The Rugby Football League’s Karen Moorhouse was at the unveiling of the brand new LNER York Community Stadium on Friday, where she faced the media on issues such as Leigh’s elevation to Super League, the future of clubs such as York and whether a licencing process could return to rugby league in the years ahead. Here is what Moorhouse said.
On the six clubs who applied for Super League in 2021
“I was really blown away by the quality of the applications, particularly given the clubs had such a limited amount of time to put them together. We’ve had such a tough year due to everything to do with Covid, and having read through the six applications, I actually felt really positive about the sport and how much momentum and great work there is out there.
“A lot of clubs have fed back that it was actually a really useful process for them to go: through even the ones weren’t successful; they had an opportunity just to pause, reflect and reposition and then go again off the back of Covid. I feel massively positive about the Championship and the clubs in there.”
Where do York – many peoples’ favourite for the spot – need to improve?
“I think it’s just that momentum. They have grown so much in the last couple of years, but they were in League 1 only a couple of years ago and so, actually to be competitive on the field of play in Super League, they have just probably got a little more growth to go.
“But with everything else, they are heading in the right direction and now with the opening of this stadium, hopefully, that will mean their attendances grow and the momentum behind that, and their commercial profile, will continue to grow.”
On whether Leigh represents a ‘backwards step’ for the sport..
“In essence, looking at the criteria and bearing in mind that Super League starts in less than three months, we needed a club that could add to that competition, be competitive on the field of play and therefore help us to continue to grow Super League as well.
“The process was holistic in that we looked at all the different criteria, but certainly their squad was one of their key strengths – that bit about being ready to play in less than three months in Super League is important. But it was part of it all; the stadium, the commercial, the fanbase and what they deliver in where we are trying to go as a sport.”
“They have good attendances, decent momentum behind them, lots of support locally and are linking it to the World Cup; the World Cup is all about celebrating the north and being really proud of that. Leigh are such an important part of that.”
After the success of the process, could the sport explore a return to licencing?
“I think we obviously had licencing a number of years ago, but it is so instilled in the British psyche that you should get promotion or relegation based on how you perform on the field rather than it being a bunch of people in suits or people in an office – and I think that’s right. I think that’s why we turn up to watch sport: to see that drama and know that results are meaningful and they are what counts.
“I can’t see us moving back to formal licencing where it’s all determined by that, but I’d be really supportive of funding being more determined by what’s happening off the field of play: as I think that’s what drives behaviours.”