What next in rugby league’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect structure?

first_imgShare on Messenger “We just won’t listen to it! We said that to the boys straight after: don’t get carried away. We’re only four games in. Four good wins, but we’re not getting excited. I’ve known what these players can do since the start of pre-season so I’m not surprised. Our expectation is to be competing at the top. We know our capabilities, but there’s a long way to go.”All this with a team that has already featured nine Academy products, teenage prop Rob Butler coming on for his debut on Sunday. (In years to come I may recognise him when he squeezes into his car next to mine after the game to drive his family home to Medway.) With seven others in Super League this year and another half dozen at other Championship clubs, no other area outside the traditional Three Counties is providing so many pro players.“That says a good deal about the club and how we’re viewing our development here,” says Ward, who has coached in the Academy since retiring from playing. “We want to give London kids a chance and build a club around them. They’re turning into men now and the next wave is coming through. When you add some quality from up north and overseas, we’ve got a good mix.”Foreign quotaIt has been easy to get carried away with the success of Toronto Wolfpack and for Sunday’s humbling in Ealing to be a shock. However, assess their squad and it is fair to say that on paper they are merely a top Championship team, not Super League superstars. Only Joe Westerman – anonymous on Sunday – could be described as a top flight player in mid-career, but the experience of former NRL stalwarts Josh McCrone and Ashton Sims and a dozen players used to the upper echelons of the second divisions should still see them challenge for promotion.“While others put us on a pedestal, we don’t,” insisted a stunned coach Paul Rowley. “So I don’t think that has dented anyone’s egos as such, but it’s certainly dented some pride, and so it should. We were horrendous. We got what we deserved.”Rowley admitted he couldn’t believe they were still in it at half-time, the 21-12 score-line “not reflecting the game”. It was a sink or swim moment and the Wolfpack drowned, dismally. Rowley called it a “performance which let ourselves down” in which London “exposed some frailties”. This is another test of Coach Rowley and his illustrious squad who have had a rude welcome to the Championship so far. Goal-line drop-outThis talent transfer takes some beating: former Hemel Stags full-back Jerry Rice (no, not the NFL legend) put in a hugely impressive performance in the Skeleton at the Winter Olympics. In the final, the 27-year-old from High Wycombe – who played for Hemel in the RL Conference before getting a taste for bobsleigh on the Cresta Run a mere five years ago – improved his time in all four runs down the icy death shoot, finishing with a personal best that secured him tenth overall. Despite no rugby league being played there, the working class Buckinghamshire town of Wycombe was home to two current pros: Sheffield’s Scotland internationalist Oscar Thomas and Leigh firebrand Jamie Acton.Fifth and last Spending last week in Devon’s idyllic South Hams, I felt rather distanced from rugby league. But the 2021 World Cup could be coming to the far south-west. A major player in the Stadium for Cornwall project is former Melbourne Storm CEO and shareholder Mark Evans. Primarily the stadium will be the desperately needed new home for Cornish Pirates – currently mid-table in union’s Championship – and Truro City, the county’s biggest football club, of Conference South. But it will also bid for prestige occasions knowing that sports fans in Cornwall and Devon will trek miles in their thousands to watch any elite sport that makes the effort to get down to their fabulous far corner.And finallyThis the 100th No Helmets blog – four years, almost to the day, since the first – so thank you for your support. Here’s to the next ton!Follow No Helmets Required on Twitter and Facebook Guardian Sport Network Rugby league This unpublished report suggested a brave rethink that would see a top flight of the 10 biggest and best-run clubs, and a 16-team second tier comprising of six strong standalone clubs and 10 feeder clubs. Every club outside SL1 would have the option of becoming what our American friends call “affiliates” in a “farm system” or remaining independent. So those who miss the cut for the top 10 could retain their independence, as would ambitious Championship clubs. Smaller clubs with no desire to be in the top flight – such as Batley, Dewsbury, Rochdale, perhaps – would partner one of the 10 Super League clubs, as NRL clubs do in the NSW Cup.The report also proposed strategic player development and commercial alliances. Wigan could become responsible for London; Leeds would partner with York, the major untapped RL boom town to dominate North Yorkshire (over 4,000 saw their League 1 opener against with Bradford); and St Helens may be asked to work their development magic in Cumbria. Only standalone clubs would be able to get promoted, with Super League licenses and partnerships reappraised every three years.There are merits to this plan. However, as with the 10+10 system, the major problem is what to do with the clubs locked out of the party. The lack of a pathway to the top would sound a death-knell for some of them. While many of League One’s expansion clubs would be better off back in the strong amateur Conference competition, even without New York and Boston in the top 20, there could be some major historic names cut adrift. Frightening times.Clubcall: London BroncosThis winter London Broncos lost their successful head coach, appointed a rookie coach, said goodbye to their star half-back, cut their playing budget and only signed a couple of low-profile players. Most pundits predicted they would be fighting to avoid a relegation battle. Yet after four weeks of the season they are top of the Championship with a 100% record, following a surprisingly handsome 47-16 thrashing of Toronto Wolfpack on Sunday. Head coach Danny Ward claims the Broncos will just ignore the hype heading their way. Share on LinkedIn Super League XXIII (2018) Krisnan Inu inspires Widnes to inflict first defeat of season on Leeds … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Topics Share via Email London Broncos Support The Guardian Since you’re here…center_img The Recap: sign up for the best of the Guardian’s sport coverage Super League Leeds Rhinos features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Read more Share on Pinterest Read more Share on WhatsApp Rugby League’s obsessive belief that changing how many teams are in each division is the root to solving its problems refuses to go away. In his recent rather misguided rant to esteemed league writer Steve Mascord about “piss-poor journalists”, Leeds Rhinos chairman Gary Hetherington dismissed the talk of Super League returning to the 14 clubs it had three years ago, saying nothing like that was being debated. Ironically, given his criticism of the media resorting to speculating on such matters, he added no meat to the bones.It was believed that clubs were at loggerheads over plans for a Super League comprising of two 10-team divisions. However, they may also be considering restructuring proposals put forward in an independent report from a highly experienced and world-renowned sports administrator commissioned last year by then RFL chief commercial officer Roger Draper. Reuse this contentlast_img

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