A Game of Origin


The Wigan v Warrington Grand Final approaches, as does the World Cup, Sam Tomkins transferred for a record fee to the NRL, still unable to find a sponsor for the Super League leaving clubs struggling financially and a player in Australia accused of biting an opponents penis! Rugby League is hitting the headlines for both the right and wrong reasons at the moment giving the impression, to those of us outside the game, that Rugby League in Europe is reaching a cross roads.


One road of it involves the talks about the best way to restructure the professional end of the game. Two different proposals one involving promotion up and down the other proposal involves a degree in particle physics coupled with a masters in applied mathematics involving two leagues of 12 splitting into 3 leagues of 8 with promotion and relegation based upon finishing positions in the 2nd part of the season. This is a similar model proposed in Scottish football (where they also have a split in the season and doesn’t add anything to the league) and is also unnecessarily complicated. Personally i see nothing wrong with promotion and relegation from a two league system if the RFL wish to make more matches meaningful.


Rugby League has always been a bit innovative, some good some bad, for example i don’t think the play off semi final choice has brought much to the game. So if the RFL want to go a bit left field why not have 16 pro teams split into two conferences of 8 based in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Play the teams in your own conference home and away and all 8 teams in the other conference home or away each season. This would see a 22 fixture list season with 11 home games and the top 4 in each conference going into the play offs with the bottom team in each conference playing a relegation play off. It would also increase the amount of local rivalry and reduce traveling costs for clubs and fans. One way to add additional income might be then having a revival of the Roses series between the two conferences, effectively a Lancashire v Yorkshire 3 match series. I think the idea of a revival of the County of Origin series might add something new to the game that can be fresh but not unnecessarily radical and act as international trials too.


Another road leads to potential expansion out of the games traditional areas. After a seemingly successful expansion into France maybe the time has come to revisit what went wrong in Wales. Welsh Rugby League is an odd one, for many the surprise wasn’t that the Northern Union split it was that the Welsh didn’t come with them. Why does the game continue to struggle to break into Wales? Perhaps its a location thing, continually the game has gone to South Wales which is already blocked out with Cricket, Union and now Premier League football, also geographically it is a fair old trek for traveling fans. My answer for a Super League outfit would be to relaunch in North Wales, base at Wrexham thus allowing for significant numbers of away fans and hopefully increased match day revenues. Now would be the time if the World Cup is a commercial success.


The perception of international rugby in the League game has always been one of a narrow base, hopefully the forthcoming World Cup will help to promote the game internationally where currently there are 45 teams playing the game. Better that than being seen as a mad race to see who out of England and New Zealand will play Australia in the final. For the game to thrive at club level there needs to be a consistent standard of regular international rugby rather than the seemingly random and arbitrary nature of international tournaments and fixtures. Pick a date for the World Cup, keep it in a single country, get a format and stick to it, this will help create the traditions that are necessary for competitions to thrive. Perhaps take a leaf out of the Rugby Union book and in between World Cups have Great Britain touring the Southern hemisphere and a regular 5/6 nations tournament in the Northern Hemisphere. In between Great Britain touring and World Cups leave two free years when New Zealnd and Australia could tour up North. Instead of 3 tests against one country maybe play all the 5 nations and perhaps the origin teams or the Super League champions.


As a Union fan some may think what business does he have writing about our game, gone are the days of the bitter split i hope and many may welcome fresh look fro outside the game. As a kid i watched League take almost an entire team from Wales and now a similar thing is happening as the best Super League has to offer are being cherry picked by the RFU and the NRL. Personally i think both codes have something to offer each other and it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore this potentiality. To me rugby is rugby and i enjoy both codes, i watch predominately Union but also will watch the Super League play offs and the Challenge Cup and have something of a soft spot for Warrington. As a sport that continually seeks new innovations sometimes it might be an idea to take a step back and be wary of changing for the sake of changing. The Challenge Cup is what it is because it has been allowed to gather its traditions now might be the time to create a permanent structure and allow the rolling stone to gather the moss of traditions.

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