pace and skill.

    Although I am a RU man first and first foremost I do like League. The problem is there are just not enough big games. There is the grand final, world cup / tri nations, world club challenge and a number of hi-profile Super league games such as Wigan - Saints. Add a low-competitive international game with England being ranked third of three in realityand you start to get a problem.

    Compare this to RU (sorry) Six nations every year, autumn internationals, summer tours, Heineken Cup and the hi-profile premiership games such as Quins - Sarries (largest ever crowd for a club game).

    There is not enough to get excited over, people constantly want entertainment at a good level. I also believe that RL has not managed itself very well over the past decade or so, particularly with the Gateshead - Hull fiasco. I did attend most of Gateshead's matches.

    I would like to ask a question...did the hugely inflated world club championship from about 10 years ago bring new supporters to the game? Would this be worth re-investigating.

  • Comment number 31.

    In addition to other commenst how many RL players are household names outside of RL compared to glorious nineties.....Hanley, Offiah, Robinson, Betts, the Iro Brothers, Long, Gregory.

    Those were the days.

  • Comment number 32.

    "RL needs to broaden its horizons, a lot of people I see in the south of England have never heard of RL teams and thing its a cavemans sport"

    Last year Quins RL gave away 10,000 free tickets for one event and only managed to give away 4,000. For the rest of the season they gave away free tickets in a draw for the home games at the Stoop, there was barely an increase in attendance, I was able to get every single game free for 2 people so clearly they couldnt even give the tickets away.

    I saw some great rugby and I saw some terrible rugby but only one win in 5 or 6 home games for them means that you are not going to get many coming back. Some were massacres and in rugby that doesnt make for good rugby. But the upshot of it is that nobody wants to go and support a losing team. You can have all the rebranding you like but Quins or Broncos makes no difference if you lose all the time. Nobody but the very faithfull will come and see them.

    Have a winning team in a non RL area and that may change. Enter a 7's tournament, win that. That'll get them noticed. I dont think Broncos are capable of competing even in 7's at the moment.

  • Comment number 33.

    What is it with league fans and their inability to accept that anyone could possibly ever actually enjoy watching a game of union. Unless McFly's fanbase has morphed into obese middle aged men, the record club attendance at Wembley was due to people wanting to watch a game of rugby.

    On a personal level I feel that league and union have different strengths and weaknesses. While it is true that league is faster paced and having more tries, it suffers from being slightly one dimensional and repetitive. Union on the other hand in having competition for possession on the one hand allows for great passages of play and more ebb and flow, but on the other has overcomplicated matters and the mess of scrums and the breakdown mean games often become slow and bogged down.

    But to simply flatly deny the merits of the other code whichever side of the fence you are on (league supporters on here!) is frankly naive...

  • Comment number 34.

    #30 - yes the RFL have recently been to Oz to discuss expanding the World Club Challenge to 6 teams. The first attempts to expand it made a big loss due to high travel and accomodation costs, but hopefully 3 teams per nation could work. Definatley the sort of competition that would raise RLs profile. 1st step for me would be to move the 2 team WCC to the end of the season, after each competitions grand final and before the 4 Nations. Assuming that many of the players involved in the WCC would be involved in the 4 Nations, would remove concern re player travel, and end of season would mean the Aussie teams are hitting the straps and prevent its current perception in Oz as a pre-season game. I think it's a concept that should be established here and particularly in Oz before we expand it. Too often we try and run before we can walk as a sport.

  • Comment number 35.

    Lots of interesting comments; I particularly like #9, a very impressive piece of analysis.

    As a Welsh union fan I think the decline of Northern Rules in the national conscience is startling. The code is wholly reliant on the largesse of Sky and it is a symbiotic relationship; Sky provides the cash to keep the show on the road whilst getting loads of action to broadcast extremely cheaply.

    When I was growing up it was a major highlight of my week to be able to stay up late with my Dad on a school night and watch mid week floodlight rugby league on the BBC; George Fairbairn was my favourite player. My test debut was Wales – France in 1975 at St Helens (Swansea) two years before I saw Wales – Ireland at the Arms Park; we had Watkins, Mills, Coslett, Bevan et al (Sullivan didn’t play for some reason). With a team like that the result was a foregone conclusion and 23,000 of us were there to witness it (a sell out I think).

    As for the Challenge Cup; my rugby club would be packed to watch it. We’d always support the team with the largest contingent of Welsh players and some years we’d send a minibus to Wembley. These were good times.

    Today interest is zilch. The club has Sky but few pay much attention when there’s a game on. The Challenge cup ditto though I guess the lack of Welsh involvement might have something to do with it though, that said, Wembley itself no longer sells out. And as for our international side; I can name two players, Briers & Rhys Williams.

    Where Northern Rules goes to from here I know not; perhaps France where Catalans have been a success story. Personally I think it will keep on treading water as it has done for a number of years now.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ no.14....
    where is your proof that Salford etc would have been relegated in their 1st season back in superleague?????

    i don't recall Salford ever finishing bottom since regaining their status in superleague.
    also may I add, although they achieved the status through a successful application, they would have been rightly promoted anyway due to the fact that they won all that was on offer that season (except challenge cup), NR cup, Championship title and Grand final

    Get your facts right before slating any club outide leeds, wigan, saints and warrington - superleague is a tough league and although there are occasional humpings, most of the smaller teams do "League" proud!!!!

    Oh, by the way, I'm not a Salfordian before you comment, I'm Scottish and love all that is good about RL, including the less illustrious teams

  • Comment number 37.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 38.

    If rugby league wasn't such a boring sport to watch it might have a chance of gaining a bigger audience and wider support.

  • Comment number 39.

    I think that the public school influence does exist to a degree and assists Union. My local grammar school plays a lot of rugby and does not even have a soccer pitch on its huge lush sports field. So this suggests that the public schools are an environment where Union is protected from soccer.

  • Comment number 40.

    Go ask someone in St Helens or Sydney and they will tell you League is the best sport. Ask someone in Bath or in Jo'berg and they will tell you Union is better. ASk someone in Melbourne and they would argue AFL is better. Ask someone in Canada and they will tell you Ice hockey is better, and in America they will tell you Grid Iron is better. In India they will tell you cricket is better and in Japan they will tell you baseball or sumo is better. It's all about opinions and there's no way in the world of proving one sport is "better" than another. Football is far more popular than both rugby codes put together but that doesn't make it the "best".

    All you can do is find enjoyment in whatever game you like be that League, Union, football, cricket or water polo!

  • Comment number 41.

    @38. NormalforNuneaton

    Many people would argue Formula One is a boring sport to watch but I'm guessing you would disagree because you enjoy watching it. Why do people feel the need to dismiss things that don't appeal to them?

    I can only imagine you have never seen the State of Origin series in Australia or the NRL games there.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

    I guess, yet again, being honest with a blanked out swear word is still viewed as worse than being patronising, arrogant and down right rude, without the swearing, but that just goes to show how low standards at the BBC have sunk and just how low many RU fans sink whenever they see an article on RL.

  • Comment number 44.

    This thread seems to have been hijacked by a few individuals with a grudge against league today... Shame!

    Wood isn't highlighting a conspiracy against league in the press (poorly quoted by Mr Riley perhaps?), he's highlighting that the media, now primarily based in the south, is run by editors normally educated outside of the games heartlands so know little about the sport and how it is thriving across the whole of the UK so very much less inclined to devote space in the daily papers. It hasn't helped that since the advent of SL, the games internationals have primarily been shown on Sky and not BBC, which attracted excellent TV attendances and kept the game in the national conscious. Changes to these two issues and exposure to the game will increase considerably and reflect the actually reality of the game on the ground, which is very positive.

    #35. The loss of BBC coverage and the professionalisation of RU has hampered the game in recent years but it is certainly not treading water. I live in South Wales at present and at junior level the game is thriving. Schools are openly playing the game (in fact, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Ystalyfera, a Welsh speaking school in the Yr 10 Champions Schools final later this summer), junior clubs are playing at a number of ages groups across the country, open ages sides compete during the summer season, Welsh-born coaches are being developed (I recently did my L1 Coaching Cse full of Welsh lads), South Wales Hornets playing in the National Conference League 3 and the South Wales Scorpions and North Wales Crusaders play in Championship 1 at the semi-professional level. Add to this the Welsh lads starting to break through in SL (Ben Flower, Gil Dudson, Rhodri Lloyd, Rhys Phuglsey at Wigan, the Evans Brothers and Rhys Williams at Warrington, Ollie Olds and Jack Pring at Leeds, Elliott Kear at Bradford, Lloyd White at Widnes), the game in Wales is developing really well. It may not have the Jonathan Davies', Billy Bostons' of the past hence the reduction in interest on TV at your club but it is without doubt a stronger game than previously in the past in Wales as it is growing strong roots (check out

    This situation is also reflected in England. The game is making massive strides across the whole of England, largely thanks to the Sport England funding (£27m), not the Sky money, which only goes to the SL clubs. It is played in every county apart from Herefordshire. Academies are opening up in the Midlands and South West competing and defeating more traditional sides. The Medway Dragons are a massive success story at junior level with hundreds of kids playing the game every week ( Bristol, Coventry, Peterlee, Hemel are other prime examples of this. The London Broncos maybe struggling in SL, probably due to their first team being awful, but they are developing some excellent local players who are now breaking into the first team. The amateur seen in London is thriving (see This also reflects the game in the Northeast and the Midlands (see and

    At the professional level, SL is actually the second most watched team sport on Sky with excellent TV ratings every week. This is why Sky has drastically increased the size of the contract with the RFL (isn’t actually that cheap at £127m!). Attendances in SL are increasing year-on-year, but you wouldn't know either of these facts due to the lack of media coverage.

    In order to combat this, the international game is the key. The big three of Australia, New Zealand and England (eventhough we can’t beat the Aussies!) are obviously top of the tree but the tier two sides of Wales, PNG, Samoa, Fiji, France, Tonga etc are all fantastic sides with players who are great to watch (League in Fiji has exploded since the 2008 World Cup due to the national side reaching the semi finals and the likes of Naqami etc playing in the NRL). Throw in the tier three sides, especially in Europe where the likes of Serbia, Germany, Denmark and Italy are currently competing in the European Shield and internationally league is becoming stronger as well. This is why the World Cup next year in the UK is vitally important. The big games MUST be on the BBC to give the game the platform it deserves. If the authorities get it right (the indications and developments so far have been excellent), it can only build on the excellent foundations being built in the UK with a game, which technically has only been allowed to develop since 1995, and increase the exposure of the game in the national concious.

    As with my previous post as part of this thread, the so-called 'Northern Rules' game does have its problems, but it is certainly not treading water. It is thriving, particularly in the non-traditional areas of the game, even internationally. The future is bright for RL if it continues to develop over the next 20yrs as it has done in the previous 20.

  • Comment number 45.


    Now there lies League’s problem in Wales at any rate; a lot of the boys from Ystalyfera will be talented and a couple might even be good enough to turn pro but where do their ambitions lie? Firstly probably the Osprey’s and secondly the national Union side. In some respects the funding the RFL is pumping into Wales is actually subsidising the rugby development of players on behalf of the WRU (Gethin Jenkins & Lee Byrne being two examples) which is ultra ironic given the history of players ‘going North’.

    Nice to see some Welsh players breaking into Super League though, I must admit, I haven’t heard that much about them nor seen them mentioned in the back pages of the Western Mail too frequently. Still, they must be good players; I only hope though that if one of them is tempted to take up/return to Union then he’d better be an improvement on Iestyn Harris!

  • Comment number 46.

    @36 - read the post again - CATS finished bottom and would have been relegated. Oh look your post now makes no sense.

  • Comment number 47.

    If you comment again maybe you'd like to address my reasoning for the second part of my post. It may be that's the bit you have a problem with?

    Stadia wouldn't have been built and clubs wouldn't have been run better if we didn't have licencing. Something I know Salford have improved greatly.

    I don't know where all the beef comes from as well. Salford have been consistently near the bottom of SL and so to use them as an example of a possible yo-yo team would make sense to me.

    Although I don't know why you get all defensive about them as I never mentioned anything like they don't deserve to be there or don't contribute to RL? In fact I didn't slate them at all.

  • Comment number 48.

    The problem with Woods tenure is that non SL has been left to die slowly, compounded by the franchise joke. The British sporting culture is built around dreams. Man U fans dream of Champions League Glory, Blackpool fans dream of Premiership football, Barrow FC fans dream of getting into the Football League, Bristol RU fans dream of the RU Premiership etc etc
    How would these fans feel if that dream was taken away, would they attract the finance to make the dream reality if success doesn't guarantee the dream becoming reality? That is the strategy of the RFL, it has killed the dreams of lower league clubs by the unanswerable process that is the Franchise System, clubs have to sign not to challenge the decisions!!!
    This system failed to identify the flaws in the finances at Crusaders, Bradford and Wakefield by granting them Franchises. It is a joke and splits a sport that must be united to be what it can be, because we do have the best product for TV of any sport outside Football. Granted we do suffer with poor TV commentary and broadcasting, to compound the media bias in the press.
    Any good business is built on strong foundations, it will respect and develop its existing customer base whilst generating new customers - the RFL has cast adrift the majority of its member clubs, that is the issue Burnham wishes to raise. Burnham is connected to Leigh and his son plays for a local Amateur club, as a good Dad he can often be found on the touchline. The comment about winning votes does not wash in this instance, not that his seat would ever be at risk in Leigh.

  • Comment number 49.

    #45 It has and always will be the case that either code has produced talent for the other. A good friend of mine from the St Helens/Wigan border decided on a career in Union (played for Orrell, Cornish Pirates, Leeds and Rotherham) over a league contract. Regarding the Welsh lads, Rhodri Lloyd, now at Wigan, reportedly turned down a union contract as he enjoyed league more. Wigan are investing quite heavily in their relationship with the South Wales Scorpions, as they see the benefits of spreading the 'gene' pool wider. Some Welsh players playing junior RL will no doubt move to union when they are older but plenty will move to professional league clubs such as Wigan and Leeds if they are good enough, as is the case with the names mentioned in my previous post.

    #48, the Championship isn't dying. Look at the respective attendances from the weekends games compared to last year:

    Batley v Fax up 400
    Fev v York up 400
    Keighley no equivalent game
    Leigh v Hunslet down 300
    Sheff v Dewsbury up 500

    They don't reflect a dying Championship. I'd agree franchising isn't ideal but it's not killing the sport outside of SL. Featherstone are a prime example; they've increased turnover from £600,000 a few seasons ago to £1.5m because they are having to improve the club, not just the onfield team. Other clubs such as Halifax and now Leigh are also doing the same. That can only be good for the game as the clubs become stronger and more finanically viable. Other clubs such as Rochdale, South Wales, Hunslet etc have developed into entities, which are now sustainable. Not everyone wants to be promoted to SL, the Batley Chairman has said as much for example and is happy with the status quo; not really an indication of the RFL casting aside the majority of its member clubs is it? The franchising model is still a new concept, it'll take time to bite properly, but the signs are it's already taking hold in many cases. Featherstone fans can still dream about SL (ask Widnes fans!). Oldham fans can still dream about the Championship and if the RFL have their way, National Conference sides will be able to dream about Championship 1 in the future. I hope in the long run, there is a return to a more traditional concept of P&R, but not until those good businesses are built on strong foundations as you mention yourself.

  • Comment number 50.

    George, a shame that once again your interesting article is hijacked by Union trolls; apart from one or two good posts from some fair-minded Union colleagues (genuine debate always welcome), I am consistently bemused by the need for trolls to spout their nonsense.

    Nevertheless, your article does raise some valid questions for RL fans to debate and I think it's right that the RFL understands the views both within and beyond Super League. As evidenced by the posts above there is strong feeling about what has been good and bad about the management of Rugby League.

    All I would add is a point of correction to the recent Wembley match; the "record breaking" club rugby attendance of 90,000 is a record for Rugby Union only. Odsal holds the biggest British club Rugby League record of 103,00 back in the 1950's. Apparently 97,000 attended a League match in Wembley back in 1985. A recent NRL Grand Final was watched by 108,000. By way of contrast, Sydney hosted 110,00 for Wallabies v All Blacks test in 2000, with 107,000 people watching the Springboks at Ellis Park.

  • Comment number 51.

    In Australia we have five union teams for the whole country, thats right only five, and under that we have park foot ball, unions not that big a deal any were in the country. League has 16 with another 2 to be added after the new Tv rights deal, then under that all 16 clubs have a reserve clubs, then after that they have 4 feeder clubs each then each state has its own comp with about 10 teams in each with reserve teams , the feeder teams, we have league players comming out our ears, we have so many top rugby league players that our secods and thireds play union and dominant England

  • Comment number 52.

    Mickey just to help the readers out. Batley v Fax had the Karl Harrison factor, the coach moving from Batley to Fax and taking a few players with him - the great crowd was all of 1500 !! for a top of the table clash with clubs 15 miles apart. Leigh 1700, Sheffield 1100 Fev 1600. Whats that saying about stats and lies??
    I am intrigued how a club with 1600 crowds which would be £200k taken pa at the gate gets to £1.5m turnover, is it similar to Widnes's £1m profit year?? PoR isn't awash with corporate facilities!
    The fan base of non SL traditional clubs is ageing rapidly, the dream is almost dead and spare cash has many more attractive destinations than dead rubber games.
    If you want some comparisons the non SL Grand Final semi's of the early 2000's when promotion was the prize attracted great crowds, the GF itself was buzzing with hopes and fears. Now the games crowds are down and the final has lost its Buzz - why? Nothing to play for. Remember Cas v Widnes at Leeds? Compare with Salford v Cru at Wire.
    The ambitions of Batley probably represent reality for many at present, 1000 average gates and poor facilities will never convert to 8000 in a couple of seasons, especially when the grounds won't hold that many.
    The system hurts the clubs capable of making the leap. The Leighs, Fax's, Barrow's, Fev's, Oldham's. The clubs with a history and an experienced fan base who have watched their club at a higher level - who become disenfranchised and walk away, taking their future generations with them.
    Thge reality of the current structure is we have too few highly competitive games at the top, this arena produces the elite player, the ones we need to turn over the Aussies - we need more intensity here.
    The bottom SL clubs have nothing to play for and are being used for the bigger clubs to rest players against, eg Widnes v Wigan.
    The game needs to have a true elite level, to win at International level v the best, Expand in France, create a genuine FT structure for non elite clubs to grow into/through and create a bigger FT player pool.
    The solution is two divisions of 10, engaging the current lower league clubs with ambition/facilities and Toulouse in the second tier with the non elite current SL clubs currently with nothing to play for being hammered week in week out.
    The second tier provides a competitive full time platform to develep/expand the game, logically expanding to 12/12 over time with 1 up 1 down between divisions.
    We then engage those disenfranchised, provide a realistic goal for clubs with ambition, create a full time recovery room for the relegated club and have a fantastic, high intensity product at the elite level.
    We could do this next year, certainly the year after and it is affordable within what we currently have.

  • Comment number 53.

    There's no trolling, just an honest assessment. If RL fans think that the reason their game isn't very popular outside of a few small diehard areas is because it receives less media coverage than the RU premiership then they're clearly deluded. Every time I turn the tv on I see an RL match. When was the last time a domestic RU game was on the tv? The famous RL clubs, eg Saints, Wigan etc are just as well known throughout the country as teams like Bath and Leicester. RL has been given a sustained push by the BBC for the last 20 years, yet still won't catch on. So the problem must lie closer to home... I'll leave it to you to figure out what that might be.

  • Comment number 54.

    50. At 21:45 23rd May 2012, dirtygumshield wrote:
    All I would add is a point of correction to the recent Wembley match; the "record breaking" club rugby attendance of 90,000 is a record for Rugby Union only.

    Which is implied if you read the context of the paragraph it is in.

    The other implication from the blog is the discussion is primarily about the RL game in the UK. I don't really care if the NRL is getting 108'000 fans for a game in Australia, how is that benefitting the game in this country.

    Furthermore the fact that the Challenge cup final was getting 97'000 fans in 1985 to stage now where they cannot sell out a big SL game in Leeds v SH (post #5). and 100K+ at Odsal in the 50's!!!! How big of a percentage of that do Bradford get now.

    The point about the Sarries-Quins game is that this is Now! not 27 or even 60 years ago. RL needs to identify why it is losing fans or more importantly not seeming to acquire many new ones.

    It appears that at junior level the game is thriving from some of the posts on here but the professional game is struggling.

  • Comment number 55.

    Dear oh dear. For the life of me, I've never understood the antipathy towards Union from some League fans. Being from Leeds originally, I played League at primary school, in the shadow of one of the RU clubs that later became part of Leeds. I then played Union at secondary school. I liked, and still like, both codes; I think that the very best of Union is better than League, but that an average or poor League game is miles better than an average or poor Union game, but there's certainly room in my life for both codes - I appreciate them for their differences. I'm currently involved with coaching kids in Union in the Midlands, and lots of our kids from U14 onwards play both codes - which is great. It's fantastic that League is an option for them in a non-heartland area. But there's a lot of misunderstanding by League fans of the Union game - it's not all elitist and public school; look at many of the heartlands of the game and you'll find that the traditional employments are farming, mining and the like; not that dissimilar to League in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Look at sides like Leicester Tigers, and you won't find many suits in evidence at home games.

    Now I do think that League has it's problems. Personally, I preferred the winter game, the imposition of silly names for famous old clubs, and above all I hate the franchise system with no promotion and relegation, but I accept I may be a dinosaur unwilling to embrace the change necessary to move the game forwards. I think it has generally been managed and promoted fairly well over the last few years, but the biggest problem for me is the lack of terrestrial TV coverage. Time was that pretty much the whole country watched it every week because it was on the BBC; now, it's only those who seek it out that see it. That for me is by far the biggest bar to the game spreading - and I think cricket is suffering from the same issue, too. It's not newspaper coverage that matters, but getting the televised game across to potential fans - then it sells itself. Personally, I think the long-term future of the game would be rosier if they gave the BBC free coverage than by taking Sky's millions.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think thats true of every sport, but particularly cricket, RU, and RL. The only way to compete with the attention that football gets is to make your sport more immediately accessible to the masses, and that means domestic tv.

  • Comment number 57.

    Rugby league thriving?

    RL is thriving outside of the M62 corridor. There are teams and leagues all over the country below the Super League and Championship levels including a large number of teams in all age groups in leagues in the Greater London area.

    Newspaper coverage

    Despite Chris Irvine and David Hadfield being dropped by their respective (and respectable) papers recently, there is still plenty of coverage in the national press about RL. The Guardian's Andy Wilson is excellent, but I think ought to write more for them. Even the Telegraph has a dedicated rugby league page on its website now after public pressure to do so. The Mirror and the Daily Mail both carry rugby league coverage (well at least the former does when there aren't too many soccer players doing things they shouldn't be doing to each others' wives etc). There is no lack of coverage in the press. There may be a lack of public outside Cumbria, Lancs, Liverpool, Yorks, Hull etc who are bothered about reading it.


    And that is a marketing issue which falls squarely at the door of the RFL. I come back to the Sky point. Every sport which sells its broadcast rights to Sky loses its ability to sell its game on national television. Cricket had this problem when C4 lost the test rights (see viewing figures for end of 2005 Ashes - something like £10m and end of 2009 series - circa £1m). Rugby union less so as there was little club level rugby union on the telly anyway other than the Tetley Bitter cup, some mudbathed Welsh rugby and the Six Nations.

    From my memory, rugby league was always much more on the television than union was despite the fact that this was before summer rugby league and their seasons ran concurrently. Other changes to sports broadcasting have hampered this. I can't help but think that the death of Grandstand is one of them. It used to bring any number of sports together on national television within a Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon/early evening slot.

    Leaving aside entirely subjective and blasé comments like "it's the best game in the world" (and I happen to love the game), no sport, business, clothing brand, or anything else is going to sell itself to a new market unless it provides itself with the exposure to that new market. That is clearly balanced by commercial drivers such as the price a broadcaster will pay for the rights, or in other business a right of exclusivity to market or distribute a pruduct. To me, the "new market" is really at the moment the "rest of the UK".

    Television cove

  • Comment number 58.

    @55 & 56 Of course that is true and it's worth remembering in New South Wales and Queensland every NRL game is shown live on tv, some on pay per view and some on free-to-air. The game thus gets the money for the tv deals whilst keeping itself available to the masses. It's a much better system for fans and it seems ludicrous that in the 21st century there is a program on Sky Sports and the BBC on Saturday afternoons where former footballers watch tvs that you can't see describing what's happening only to cut to live pictures as soon as the final whistle is blown.
    Of course the argument is that showing every game would hurt attendances but it's worth remembering the NFL, IPL and the German Bundesliga all have higher attendances that any English sports league and yet every game is shown on tv.

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 60.

    Whingeing Pom. 57.

    "there is still plenty of coverage in the national press about RL"

    Sorry, but there isn't. The national press is split regionally, which means that where I live in the SW of England, the amount of column inches devoted to Rugby League is pitiful. Chimp tennis gets more.

    Aside from that, I pretty much agree. And a reduction in coverage on free-to-air channels has been one of the biggest problems. A good parallel would be the current heavyweight boxing scene where Tyson Fury has a deal with Channel 5. As such, even though he isn't the best boxer in the division (I'd say David Price is), he's become better known and has a growing profile.

  • Comment number 61.


    Redpirate, I think it's fair to comment that the stats you quote are for now. I was merely providing some historic data for some context; that's also why for fairness I provided stats for both League and Union. And yes, the stats are useful because our sport needs to know what it's benchmark was and is. Having said that, I think it's a bit of a red herring about League not drawing crowds - gates have increased since the advent of Super League. The first Grand Final drew a crowd of 45,000, now it's often in excess of 70,000. That's not to be sniffed at when you bung in Challenge Cup final crowd of 65-75,000. .

    Actually, I think the NRL stats are interesting because from a similar position to the UK the sport down under has asserted itself as a mainstream competition. How did they succeed do it and how did the RFL fall behind?

    As you can see from League fans above (and people like me on other articles George has written), we know there is plenty to fix in our sport. But there is also plenty to commend about recent developments. After 100 years, the 'dying sport' myth remains exactly that, a myth. It does get boring when a sensible debate is marred by the less informed (that's putting it politely) with stupid comments about a sport they allege not to be remotely interested in. I would never condone trolling on a Union forum and frankly would see it as a waste of my time.

    Let me state for the record I am from the South Coast (but still chippy) and used to watch lots of Union. I still like the sport, but have been increasingly underwhelmed with it; the recent World Cup was the worst yet and I now only really look forward to Lions tours (another thing League disgracefully messed up!).


  • Comment number 62.


    The main reason behind the disbandment of GB was Sport England funding. The RFL couldn't gain access to that funding without the England national team playing regularly. The GB tours down under were lost as due to the movement of the playing season in the UK and the appetite of clubs to release their players (which is about 0!) for long periods both in the UK and down under, tours were sadly lost. The RFL actually wanted to tour Australia/New Zealand this October/November, either as GB or England, but were turned down by the NRL clubs refusal to release players (It doesn't help that the RLIF is run by club representatives from Australia). Hopefully the new commission in Australia, who have said international RL is one of their priorities, will look at changing this in the future.

  • Comment number 63.


    The attendances at the Championship clubs are similar to what they always have been when these clubs have been in the lower division. Go back through the Rothmans yearbooks etc and it will tell you the same thing. Realistically, only four of the current Championship sides (Featherstone, Leigh, Halifax and Sheffield) are potentially capable of promotion to SL at present and still actually don't meet the criteria. Oldham aren't even in the Championship; they currently play at a ground with a capacity of 1500 (the clubs own fault through selling their ground and mis-management by previous owners) and neither are Barrow.

    If you are interested about Featherstone's recent rise in turnover, go and ask the club. The new owner of the club is an excellent businessman and has brought much needed change and professionalism to the club, something others should follow.

    I am not against P&R, I'd love for it to return but with strict criteria but not at present as the clubs aren't capable of making the jump. The RFL's idea is for 14 x 3 professional/semi professional leagues at tier 1/2, with the National Conference at tier 3, and the Regional Leagues at tier 4. It will take time to develop. Gradually we are starting to see an improvement in the running of many clubs (Wakefield, Featherstone, Salford, Halifax etc) and some will eventually compete with the likes of Wigan and Leeds. Non-traditional areas are starting to produce players, especially in London and South Wales but it will take time. The problem with league fans is they are resistant to change, unrealistic and want everything now! There isn't the finance available to do everything now (like your 2 divisions of 10!). Some clubs will change, develop and strengthen and will be able to make the step up. Some sadly won't and could fall away. Some will want to stay at their current level as it's sustainable for them. In the end, the game will eventually become stronger and improve, but it will take time.

    #53 & 56

    Small diehard areas? The population demographic of where the current SL clubs are based is around 14 million people, not including the Languedoc/Rousillion in France were the Catalans are based. The population density of the Northwest is second only to London, with Yorkshire not far behind. It doesn't take into account the thousands of kids and adults playing the game all over the country. Viewing figures on Sky are very good (400'000 for the Saints vs Wigan game at Easter), secondly only to football in terms of team sports. When games are on the BBC, especially the internationals (sadly not enough!), viewing figures are usually excellent. This is why league fans have a gripe at the lack of media coverage in the press. However, this perception about the sport as you suggest (even if wrong) would be changed if the game was televised on terrestrial TV as you suggest. Internationals are a must on the BBC for me.


    The professional game isn't really struggling. Attendances at most SL clubs are increasing year-on-year (only London has fallen but that's because they are a poor side!). The Championship attendances are relatively stable, increasing at some clubs, falling at others. The Challenge Cup Final still attracts 80,000 people each year (doesn't completely sell out as Club Wembley seats aren't sold to the RFL - they are part of the Club Wembley deal) and the SL Grand Final is always a full house more or less. Even the international game is picking up with emerging nations countries playing all over the globe, especially in Europe, and the Aussies starting to take this more seriously at the behest of the RFL and their own new commission.

    Financially at an individual club level, some clubs are strong or stable (Wigan, Warrington, Leeds, St Helens, Hull, Catalans, Huddersfield), some are improving (Salford, Wakefield, Widness) and some are struggling (Bradford, Castleford, Hull KR and London). No different from other sports in this current day and age.

    There are plenty of issues within the game, which require attention but its far from struggling. It is moving in the right direction, but as I've highlighted earlier, it takes time and effort. It might not be as quick as some people might want and it might not be in the direction they want. But it's getting there.

  • Comment number 64.

    1. There is only one comparison I wish to make to another sport and that is Association Football. Association Football dominates media. It is every medium and reported as if there is virtually nothing else.
    RFL (and other sports) could do with more proactive reporting in the media; i.e. local newspapers and local television. But particularly RFL. A few times I can see the odd wicket, hit for 6, Rugby Union try on local television but very rarely a Rugby League highlight or even mention of a score. Even local newspapers are short on RL column inches.
    2. Rugby League is redeveloping itself nationwide. For those who are currently unaware, lookup Rugby League Conference and Rugby League Community where you will find many clubs nationwide being involved. So rather than state there is an issue, be patient and see how that development goes.
    3. It is more relevant to concentrate on the overall trend of attendances than individual attendances. Every sport has its low. Crowds in Rugby League are increasing,, on average.

  • Comment number 65.

    Wow what a good blog - just look at the responses. RL constantly has had to adapt to survive and now is no different. It is ironic the sport has never had as much money, been played by as many people, been this good and finally thrown grown away from the m62. To be honest I don't care, the sports doing fine...bring on the next crisis...we'll survive...just like the French RL did when the RU cosied up to the Vichy regime !

    Re RU top sport, its just not RL though...funny though how RU copies every move RL makes...too many to list here.....they've stopped promotion and relaxation now ! Have to admit I went to a sale sharks was sooooo poor even my RU mate said lets go just after half time...the biggest threat is if someone comes up with a hybrid game...And it gets a big tv contract...

    Bring back lions tours - every four years would do it. Promote teams and give them ones years grace....treat the challenge cup with renewed respect...somehow beat the convicts...and all would be well.....till the next crisis !

  • Comment number 66.

    Interesting comments from people. As a former rugby union player (and public schoolboy!) from the midlands, I grew up with Union. My only knowledge of League was the odd game being shown live on BBC in the early 80's. I didn't have Sky when it first started so knew nothing of Super League.

    Growing up south of Manchester meant I was never exposed to League. The term rugby down there means Union. So whilst the M62 corridor comment has attracted criticism, it is my experience of things too. League simply isn't known outside of its heartlands.

    I then moved to Lancs to Uni and stayed up in the North - including some real hotbeds of league. With Sky TV, I started to become more accustomed to hearing about League and eventually, started watching the NRL before Superleague.

    The point has been made above - but if Sky pulled the plug, League would go down the plughole with it. They do huge amounts to promote the game - Magic weekends, two/three live games a week, numerous side show programmes etc etc. Far more than Union. Yet, still, the gates are half empty. The Magic Weekends rarely sell out and - again as referenced above - RU attain a record crowd for a standard fixture (admittedly a London derby). The bands etc were there as entertainment for this huge crowd not, as someone thought, to perform a concert which RFU jumped onto. You've also only got to watch a few Sky games and notice some of the hyperbole that the commentators use - "superb" "best game in the land" etc etc. Great that they believe it but it smacks of desperation at times. I also recall Phil Clarke suggesting they should award a try once (it had gone to the TV ref) because they deserved it! There always seems to be desperation to out-score RU on the try front, to have twenty tries a game etc.

    Anyway - my point. Rugby league and rugby union are so far apart in terms of the actual game played, to call them both rugby is ludicrous. I've had so many arguments with Northern colleagues about this, that I started to actually look at the similarities between them. There are surprisingly few (I think just 2 - the posts and the 40 min half). The differences are huge - no of players, knock on rule, the pass, scrum, line out, kicks etc etc. In short - they should not be considered even cousins.

    To better league, I agree that the scrum (an absolute waste of time) should go and I too believe the 6 tackle rule should go. For union fans, this rule makes league far too predictable. Run, run, run, run (maybe kick), definitely kick, score or handover. I christened it (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) Northern Grid Iron. Because it bares more resemblance to grid iron than rugby union.

    No before you jump all over me - there are a million ways union could be bettered but this blog isn't about that.

    If League wants to survive, it needs to forget about trying to sweep the country in the short term - it simply will not happen. Focus on your strengths - which is the M62 corridor. Look at changing the rules to make it a better spectacle than it already is (I do enjoy it). But I’m afraid that shoe-horning teams into the top league from Wales, London or wherever is just so flawed it is untrue. If nothing else, it gives no hope to the real clubs/teams that both aspire and deserve to be there.

  • Comment number 67.

    Agree with the above, that league needs to sort its gameplay out in order to survive. Its just too predictable at the moment, 90% of the game is just two lines of huge skinheads running into each other. To the vast majority of the country it just looks like a rather dull watered down version of union with all the nuance and strategy removed (no wonder the Aussies like it). More scoring does not mean more excitement, otherwise we'd all be watching basketball.

  • Comment number 68.

    @66 My experience is slightly different. I grew up in the South in Reading with Union (still amateur at the time) playing scrum half for the school and watching the five nations, but was attracted to League through the Challenge Cup on BBC and clips of the NRL on an international sports show. The game just seemed faster, more positive and the skill levels were much higher. Of course professionalism has narrowed the gap to some extent but there are still far too many silly rules in Union left over from their amatuer days and too much of the game is wasted in resetting scrums and ping pong kick tennis. I agree with another poster that a great game of Union is better than a great game of League but it's much rarer and from my own experience the number of good games in League is far higher than in Union. What is undoubtedly true for both League and Union though is that the Southern Hemisphere provides a much better spectacle for both sets of fans.

    I disagree that the games are that different though. I've seen Union friends say League is just people running into each other but when a pick and drive happens in Union they don't seem to equate the two. Also I've got League friends say they hate mauls in Union, yet they will applaud a gang tackle in league that forces a player off the pitch. Union is becoming more like League rather than the other way around, but I still think League could adapt some of Unions rules (I like the kick going over the goalline being reset as a scrum from where the kicker kicks).

    The problem with removing the six tackle rule is that teams then aren't encouraged to go forward since keeping the ball becomes more important. We see this currently in Union with so many tight exciting matches killed as a spectacle by the winning team just keeping the ball in one ruck after another to eat up the clock. League used to have this problem and so brought in the six tackle rule which generally does pretty well I think at rotating possession with extra incentives to get another six with drop outs and 40-20 kicks which also cause the wingers to have to drop back giving more space out wide.

  • Comment number 69.

    I listened to the programme on 5Live and while I enjoyed it tremendously, I was irritated by the repeated question over whether any of the players would consider playing union. The BBC does appear to be determined to kick up that argument whenever it can. It happened on another BBC discussion programme last week. And once again a BBC reporter has quoted reference to rugby union in relation to a league item. It's boring, it's irrelevant and it's out of date. So I think the BBC should leave the matter alone unless they want to be perceived as being boring, irrelevant and out of date!

    As for the content of the article above, all that stood out to me from Wood's comments is his response to the two big issues the RFL is bombarded with: the marketing of the game and the international game. I wonder if the man has ever considered that the reason the RFL is bombarded by concerns over these issues is because the RFL is responsible for them both and both are consistently done poorly? The national coach is a coach who has never won a thing. He only succeeded in taking the Bradford Bulls further down the league during his time as coach there. What kind of criteria is that for a national coach? The RFL has chosen an administrator - and McNamara has proven himself a good administrator (getting systems in place) to coach its national side when what it should have done is appoint an administrator (McNamara) to organise the systems AND a coach, someone who has won stuff, to take the team forward. Only when we win a World Cup, or even a Four Nations comp for heaven's sake, will we be taken seriously as a sport. It will help, of course, when the ongoing expansion of the game at all levels gets to a point whereby the media will be hard pressed to ignore it but I think that is some years away yet (although at an amateur level, for example, Kent is the place to be for a natural, spontaneous increase in player numbers - or indeed Wales, at both ends, where there appears to have been a really surprising growth in interest).

    As for marketing the sport: the RFL has always been poor at marketing the sport. For instance, I think the upcoming Magic Weekend is the first they have actively marketed in the local area, which is ridiculous given the number of years that event has been running now. The RFL did try to ramp up interest in the Four Nations last year and having been to the Wembley double header there were a hell of a lot of southern English voices there (plus a good many foreign accents too) and that suggests that interest is growing as in my earlier visits to Wembley for rugby league hardly any southern voices could be heard around the concourses. However, I do appreciate that League is constrained by finance and clubs could certainly help (my own club, Saints, is extremely poor in this regard). However, the RFL has been able to find money to pay a rather large number of people in Red Hall plus fund a number of initiatives to do with equality and so I conclude that there is money available, it just hasn't been directed towards marketing the game. However, it needs to be.

  • Comment number 70.

    Mr Riley, can you educate people in a future blog about where the game is played in the UK please? Excellent piece on the BBC Breakfast show today about the increasing participation and spread of the game.

  • Comment number 71.

    That's a good idea, Mikey.


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