Elstone: A great season
Leaping innocently from the secure world of chartered accountancy into sports administration more than 20 years ago, the one piece of advice given to me that has resonated more than anything else is: ‘son, you’re in the business of selling dreams.’
The 2019 Betfred Super League has vividly underlined that simple philosophy. From a nail-biting season-opener at KCOM Craven Park, to the unprecedented jeopardy ended by the final hooter at three stadiums in Round 29, to the unbridled joy of the army of Salford Red Devils’ fans at the DW Stadium a week last Friday: this season, the dreams of almost every Super League fan have endured and burned brightly.
At the Super League Awards last Sunday, I thanked the players and coaches for what some commentators and fans believe to have been the best ever Super League season. Maybe it’s the accountant in me but I’m always nervous of hype and over-use of terms such as ‘best ever’ - but I think it’s indisputable that the 2019 season is up there challenging.
In years to come, the story of this season may well be told in three chapters: the remarkable resilience of London Broncos, the unheralded fairy tale of Salford, and the dominance of St Helens.
It’s probably not a bad guess to say that the Broncos were probably the hottest ever favourites for relegation. I can only imagine the dressing room delight of proving everybody wrong, week-in, week-out. They were magnificent and finished only five wins short of a play-off place. A dream that took us to the very last page of the book and why, on the final weekend of Super League, none of us knew where to look.
The second favourites for relegation have confounded the experts and captured our hearts. As the season progressed, belief began to grow. You could almost touch it. Firstly, very clearly on the pitch, and then on the terraces. The most incredible dream, one that will transcend sport, is within touching distance.
At last week’s awards night, we opened up to the fans, lightened the mood and relaxed the dress code. However, the one thing that has stuck with me since, amongst some great individual appearances, was the professionalism of St Helens. Their coach and players spoke eloquently and looked and sounded like they meant business - a microcosm of a mindset that has entertained, dominated and raised the bar for every rival.
The anticipation ahead of tonight’s game has been palpable. I can’t wait to find out which dream will come true. Will the 2019 St Helens team be remembered as one of the best ever, or will the Salford fairy tale have the perfect, happy ending?
Thank you to all our partners, in particular to Sky Sports and Betfred, both of whom believe in Super League and invest so much into our competition in so many ways.
Thank you also to Bernard Guasch and his team at the Catalans Dragons. His dream – the Dragons and Super League at the Nou Camp – was brave and visionary. The Dragons also raised the bar in 2019.
And thank you to our fans. We hope all of you enjoy this great sporting occasion; the biggest night in Rugby League; very fittingly of course, at the Theatre of Dreams.
Finally, in our relentless pursuit of making Super League great, there’s lots we’re working on for 2020, not least a brave and exciting new world in North America. Just like everyone I’ve spoken to about it, I can thoroughly recommend the Wolfpack experience: a great welcome, a special matchday and an amazing city. Welcome Toronto Wolfpack to Super League.