Dawn Of A New Era For Rugby League- David Gent
February 3, 2012
It’s no exaggeration to say that March 2012 will see the start of the most historic Rugby League season since the sport’s inception in 1895.
Super League of course switched to summer in 1996 and the semi-professional tier two competitions shortly after that but the majority of the grassroots continued to play in the winter up until this year.
Now, in March, for the first time the whole of Rugby League in this country from Super League right down to the grassroots will have an integrated summer-based playing calendar which covers both the professional and community game.
It’s an exciting time for our sport and over 85 per cent of all the Rugby League teams in this country will be playing within a new four tier structure with the season running from March to November.
That’s 1,586 teams in total which means that 86 per cent of players in the country will be playing in this season structure including 91 per cent of all youth and junior teams.
419 senior teams and 1,167 youth and junior teams are now playing in the summer whilst 155 senior teams and 115 Youth and junior teams remain in winter.
The newly aligned structure of the men’s game features Super League at tier one, the Championships at tier two, the Conference leagues at tier three and regional leagues at tier four.
The existing winter-based competitions will also be incorporated into tier four of the structure and will continue to be administrated and supported as they are at present.
The big switch to summer followed a long period of consultation with everyone involved in grassroots Rugby League.
The process started in early 2010 after a large number of postponed matches and training sessions over the winter when we received a number of letters from clubs asking us to see how many teams were interested in switching the playing season.
After a period of initial consultation with key stakeholders in the grassroots we asked Independent research company Vision Twentyone to carry out an official survey asking players what time of the year they wanted to play the sport.
The results of the online and telephone surveys showed support for a March to November season and we put together a new league structure.
Vision Twentyone were also asked to run a second consultation on the proposed new structure which was open to everyone in the community game and the results showed widespread support for the new pyramid structure.
These results were analysed by Rugby League’s Community Board which agreed that the proposed structure was the best way for the sport to progress and decided that the RFL should work towards implementing this for March 2012.
We’re now approaching kick-off for the inaugural summer season and there’s lots of excitement throughout the community game.There was a community Rugby League congress held over the weekend in Huddersfield for all teams that about to kick off the new season and covered media, marketing, administration, finance, coaching and pitch improvement.
It’s a huge opportunity for clubs entering this new era and as the sport’s governing body we want to give them as much support as possible to make this a huge success.
Sport England evidence shows that winter based team sports are in decline and summer individual sports are on the up and we also have experience in Rugby League which supports.
The success of summer Rugby League in spreading the game at grassroots can be seen in the tremendous growth of the Rugby League Conference which began in 1998 with just 14 teams around the country and last year had around 200 teams competing.We believe summer Rugby League is a better product which will hopefully attract even more players to the sport.
Particularly for junior teams there will huge benefits in terms of better training conditions which will aid skill development.The summer switch means that clubs will enjoy better conditions on and off the field.
They can expect better playing conditions and weather, firmer grassier pitches, more spectators, more bar takings and an overall increase in the quality of the game.
Like the clubs and players we can’t wait for March!
About David Gent:
David Gent is the RFL’s Director of Participation and leads the RFL Community Development team.
He has worked in sports development and management at Local Government, Sport England and Sports NGBs at a senior level and has wide experience of sports governance.
David has been the driving force behind the switch of Rugby League’s community game to a predominantly summer-based season which heralds a fantastically bright future for the sport.
He is also the team manager of a junior team at Bradford Dudley Hill RLFC and is involved in grassroots Rugby League week in, week out.