Something’s rotten in the state of England

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert

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12 Have your say

    Something big is afoot in English rugby league – it’s just difficult figuring out what. English rugby league itself probably doesn’t know quite yet.

    Late last week, Nigel Wood stood down as the chief executive of the Rugby Football League, the sport’s governing body in England.

    Late last year, he had been voted off the board of Super League, which is supposed to be – essentially – a marketing body for the top flight.

    The important thing to understand from an Australian perspective is that Super League’s relationship to the RFL is not like the NRL’s relationship to the Australian Rugby League Commission.

    Super League still has promotion and relegation. The teams in Super League can change. So the clubs outside the top competition have far more say in what happens than they do in Australia.

    Last year the Super League clubs apparently decided to give Leigh “a parachute payment” when they were demoted, from their own funds, to save players from being out of work.

    Leigh sacked players anyway and hired new ones! Would the clubs have felt as charitable towards non-heartland side Catalans had they gone down?

    But I digress.

    Wood was replaced on the Super League board by representatives of all 12 clubs. He stuck around for a month or so as RFL and Super League CEO and then left the Rugby Football League completely.

    It took one weekend for something we all suspected to be confirmed: Nigel Wood was named the new CEO of the Rugby League International Federation. John Grant, on the way out of the ARLC, is expected to replace Wood as its chairman.

    ARLC chairman John Grant

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The only thing that can go wrong for Grant is if Peter Beattie insists on taking the job when he is given the ARLC chairmanship. The ARL endorsing someone with whom it is no longer connected as the chairman of an international governing body?

    It’s perhaps an indication of how much the ARLC gives a rats about international competition.

    But I digress again.

    The day after Wood was named RLIF chief executive, the RFL’s brightest young light – RFL commercial chief and Super League executive director Roger Draper – also walked.

    The former tennis administrator claimed he always intended to be around for only two years but things at the RFL’s Red Hall headquarters and Super League’s Salford Quays offices are starting to look a bit chaotic.

    They are looking to fill five positions (an ‘on field’ admin role was mentioned in the media release, plus the two jobs Wood and Draper each did) and counting after just ten days of the new year.

    Another thing to understand about the difference between rugby league in Australia and Britain. Working in rugby league is just a stepping stone to bigger and better things for many administrators in the UK.

    In the case of the NRL, many people spend a large chunk of their lives wanting to work there; in recent times that has often led to disappointment and a short tenure when they walked through the front doors of League Central.

    An interesting clue as to what this all means is Super League inviting Toulouse and Toronto to play as special guests at Magic Weekend in Newcastle on May 19 and 20.

    The decision put a lot of other Championship clubs’ noses out of joint but Super League seems to have designs on these expansion franchises as the means of leveraging new markets.

    However, so does the wider RFL and the lower division clubs.

    They expect some pay off when that North American television deal is eventually signed – and were promised one this week when it was explained to them they must allow broadcasters to cover their home games against Toronto this season even though there is no money on offer for it.

    There is now a power vacuum and a race to fill it. Politically, the (comparatively) junior officers left manning the good ship RFL had better batten down the hatches as storm Super League Owners closes in.

    On Monday, the Batley owner Kevin Nicholas said he had seen correspondence which hinted at a power play by the Super League clubs.

    “I was able to see a letter from October 7 that (Wigan owner) Ian Lenagan sent to all Super League clubs, some of it expressing reasonable criticism of the RFL, making it clear that Super League should be making all the decisions on where all the (TV money) goes, and should have complete control – not the independent RFL board,” Nicholas told League Weekly.

    Would a breakaway between fulltime and part-time clubs in England necessarily be a bad thing? Maybe not as long as the part-time clubs weren’t left bankrupt.

    But the portents for the international game are already worrying.

    Clubs in Australia appear to have stopped England playing New Zealand in the United States.
    Read that sentence again.

    While Super League clubs can reasonably be expected to be less isolationist than their NRL counterparts (they’re playing a comp game in Wollongong a month from today), will they listen to the new RLIF led by a man they just ousted?

    And will NRL clubs be more pliable in the face of an RLIF chaired by a man they just ousted?

    What a mess.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • January 10th 2018 @ 9:00am
      Justin Kearney said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      When will our great game ever have leadership that inspires genuine growth and grabs wholeheartedly the opportunities that continue to be thrown at it?
      The code needs a clean sweep of its governance at the very top levels and the clubs in both hemispheres need to understand the importance of thinking beyond next season. At which time a pig may well fly past the window.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 9:26am
        Kangajets said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report


        I’m happy to give you David Gallop back.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 9:57am
          Justin Kearney said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          I’ll pass on that thanks mate.

      • January 11th 2018 @ 12:45pm
        Eden said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        While his tenure wasn’t perfect David Smith always acted with a better grasp of medium and long term strategy…

    • January 10th 2018 @ 9:49am
      Oingo Boingo said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      It’s just the smell of unwashed Poms.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 11:43am
      rossco said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Steve Mascord is still the best journo and his support for the game internationally is to be admired. It would be good to know his vision for how the game should be administered. He is one analyst with no agenda to flog.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 12:11pm
      Big Daddy said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

      As you probably know most of the ins and outs of english rugby league do they get money for broadcast rights and how much or do the clubs over there support themselves and also how.
      We are very lucky we have broadcast money and also some very rich club’s with leagues club backing.
      But apart from top NRL team’s the cupboard is pretty bare .
      A few of the intrust teams are well off in nsw but I am not sure about Qld so it begs the question how the game would survive without broadcast money either here or U.K.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 8:03pm
      Norad said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

      Let the IRB run rugby league.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 9:37pm
        Johnno said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

        The IRB no longer exist it rebranded to “World Rugby or WR for short”…

    • January 11th 2018 @ 2:08pm
      Fred said | January 11th 2018 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

      Steve are you saying NRL clubs blocked the England v New Zealand match in Denver? What a disgrace if so!

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