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RFL chief Richard Lewis upbeat on health of game

Richard Lewis
Richard Lewis was first appointed by the RFL as executive chairman in 2002

Rugby Football League chairman Richard Lewis believes that the sport is in good shape going into the new year despite such worrying economic times.

2011 will prove a key year for the string of clubs waiting on the latest issue of Super League licences.

And others are out simply to avoid the fate of Blackpool and Crusaders, alive again after going into administration.

"This year has been a tough one for many clubs, but we should be excited by what lies ahead in 2011," said Lewis.

"I am confident in the sport's ability to continue to perform strongly in what is proving to be a difficult economic climate."

Gates were down by 10 per cent at the league's showpiece Magic Weekend - now moved from Murrayfield in May to a a season-opening event back at the Millennium Stadium in February.

But the season's two biggest dates, the Challenge Cup Final in front of 85,217 at Wembley in August, and the 71,536 for the Grand Final at Old Trafford in October, were both played out in front of near full houses.

And, although the likes of Harlequins still average less than 3,500 for home Super League matches, the game has been given a notable boost on the attendance front by champions Wigan's return to prominence.

"That some clubs have continued to experience financial problems is a concern," added Lewis, "especially as we approach the next round of licensing.

"But, while there are challenges ahead, I feel sure we can continue to grow both as a sport and as businesses.

"The RFL remains committed to working closely with all clubs to help them realise their potential," added the 56-year-old former British Davis Cup tennis player.

"The TV contract we agreed with Sky Sports last year saw all the Super League clubs receive considerably enhanced distributions in 2010, whilst Co-operative Championship clubs again benefited from substantial disbursements from the governing body."

Attendances generally held up well in Super League too, despite the challenging economic climate

RFL chairman Richard Lewis

Three of those Championship clubs - Widnes, Halifax and Barrow - will be bidding to become Super League members in 2012.

But, while a decision on which of them gets the franchise is due in March, there are other issues to be decided.

The RFL is still to decide just how many teams will contest Super League XVII in 2012, meaning that there is still uncertainty over the number of relegation places.

And the loss of Championship One side Blackpool could mean a shake-up outside the Super League too.

"In full consultation with all Championship clubs, the RFL is currently conducting a review to establish the optimum structure to organise the sport at this level," added Lewis.

"It is clear that 2011 represents a golden opportunity for the sport to re-examine how it plans to move forward.

"We have an outstanding game played by fantastic athletes who this year played out some wonderfully memorable matches in all competitions.

"Who can forget Batley Bulldogs' thrilling victory in the Northern Rail Cup final or the wonderful fightback Halifax staged to defeat Featherstone Rovers to win the Co-operative Championship Grand Final?

"The capacity crowds at Wembley and Old Trafford for the Carnegie Challenge Cup Final and Engage Super League Grand Final saw two outstanding matches and the challenge now is for the sport to build on that momentum.

"Attendances generally held up well in Super League too, despite the challenging economic climate, although challenges still exist at some Championships clubs."

Two years away from staging the next World Cup over here in 2013, Lewis is equally upbeat on the state of the game at national level - following injury-hit England's failure to do themselves justice in the Four Nations in October.

Millennium Stadium
The 2011 Super League season is due to kick off in Cardiff on 12 February

"Much progress was made internationally in 2010," he said. "And, while England did not win the Four Nations, all the players who participated in that tournament gained valuable experience.

"And, with the successful launch of the England and Wales Rugby League World Cup at MediaCityUK, I am sure everyone will be looking forward with great excitement.

"The success of the England Academy, who defeated the Australian High Schools in their Test series earlier this month, offers hard proof of the hard work below senior level that continues to be undertaken by clubs across the country and bodes well for the national team's prospects.

"And we were delighted that England coach Steve McNamara was able to take up his position in a full-time capacity earlier this year.

"Steve is one of a number of key appointments made by the RFL this year and I believe the organisation and its board are now better equipped than ever before to take the sport forward.

"And our own figures show that, across the country, more people played rugby league in 2010 than ever before, a trend we are sure will continue," he concluded.

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see also
Trio meet Super League deadline
03 Dec 10 |  Rugby League
Wigan meet Saints on opening day
26 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
New company takes over Crusaders
24 Dec 10 |  North East Wales
Panthers omitted from 2011 season
11 Nov 10 |  Rugby League
St Helens 10-22 Wigan Warriors
02 Oct 10 |  My Club
Leeds 6-30 Warrington
28 Aug 10 |  Rugby League
Millennium Magic to start season
13 Aug 10 |  Rugby League
Super League club to lose licence
04 Aug 10 |  Rugby League
Has Magic Weekend lost its spell?
03 May 10 |  Rugby League
Quins 'important' to Super League
11 Feb 10 |  Harlequins
Crusaders & Salford win licences
22 Jul 08 |  Rugby League

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