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Page last updated at 20:47 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 21:47 UK

The lure of the licence system

By Paul Fletcher

Nineteen clubs met the end-of-March deadline for Super League licence applications.

It was no surprise that all 12 current members of the top flight were among them, but six National League one sides and French outfit Toulouse are also bidding to become part of this brave new world.

But will the introduction of the franchise system, which is designed to ensure the future prosperity of British rugby league, pay off?

BBC Sport spoke to current members of the engage Super League and several wannabes to find out what they thought.

GARY HETHERINGTON, LEEDS RHINOS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Leeds Rhinos are the current Super League champions and one of the most successful teams in the competition.

We are totally supportive of the licence system because we think it is for the good of the game.

There has always been a desire from Super League clubs to develop the best competition in the world.

Leeds Rhinos celebrate winning the 2007 Grand Final
Leeds are the reigning champions

I believe that we all have a vested interest in each club developing and improving its organisation.

You could say that at Leeds we don't have a lot to gain because we are unlikely to be threatened with relegation and we are virtually certain to get a three-year licence.

It is also inevitable that if the competition becomes stronger then our chances of winning games and trophies is reduced.

However, looking at the bigger picture, we all want to play in a vibrant competition and I think the licence system will be a real factor in raising standards.

Paul Fletcher blog

Super League clubs also recognise that it is part and parcel of their function to provide players for the national team.

There is a real passion for everyone connected with British rugby league to develop a successful international team.

However, the Rugby Football League needs to be mindful that the licence system is not just about the 12 or 14 clubs in Super League.

One club will have the opportunity to come back into the competition after the first three-year period, so it is not entirely a closed shop.

RICHARD WRIGHT, CASTLEFORD TIGERS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Castleford Tigers are back in Super League for 2008 following promotion from National League One.

Castleford have been involved in relegation and promotion for the last four years, so we have very good first-hand knowledge of how destabilising it is.

It is a bit of a rollercoaster and difficult to get off. When you are relegated there is a big impact on finances and it very difficult to plan for the long-term future of the club.

I am hopeful that an awful lot of hard work will be recognised and that we will be granted a licence

Richard Wright

Relegation is a massive obstacle. It is hard enough to grow your business in the first place.

Some people might not know this but in each of the last two years, clubs have been invited to apply for a licence.

Most clubs have sent an application to the RFL, who have evaluated them and given feedback.

I have got to compliment the RFL for having these dummy runs. At Castleford we have learnt a lot through that process.

We are moving to a new ground at the back end of 2009. Hopefully we will get a licence on the back of that.

A crowd of more than 10,000 every week in our new stadium - and the revenues that go with that - will help us to have a bright future at the very highest level.

Andrew Henderson walks off the field after Castleford's relegation from Super League in 2006
Castleford know the financial as well as emotion pain of relegation

I am hopeful that an awful lot of hard work will be recognised and that we will be granted a licence.

At the moment I expect that we will be granted a category C licence, but after the first three years we would like to move to a category B or A.

If we can keep the salary cap at 1.8m and the clubs in Super League are able to generate the revenue to spend, then the competition will become a lot more equal.

You won't be able to predict outcomes on any given weekend - and that can only be great the intensity of the game and, in turn, for the international game.

Hopefully that will result in some series wins over the Australians.

DAVID TARRY, SALFORD CITY REDS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Salford City Reds were relegated from Super League last season. They are planning to move into a new purpose-built stadium in 2010.

It would be a travesty if we kicked off in the new stadium playing in the National League.

We will be in the new ground for the 2010 season and it will give us a phenomenal profile.

An artist's impression of the City of Salford Stadium
Salford's new stadium is a key plank of their application

The total cost of the stadium build, taking into account hotels and all the other factors, is in excess of 135m. The cost of the 20,000-seater stadium itself is 35m.

The new ground is going to shift us from being a small city club marketed to a Salford audience to one that becomes a regional team for the Greater Manchester area.

It is probably the first purpose-built rugby league stadium constructed in decades, so it puts us in a slightly different position to most clubs applying for a licence.

We hope the stadium will host major semi-finals, internationals and we think it needs a Super League team in there.

For these reasons I think it would be unthinkable for Salford City Reds - and also for the game - if we did not get a licence.

However, that is not to say that it is responsibility of the game to get us there. It is not, it is our task to make sure we get a licence.

We will put an application together that we think will achieve that aim - but if this club failed to secure one it would lose a great deal.

The licence system will take away the pressure to have to perform immediately

David Tarry

The days of a chairman putting a few bob into a club to keep it going are far gone.

In the modern game you tend to find a number of clubs at the bottom of Super League fighting relegation and several towards the top of the division below chasing promotion.

What each of those businesses is doing in the main is over-eating: paying players too much in the hope of avoiding relegation or winning promotion.

If each of those clubs spends an extra 100,000, then it adds up to a sizeable chunk. The licence system will take away the pressure to have to perform immediately.

DAVID THOMPSON, CELTIC CRUSADERS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Celtic Crusaders, based in Bridgend, are in their third season as a club and play in National League One.

Welsh rugby league can only take the steps it needs to if it has a club playing in Super League.

We think we have the facilities and personnel - in addition to the location - to really develop the game in a way that isn't necessarily possible without a professional club in Wales.

With a licence we would expect to make major strides with the development of youth

David Thompson

One of the benefits of where we are is that we are able to work exclusively with Wales Rugby League. Everything we do is hand in hand with them.

We believe that we are just on the starting line and that the serious work will start if we do get a licence.

With a licence we would expect to make major strides with the development of youth. We will be spending money to make sure our player pathways are world class.

Rather than having just one scholarship we are setting up seven home-grown squads through Wales that will look after kids from the age of 12 to 15.

The 24 kids in each area will be looked after by an area co-ordinator and a youth development manager.

From those squads we will identify the best and bring them into an elite home-grown squad.

Brewery Field
Britain's top sides could be making regular trips to Brewery Field

We want to get children throwing a rugby ball around - whether or not they go on to play league or union is not a major concern.

We see the two sports working hand in hand. The club has strong support. Jonathan Davies is our president, Shaun Edwards has spoken about us in the press and the Welsh Assembly provided a letter of endorsement for our application.

Everyone at the club is very committed and enjoys what they do.

When the club started we set ourselves very high targets and we are pleased with what we have done, but it will count for very little if we do not get to Super League.

STEPHEN O'CONNOR, WIDNES VIKINGS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Widnes Vikings, defeated in the last two National League One Grand Final's, went into administration last October prior to Stephen O'Connor's involvement with the club.

The licence system will bring about a stability and robustness.

The club falling into administration last year was an embarrassment for the town.

Widnes celebrate winning the Challenge Cup in 1937
Widnes have a very proud history

I think that what happened to the club was a little heart attack that told us we have to change the way we live.

I do sense that after Widnes went into administration it was the one time you could come along and change it.

All the infrastructure was in place and there are no questions about the club's heritage, but it perhaps lacked direction and cohesion in the past.

The club, which is now owned 85% by myself and 15% by the local borough council, needed a whole management structure putting in place and a proper business plan.

The five clubs that fail with their applications will be devastated

Stephen O'Connor

When I came to the club in November I had a series of meetings with the RFL, who made it clear how it felt clubs with aspirations of playing in the competition should deliver their application.

On the basis of that criteria, we are very hopeful that Widnes will be one of the best 14 applications.

I see no reason why Widnes should not achieve a B status licence, but the five clubs that fail with their applications will be devastated.

If one of those is Widnes we will have to reflect on the reasons why we were not successful and build towards a new application, but we are hopeful that what we have done will see us in the top 14.

The interviewees were talking to Paul Fletcher.



see also
The licence system explained
17 Jul 08 |  My Club
Widnes deserve franchise - Paul
08 Jul 08 |  Rugby League
Salford coach targets franchise
07 Jul 08 |  Rugby League
Nineteen target Super League spot
02 Apr 08 |  Rugby League
No guarantee over expansion - RFL
05 Feb 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby league's Welsh crusade
02 May 07 |  Rugby League
Toulouse eye Super League talks
28 Jun 07 |  Rugby League


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