HALIFAX chairman Michael Steele has suggested the lack of a big-money backer was the single biggest factor in yesterday’s Super League snub.
In a shock decision, Rugby Football League bosses kept top flight strugglers Wakefield - a club that was in administration in the spring, when it was bought by local businessman Andrew Glover, and whose Belle Vue ground does not meet licence criteria - in the competition.
Expansion club Crusaders, who had been widely considered to be safe given their reputed £700k debt to the game’s governing body after being bailed out following their last financial collapse, will now be the team to drop out.
Fax, who were told in the spring they met the criteria for promotion, were left livid after apparently being closer to a return to the sport’s top table than anyone - even they - had expected.
“As a club, we cannot conceive how they have come to this decision,” said Steele, who said he expects to meet Red Hall bosses in the next few days to discuss the club’s rejection.
“Wakefield have broken the rules repeatedly; we have not.
“On every rational evaluation of the licence criteria, our bid is streets ahead of Wakefield’s.
“We have a ground, they don’t have a ground. We haven’t been bankrupt, they’ve been bankrupt.
“It seems a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned that if it’s between Halifax and Wakefield - Halifax are in and Wakefield should not be in.
“They’ve already broken the terms of their existing licence, so why give them another one?
“At the moment, all I can think is that Wakefield and their new owner have made promises regarding money in the future.
“The RFL suggested to us that were we able to pledge additional investment, if there was ever a shortfall to make up, it might make the whole process easier.
“We were not prepared to promise something we did not know whether we could deliver: Our financial projections were based on running the club as a viable business, which we have always regarded as an important principle of the licencing process.
“Given that we have had no other explanation, and we had already been told we meet the criteria, I don’t know what else to say.
“I’d ask the RFL ‘what is the point of having rules if you don’t comply with them?’
“The only counter-argument I can see is that somebody new has arrived in Wakefield in the last six months and he’s got to be given a chance to prove that he’s going to do what he says he’s going to do.
“The difference here is that we’ve had people here for more years who’ve done what they’ve said they are going to do. We’ve got a track record and he hasn’t.”
Steele conceded the Wildcats were in front on the field, especially with their development set up, although he insisted that Fax would have been up to speed by the start of next season.
“If you measure it on football criteria, of course they are in front, they have had £1million-plus of TV money to spend every year,” he said.
“We always said that if we had been admitted yesterday, it would have been a challenge to be ready in time - and there would no doubt have been a few sleepless nights - but it was a challenge we were confident of meeting.”
Lewis refused to reveal details of each club’s application but assured Steele that he would explain the reasoning behind the RFL’s decision to refuse Halifax’s bid.
“I’m not going to get into any particular licence application, they are private and confidential,” Lewis said.
“We’ll explain what the weaknesses were in their application and what was found wanting and where other clubs put in a stronger case.”
The fate of the crisis-struck Crusaders, who only withdrew their application on Monday night and only told their players at 10.55am yesterday, five minutes before the televised announcement by Lewis, remains a mystery.
Rumours persist the Wrexham-based club, whose chief executive is the former RFL lawyer Rod Findlay, a key man in the first round of licencing three years ago, could go under almost immediately, with reports that their players have been told this season’s wages cannot be guaranteed.
Keith Senior, the former Leeds and Great Britain centre who had signed a two year deal with the club starting next year, appeared resigned to the club’s collapse.
Senior tweeted: “Crusaders have just f***** me over what a b*****d joke, excuse my language I’m absolutely furious.”