THE first round of the consultation process on the RFL’s Policy Review has been completed this week, with RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood providing updates at meetings of the Super League and Championships clubs and the Community Board.
The RFL is taking a ‘whole game’ approach to the Policy Review which will conclude with the implementation of a long-term strategic plan that ensures the growth and good health of Rugby League at all levels.
The Policy Review includes a number of options for league structures, with the aim of delivering the most compelling and sustainable competition framework for the whole sport. They include innovative new thinking about how to approach the restoration of promotion and relegation, within a framework of minimum facility and financial sustainability standards.
Wood said: “It was really important that we consulted directly with all parts of the game first as part of the Policy Review process. The interest already shown in these ideas has been very encouraging and I believe these new proposals will produce positive change and innovation across the whole sport.
“I do believe that we need to create a pathway into Super League but it is essential that we are mindful of the challenges that a straight re-introduction of promotion and relegation between part-time and full-time leagues would create.
“Whilst there is a recognition that the time is right for change, we fully understand the need to avoid destabilising the excellent progress that has been made in recent years.
“Consequently, addressing sustainable opportunities for clubs to progress has been at the forefront of our thinking and the reason why we have included a bold new approach to league structures within the Policy Review.
“There are a number of key principles that underpin the Policy Review and these include the ‘whole sport’ approach to the process; a proportional distribution of income across the sport; the continued geographic expansion of the game; a fresh approach to the talent development system; and a lighter touch regulatory environment, while maintaining minimum facility and financial sustainability standards.
“Inevitably much of the focus will centre around league structures but there will also be important initiatives in the areas of player production and community Rugby League. There is also a clear intention to have a more open sport with increased freedom of movement for players and clubs across all levels.
“I think it is important to find the best possible contests taking place at all levels which will both assist the development and retention of talent at club level and benefit our international competitiveness.
“We cannot, and should not seek to engineer outcomes other than to provide an environment that allows well-run clubs the best chance of flourishing.”
In drawing up the proposals, Wood and the RFL Executive have gained additional insight from commissioned research by sports industry financial experts KPMG, who have assessed the likely impact of how different league structure models operate across a range of sporting environments.
The RFL will now undertake further consultation, which will see the game as a whole debating the options and agreeing the way forward.
Wood added: “The process so far has been very encouraging and the positive approach being taken is a demonstration of how Rugby League has always looked to innovate and develop throughout its history. I look forward to further detailed discussions with people across the game as we finalise our proposals in the weeks ahead.”
The consultation process is expected to continue throughout the summer with any recommendations being voted upon later in the year. Any changes to league structure or licensing can only be implemented after the 2014 season following the expiry of the current licence terms.
The RFL had always promised to review the licensing system after two terms.
The Policy Review delivers on this commitment as part of a wider look across RFL policies on competition structures and game integration, Super League licensing and promotion/relegation, club sustainability and the appropriate level of RFL support for clubs, youth development and player production systems and Expansion of the sport and the RFL’s responsibility for European development.
The proposals put before the meetings of Super League and Championships clubs and the Community Board include a series of options for competition structure from the 2015 season onwards as follows:
Option 1: Super League reverts to a 12-team competition and a 10- or 12-team Championship with one club promoted/relegated between the two divisions each year;
Option 2: A two-division Super League with each division comprising 10 teams;
Option 3: A 12-team Tier One competition and 12-team Tier Two competition that splits into three groups of eight in mid-season.
Option 3 would see the 12 teams in each tier play each other once (11 fixtures – comprising 5 home matches per club plus a Magic round) before splitting: the first eight-team division would comprise the top eight clubs from Tier One; the second eight would be drawn from the bottom four in Tier One and the top four in Tier Two; and the third eight from the bottom eight in Tier Two. The clubs in each group would play each other home and away (14 fixtures).
Each of the three groups would conclude with a play-offs and climax in a Grand Final/play-off final with final standings at the end of the regular season determining the make-up of Tiers One and Two the following season