January 2023 Volume 13 Issue 1
Happy New Year and what a big one it will be for rugby league.
If the game doesn’t undertake significant change to futureproof itself now, it probably never will.
Post a World Cup generally acknowledged as top class, that broke down barriers and attracted new audiences, as we go into 2023 it feels like the sport is suffering something of a hangover, rather than dancing on into the night appreciating the fireworks created.
Most Super League clubs have continued to announce losses: two bright young talents – Kai Pearce Paul, product of London and South development, and Will Pryce, are off to the NRL, as is seasoned international John Bateman (again).
The internal appointments of Rhodri Jones as MD of big hope Rugby League Commercial and Tony Sutton as interim CEO of the RFL have not inspired confidence in a different direction of travel, whatever their abilities.
And, as revealed by now ex-top whistleblower James Child on an explosive page 11, these are also worrying times for the culture in the match officials department.
Clearly, aside from reiterating a commitment to making London a powerhouse without detail of how, welcomed by the club in principle, much onus is on IMG to repaint the landscape and they are the current source of most hope.
We have a detailed interview with Lewis Wiltshire, head of Seven League, their digital arm, about what the sport may look like in the future but, as yet, little detail on necessary structural changes, with additional updates on what grading may look like due imminently.
Some clubs, like Hull KR and others in the Championship, have already embraced that scenario but, with a new TV broadcast deal needing to be in place by the end of this season, the sand in the hourglass is rapidly draining away.
Off like a rocket: Hull KR walk out to a show ahead of their match against Wigan Warriors last February SWpix.com
Time for fireworks
What IMG’s image arm will look for are unexpected endorsements like that from NFL Super Bowl winner running back Reggie Bush, who found old footage of Iafeta Paleaaesina bumping off defenders and began a Twitter exchange with his 2.6m followers: “Now this sport is crazy! Lol! Running like that with no helmet is nuts!”
However, the global sporting outlet will also be wary that their window of opportunity to reposition the sport is shrinking, not least with news that rugby union in Asia – a huge untapped market for both codes – is to see a franchised competition from 2024.
Eight clubs are earmarked to compete in something called a ‘Grand League’, again limiting our potential rebrand. It’s anticipated that the likes of Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines could all take part.
Closer to home, as well as the progressive Robins on pages 24-25, other clubs have renewed their intentions. York, for example, have followed Leeds in announcing they intend to recompense their women who reached the Grand Final and won a first League Leaders’ Shield.
Chair Clint Goodchild told the local press: “The majority in our squad are under the age of 24. Our hope is that every girl can play out their careers subject to their bodies not their wallets. They don’t have to retire due to income, they can reach their potential as players if they can sustain their fitness.”
The club foundation has been given a grant of almost £14,000 by the CreatedBy RLWC2021 Capital Grants Programme to support its newly launched Wheelchair side too. It will go towards the purchase of ten chairs and other equipment following successful taster sessions at the University of York.
In Betfred League 1, Midlands Hurricanes have confirmed that a tenancy partnership is agreed with Birmingham Council to take the sport to the Commonwealth
New year, new hope? 16 Phil Caplan ponders IMG’s task
Tough Act to Follow 5 Trevor Baxter’s monthly profile
Five Drives & A Kick 7 London in spotlight, NFTs, ex-ref James Child speaks out and more The Reality Is... 13
Brian Noble MBE wonders how league is to build on RLWC2021 Louie the Lip 15
It’s Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook! Irvine’s Indigestion 20 Our man reports from America
Stand Up for League 21 Ian Boldsworth tips Saints again
Wakey, Wakey time? 22 Pete Smith on Mark Applegarth Robins shake it up 24 Hull KR take the future seriously African potential 26 Super League clubs get involved Match of the Month 28 Lézignan visit St Esteve in Elite 1
Café des Treizistes 30 ...while Mike Rylance talks Lyon On the Mic 31
Mark Wilson’s column returns
Priim and Proper 32 Danika’s view of women’s scene Championship view 34 Craig Lingard on a tight division League 1 Scene 36 Farewell West Wales Raiders
Footy20 40 George Clarke fancies the Tigers
Latham’s Loft 42 Rochdale’s pantomine season
League on TV 45 RSW finally enjoys BBC SPOTY
Any Other Business 50 Martin Kelner dons his kit
Wheels on Fire 38 Tom Halliwell joins Forty20