Featherstone Rovers, York City Knights, Bradford Bulls and Halifax set to battle it out for Super League spot
The competition’s decision to turn down Toronto Wolfpack’s bid for resubmission on Monday, allied to confirmation the following day that it would run with a dozen teams and not 11 in 2021, has understandably piqued the attention of many.
With Championship and League 1 clubs out of action since March, much of their time has been spent simply trying to ensure they survive intact through until next year.
Now, though, many are contemplating preparing for the unexpected chance of earning elevation to the elite with the campaign trail firmly up and running.
The Super League and RFL will decide between them who wins the race, with applicant clubs needing to meet “criteria” – yet to be announced publicly – which sounds very much like licencing.
As many as eight clubs could be in the mix for the vacant spot.
Championship clubs London Broncos, Toulouse Olympique, Featherstone Rovers, York City Knights, Leigh Centurions, Bradford Bulls and Halifax have all expressed interest, as have League 1 Newcastle Thunder.
Some have better credentials than others. London, for instance, were only relegated last year and only on points difference having won more points than any relegated side in Super League history.
They have the substantial and unwavering financial support of owner David Hughes and, of course, having a club in the capital city might still appeal to Super League.
Broncos assistant coach Jamie Langley, the former Bradford and Great Britain second-row who has helped Danny Ward forge such spirit there, said: “We were the most recent team in Super League, we have strong, well-established infrastructure that consistently produces homegrown players and we have full-time staff and players ready to go.
“We’re happy to leave it to the application process.”
French club Toulouse immediately released a social media video with their chairman Bernard Sarrazain saying: “Its region, its city, its economic influence, its stadium and, of course, its entertaining style of rugby – Toulouse needs to be in Super League.”
They do certainly have plenty of positive traits and the prospect of a Catalans Dragons-Toulouse Olympique derby whets the appetite, not just in terms of the football but what it could do in terms of broadcast appeal.
Super League – rightly or wrongly – have deemed expansion in Toronto as not being feasible, but there can be no such arguments about growth in France.
Their only worry might be international travel and Covid marrying to negatively affect the fixture list in 2021.
York are a club on the rise and, led by owner Jon Flatman, have openly admitted in recent years they are aiming for Super League.
They might not have imagined being able to do so this soon but, ahead of moving into a new 8,000 stadium next season and with the capture of Super League stars such as former England centre Ryan Atkins and ex-Wakefield Trinity captain Danny Kirmond, they could tick many boxes.
“The most important people in this decision are the stakeholders in the sport,” said Flatman, with his club promoting their bid as “heartland expansion”.
“We believe we can provide excellent value to a broadcaster and a fans event experience at a new stadium in a world-renowned wonderful city. The geography of York and North Yorkshire lends itself to commercial growth into a new area for Super League.”
Featherstone, beaten by Toronto in last year’s Million Pound Game, have the facilities with their smart, redeveloped ground at Post Office Road and also have invested heavily in a squad they feel good enough to fight for promotion on the field in 2021.
Chairman Mark Campbell has consistently fought their corner but it is hard to see the small, former mining town in West Yorkshire beating off the competition in a licensing process.
Bulls will decide tomorrow whether to apply.
Considering they are ground-sharing with Dewsbury Rams and given their much-publicised chequered financial history, even by rugby league’s standards it is far-fetched to envisage them being able to get in, although they do have Nigel Wood fighting their corner.
Leigh have the facilities and a strong squad.
They talk a good game but it was only two years ago they were financially ruined so may be considered too risky.
Halifax are well-run but will have their hands full arguing their case while Newcastle are building nicely and helping the sport grow in the north-east but Super League would be too much too soon.