Watkins report hints at change

Bradford Bulls fans show support for their financially-stricken club

Bradford Bulls fans show support for their financially-stricken club

First published in National Sport News © by

The Rugby Football League are to consider bringing back automatic promotion and relegation as part of a review ordered by interim chairman Maurice Watkins.

The whole issue of Super League licensing will form a central plank of the review, which will be launched immediately under the leadership of RFL chief executive Nigel Wood.

The initiative is the most eye-catching recommendation of a report which was put together by Watkins in the wake of the departure of chairman Richard Lewis, but is particularly relevant in the current crisis engulfing Bradford Bulls. Several clubs are calling for a reduction in the number of teams in Super League, another issue that will be considered in the review.

"It has been quite clear from the consultation process that a further discussion about the direction, vision and strategy for the sport for the next five to 10 years should quickly follow, focusing particularly on the size and structure of the leagues, licensing and promotion/relegation and the sustainability of clubs," said Watkins.

Three-year licensing was the brainchild of Lewis, who in April ended his 10 years in charge of the RFL to become chief executive of the All England Club at Wimbledon.

The system was introduced in 2008, when Super League was expanded from 12 to 14 clubs.

Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell recently claimed that Super League has neither the finances nor the playing talent to sustain 14 teams, while St Helens chairman Eamon McManus echoed his call for a restructuring of the governance of the game.

Watkins, an eminent sports lawyer and the senior non-executive member of the RFL board of directors, recommends the retention of a single, unified governing body with a majority of independent directors who should be increased from three to five.

However, Watkins accepted in his 32-page report that there are "issues around trust" and "confusion about where decisions are made and by whom".

"What came across loud and clear was a desire for a spirit of collective responsibility and transparency which will enable all sections of the game and the governing body to work together more closely on shared goals," he said.

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