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Page last updated at 20:24 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 21:24 UK

The licence system explained

By Paul Fletcher

The game of rugby league in Great Britain is about to undergo a revolution - or at the very least a major evolution.

The introduction of the licence system in 2009 will result in Super League expanding from 12 to 14 clubs.

The lucky ones who earn a place at the top table will then be protected against relegation for three years as part of a radical restructuring of the game.

Here, BBC Sport explains the reasons for change and what impact it will have on the game of rugby league in Britain.


It will be a contractual relationship between the league and each successful club, with the licence document setting out the terms of membership.

There will be three different types of licence - category A, B and C - reflecting the relative strengths of the application, although all three types will ensure the club can play in the expanded Super League.

Paul Fletcher blog

The category awarded to each club will be determined by an assessment of their licence application.

There are 10 individual criterion on which the applications will be assessed.

These, says Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood, will be split into four traditional areas and two others.

They are as follows:

Football activity

First-team success (top eight finishes in each of the last three years);

And development of juniors (number of scholarships, performance of Under-21 and Academy teams over the last three years).

Financial performance

Turnover (at least 4m per annum);

And solvency.


The capacity of the stadium (more than 12,000);

And its quality (meeting the standard of a premier sporting competition according to a strictly defined criteria).


The size of the average crowd (at least 10,000 or more);

And how the average crowd is measured against stadium capacity (fills at least 40% of capacity).

Rulebook criteria

Whether the existing rules and regulations have been adhered to by a club.

Geographical criteria

Clubs more than 20 miles from any other Super League club will be awarded a point.

Clubs that achieve a pass mark in eight or more of the 10 criteria will receive a Grade A licence.

Those scoring between five and seven will be awarded a Grade B licence while clubs with four or less points will get a Grade C licence.

"Effectively the league will comprise clubs that are performing very well, clubs that are performing well but need to do more, and clubs that absolutely need to do more," said Wood.


Nineteen clubs submitted an application for a licence by the time the deadline closed at the end of March.

In order to apply for a Super League licence for 2009, clubs had to be playing in either Super League or National League One during the 2008 season.

However, there was an exception. Clubs playing outside the RFL pyramid were also allowed to apply. That enabled French side Toulouse Olympique to submit a bid for inclusion.

Ian Kirke and Ryan Bailey of the Leeds Rhinos tackle St Helens' winger Ade Gardener
The Rugby Football League wants a tough and intense competition

All 12 current Super League clubs submitted an application, as did National League one sides Celtic Crusaders, Featherstone Rovers, Halifax RLFC, Leigh Centurions, Salford City Reds and Widnes Vikings.

The RFL is now assessing the applications according to the criteria listed above.

One of the key points here is that the criteria are individually and objectively assessed.

"Various professionals do the evaluating on their specific criteria," said Wood. "Football staff will evaluate football staff, marketing people the marketing, and so on.

"We need to be clear - most of what the process is about is an objective assessment. As far as possible it is factually and not opinion-based."

Wood recognises that bids submitted from clubs outside Super League may force the RFL to "flex the assessment criteria".

An announcement of the successful applications will be made at 1000 BST on 22 July.


The ultimate aim is to strengthen the competition. This, it is hoped, will in turn produce more players able to compete successfully at international level.

"The thinking is that if we have a more intense competition we will produce battle-hardened footballers," said Wood.

"All of our initiatives and strategies over the last three or four years have been about building strong competitions."

There will be a convergence of standards so that the competition is stronger overall

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood

The game's governing body believes that the gap between the top and bottom clubs in Super League has decreased but wants this to close even further.

"That is absolutely the philosophy that we are trying to cultivate and embrace," added Wood.

"Hopefully there will be a convergence of playing standards so that the competition is stronger overall."

The theory is that by protecting clubs against relegation they will choose to invest in developing their infrastructure.

"The aim is that clubs direct some of their resources into medium-term development rather than the short-term panic of trying to hire a player, invariably from overseas, who will make the difference against relegation but leave without any long-term legacy," said Wood.

Ideally the RFL wants to see those resources diverted into areas such as "junior development, club infrastructure and stadium facilities".


Wood is keen to stress that there are no guarantees all 12 teams in Super League this season will be granted a licence.

"There is a process in play. There will be a fair and legitimate scrutiny of the applications," he said.

"The whole point is that the competition in 2009 is up for grabs. There are no guarantees."

And the absence of relegation does not mean that clubs with a licence are assured of remaining in Super League for the full three years of their agreement.

This is no jobs-for-life scenario for the clubs

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood

"This is not a closed shop," said Wood. "There must always be a way of getting in and a way of removing under-performing clubs.

"What we are really arguing is that removal should be based on something other than the bounce of a ball in one particular game.

"It should be based on a sensible assessment of whether they are of value to the competition or whether there is a more deserving club to be in it.

"This is no jobs-for-life scenario for the clubs - it is about continuous improvement and quality control.

"We hope to capture all of the advantages of a closed competition like the NRL without the disadvantages of having perennial under-performers that sometimes you get in a closed competition."

And at the end of the three-year period, Wood says he expects further changes.

"The best performing National League club will be guaranteed admission to Super League, either at the expense of the worst performing club or by expanding the competition," he said.

see also
The lure of the licence system
17 Jul 08 |  Rugby League
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
Toulouse eye Super League talks
28 Jun 07 |  Rugby League
Crusaders tipped for Super League
27 Sep 07 |  Rugby League

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