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Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Leeds chief Hetherington wants Premiership ring-fenced

Gary Hethertington
Hetherington is the chief executive of both Leeds Rhinos and Carnegie

Leeds Carnegie chief executive Gary Hetherington believes the Premiership has to be ring-fenced in order for the game to process at all levels.

Currently one club is relegated from the top-flight, replaced by the winners of the Championship play-offs.

"We believe that this is the way forward because it allows clubs to stabilise themselves," Hetherington told BBC Radio Leeds.

"However the powers-that-be have decided against that route."

Leeds are currently bottom of the Premiership and have yo-yoed between the top two divisions over the last decade.

However only Bristol and Exeter in the Championship have the infrastructure in place on and off the field to be allowed to be promoted to the top-flight, should they win the play-offs.

Despite the Championship now being made fully professional by the Rugby Football Union, most clubs in the second tier are still struggling, with London Welsh, Coventry and Birmingham & Solihull all going into administration this season.

Hetherington, who is also the chief executive of Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, believes the only way clubs at all levels can grow is by implementing a franchise system.

"I think rugby league has got it right. It's ring-fenced but for only three years and all other clubs can aspire to being able to enter the elite competition," explained Hetherington.

"Provided they can prove they have something to offer of value and they can be a better entity than another club already there.

"It would stop the yo-yo situation we are currently seeing and will allow clubs to make their business much more viable.

We are very proud of our history and now want to go to the next phase and become a consistant dominate force in the game, but we know we are some way off that

Gary Hetherington

"It would also give a much better planned route to the Premiership for other aspiring clubs.

"So we think that is a sensible way forward but the powers-that-be have decided against it alas.

"I think that second-tier of professional rugby is important and it's important those championship clubs themselves can develop a sustainable business.

"I think there is growing momentum for this idea and there is a nucleus of support in the Premiership for it.

"One of the problems we are finding in the Premiership now is the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poor.

"It means we are creating a number of clubs that are now almost immune from relegation but creating six or seven clubs that will be fighting against relegation almost every year.

"Rugby union is very different to football, it doesn't have that many clubs outside the Premiership that can come up to the top-flight and sustain themselves, unlike in Premier League football.

"So we need to be more selective, we need to be more strategic in the interest of all clubs, not just those at the bottom."

If Leeds can stay up this season Hetherington has negotiated with Premier Rugby Limited to be given an equal share of the money the umbrella organisation shares out to its top-flight clubs.

However if the West Yorkshire side were to be relegated once more, he admits they would have to once again bounce straight back or face an uncertain future.

Leeds Tykes lift the Powergen Cup
Leeds won the Powergen Cup in 2005

"The doomsday scenario is the club gets relegated from the Premiership and fails to come back and then it has an uncertain future, but that's not just for Leeds - that's for any club," he said.

"We have the added incentive this year that if we do stay up we then become an equal shareholder with all the other clubs. That will make a massive difference and make us contenders.

"We feel pretty badly done too that we've always had a ball and chain around our foot and we've not been playing on a level playing field and that's still the case today.

"But if we do stay up this year we would then have no excuses because we would then have the same share out as everyone else. If that becomes the case we'd like to think we'd be able to compete on equal terms with everyone else and really grow this club."

Sunday will see Leeds celebrate their 500th competitive game as their host London Wasps at Headingley.

Following the merger of Headingley and Roundhay, Leeds played their first match in their new form in 1992 against Newbury in National Three.

Eighteen years later the club has become the first dual-code rugby partnership with Leeds Rhinos under the umbrella of Leeds Rugby, won the Powergen Cup and played in the Heineken Cup.

"A lot of water has gone under the bridge and a lot of progress has been made. When you look at the number of clubs that have actually progressed in the professional era it's not that many," Hetherington continued.

1878 - Headingley FC formed
1924 - Roundhay RUFC formed
1992 - Clubs merge to form Leeds RUFC
1998 - Renamed as Leeds Tykes
2007 - Renamed as Leeds Carnegie

"A lot of the traditional giants of rugby union have disappeared but Leeds Carnegie, and before that Leeds Tykes and Leeds union club, have made terrific progress and now stand as really one of the 13 elite clubs in the county and we are proud to hold the flag for Yorkshire rugby union as well.

"We are very proud of our history and now want to go to the next phase and become a constant dominate force in the game, but we know we are some way off that.

"We have amongst the best facilities in the Premiership here at Headingley, excellent training facilities, the number one performing academy and have the benefit of being a duel code club, so we have a lot of advantages.

"The missing link is a constant successful Premiership team that can then start to attract bigger crowds and bigger corporate base so the business can become self-staining."

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