28 Apr 2020

Hemmings Way: Where next for Rugby League?

As the lockdown continues because of the Coronavirus Pandemic – I realise there are far more weighty and important issues than how and when Rugby League gets back to some semblance of normality.

But we are talking about businesses here and one can only feel  a degree of concern for the future well-being of the sport. 2020 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons I’m afraid - not just for our game and sport in general – but for the tens of thousands of good people who have lost their lives to this hidden killer - many of them frontline heroes.  We WILL remember them.

Therefore it may seem futile that we’re even discussing rugby league right now but with all that in mind I’d like to reflect this week on what might happen moving forward.

Last year Super League reported a record TV audience for the Grand Final, last Easter they declared record  attendances over the spring Bank Holiday, Catalans Dragons were planning to take over the Nou Camp Stadium in Barcelona – and Toronto Wolfpack’s arrival in the big time was on the horizon.

Heady Days… high optimism and 2020 was going to be a stellar year – a good job too with vital TV negotiations due to get under way (the current Sky deal runs out at the end of 2021).

Now the game is moth-balled and those TV discussions don’t look like they’ll be starting anytime soon.

The game faces major problems… for a start how on earth will we resume in Canada or the South of France any time soon with worldwide travel restrictions in some form looking like they’ll last for a good part of this year? The Transatlantic vision for the sport may be on hold.

There is little doubt that Toronto brought a new dimension to the Super League for 2020 and Catalans Dragons have been a truly welcome addition to the competition over the years. I wouldn’t say the dreams are over or coming to an end but perhaps we might just have to think hard moving forwards.

I’m all for expansion. I’m not a dinosaur… far from it. I’ve a long-held dream to see a team thrive in South Wales. How about Cumbria for goodness sake? Rugby League’s forgotten land. How about the Midlands? Is there ever a chance we’ll get a second team in London? Can Toulouse finally make the leap and give us two teams in the South of France once we get back to normality?

Big questions that may need tough answers. Good luck to the powers that be to make the right choices when the time comes and take the sport forward with renewed confidence.

Stay safe everyone.