Chance to change
Phil Clarke discusses the changes that fans are calling for to secure the future of rugby league.
Last Updated: 16/04/13 5:11pm
It appears as though it's not just me who is concerned by the state of the game at present.
Opinion polls across a variety of sites on the internet indicate a desire for change. The column that I wrote last week about the state of Super League has provoked much debate and a range of topics are cited as the cause of the problems.
Some blame the recession; a few cite poor leadership, others the salary cap, whilst the removal of promotion and relegation on an annual basis is viewed by the vast majority to be the biggest problem.
I shared a train journey with Jon Wilkin last year when his team, St Helens, were going through a bad patch. He reminded me of the old saying that "You're never as bad as you think you are, nor as good as you might want to believe, when you're winning games and top of the table". Well, to a certain extent the game is going through a bad run. We can turn it around but like any rugby team, there might have to be some changes and there's definitely going to be some hard work.
It's impossible for me to comment with much detail without knowledge of the recent history or facts. I'm not aware of the income that rugby league has had over the last five years, or how it's spent that money.
I can't see how the salary cap has been a problem. The owner of Salford has the opportunity to spend as much as the other teams in Super League and it will be an exciting time for the Reds supporters now that they've appointed a coach and are working their way up from the bottom.
Over the last five years the salary cap increases have basically kept pace with inflation. The game has introduced such things like long service allowance (for players who have spent such a period of time at the same club), club trained allowance (designed to encourage players to develop their own talent) and an elite training squad incentive (to reward clubs who have played in the England squad) but they've never forced clubs to overspend nor prevented them from spending the same as the big clubs.
We have reached a situation where the Top 30 players in a club can be paid £1.925m per year.
If the salary cap was brought in to prevent clubs from over spending and to evenly spread the talent of players it doesn't seem to be working. It would be interesting to hear why it hasn't. There have been several clubs who have spent as much as Warrington, Leeds, Wigan and St Helens and haven't made a Grand Final.
The license system is one which I agree with in principle. It makes sense but it hasn't worked. Why not is the question we all want to know? Bringing back promotion and relegation won't fix the problems. I suppose that you could say that you should only have a license system if the central body has some power. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case. An absence of promotion/relegation hasn't stopped the NRL from growing in popularity, nor has it held the NFL back for the last 30 years.
Player development is another important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our sport. The self-inflicted wound of dual registration is an example of this point. The Director of Performance and Coaching at the RFL recommended one plan which was rejected by the clubs and we now find ourselves scrambling around in damage limitation. It's hard for the game to go forwards with backwards moves like this.
I am intelligent enough to know that it's not just about the top level of the game. We had a period during which the sport received significant funding from Sport England to increase participation. All of that has now changed and it would be very interesting to see just how effective we were at growing the game. This year offers us the chance to attract some new followers when the World Cup takes place in England and Wales. Let's hope there is a plan in place to capitalise on the opportunity. If we stand still for the next decade we might be overtaken by others who we'll never catch.
As I said earlier, your glass can be half empty or half full whichever way you look at it. Whichever view you take, we need someone to start filling the rugby league one up soon.