Wakefield chairman John Minards feels rugby league needs to look after heartland
Chart-topping bands and sold-out signs heralded the start of the new Betfred Super League season last weekend and rugby league chiefs are convinced the looming details of grading criteria will not puncture the mood of optimism.
Clubs will meet IMG chiefs early next month to find out specifically what will be required of them in order to achieve the A or B-level licenses which could determine which division they will be playing in from the 2025 season and beyond.
Keighley Cougars were the single dissenting voice when the initial proposals were unveiled last year, and clubs will once again get to vote on whether they wish to carry forward the sports media giant’s vision for the future of the game.
Wakefield chairman John Minards insists his club, who are currently undertaking a major revamp of their Belle Vue home, have nothing to fear from the proposals, and says the sport has to grasp the chance to avoid the same fate as that afflicting rugby union clubs including Worcester and Wasps.
“We certainly believe that one of the criteria should be financial stability, having your own ground, and a track record of not hemorrhaging money,” said Minards, whose club was the only one in the top-flight to turn a profit last season.
“You look at what happened in rugby union in recent months with clubs getting into all sorts of trouble. We don’t want that in rugby league – it’s damaging to the competition and it’s also damaging to the reputation of the sport.”
Minards accepts that certain factor may not favour Trinity, but is confident they will come out strongly across the broad range of criteria, especially if, as he hopes, those clubs who own their own ground or have primacy of tenure are favoured.
“It’s important that grounds are up to standard and you’ve got security of tenure as a club,” added Minards. “A football club plays here but rugby league takes precedence, and we would like to think that credit would be given to clubs who control matters at their grounds.
“Whilst I am firmly an expansionist, I also think you’ve got to look after the heartland, because it is relatively fragile as well.
Keeping participation up in the heartland is just as important as expansion. It's a balance but I don't believe we're about to see a massive revolutionary shift to establish Super League clubs up and down the country
Wakefield chairman John Minards
“Keeping participation up in the heartland is just as important as expansion. It’s a balance but I don’t believe we’re about to see a massive revolutionary shift to establish Super League clubs up and down the country. I would love that to happen, but it needs to happen in a sustainable way.”
Minards maintains it will be very much business as usual this season as Wakefield assume their customary position as relegation favourites, and that is a view echoed by RFL chair Simon Johnson, who is confident the next stage of the process will be broadly welcomed.
“The amount of research and data collected by the expert groups within IMG is like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” said Johnson.
“It will be boiled down into a small number of very open and transparent criteria that will be published, and it will be very obvious and evident to the clubs why they are where they are, and crucially where they have to focus their attention if they want to attain or retain a higher grading.”