Make rugby league sexy like darts

Saints chairman Eamonn McManus
Saints chairman Eamonn McManus

FORMER England coach Tony Smith has joined St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus in calling for a root and branch reform of rugby league.

Smith wants to make rugby league “sexy” and points to the boom in darts as a potential model to copy.

The Warrington boss has joined in the debate over the future of the game as the Rugby Football League launch the search for a successor to chairman Richard Lewis, who takes up his new role at the All England Club this week.

Hull owner Adam Pearson recently echoed the sentiments of McManus and Hull KR’s Neil Hudgell in calling for major changes to the way the game is run.

Hudgell branded the game as “bankrupt” while Pearson and McManus both want root-and-branch overhauls.

Now Smith, who spent time in the corridors of power at Red Hall during his stint as RFL technical director, has backed calls for action.

“We’ve got to look at what’s best to take us forward,” he said. “There are some sports at the moment that are going through the roof in terms of marketing and growth.

“I know darts has been popular for a lot of years but look at how they’re going at the moment, selling out arenas, and if you make a game like darts sexy then you are a good marketeer.

“We’ve got some terrific young people to be marketing and promoting our sport, making it sexy and appeal to the masses.

“I know we’ve got some big competition from football in this country but I also think we’ve got a pretty good product to market.

“When we see good games of rugby league, there isn’t anything better but those real high quality games are probably few and far between.

“I’ve been asking some friends about the last time they watched a high quality competitive game of Super League and you have to really think about it. Why is that?”

Smith has welcome the decision of RFL senior non-executive director Maurice Watkins to set up a review in his role as interim chairman and hopes it will be all-encompassing.

The current financial crisis at Bradford, who are attempting to avoid the recent examples of Wakefield and Crusaders in going into administration, has highlighted underlying problems in Super League, which critics say should be cut back from 14 to 12 teams.

“I feel for clubs getting in those situations but we’ve got to question what we’re doing,” added Smith, who has also coached Huddersfield and Leeds.

“I’ve been here 12 years and there’s been someone just about every year. In that time Wakefield have done it three times. If it’s not been at the top level, it’s been at Rochdale or somewhere else.

“We’ve got to assess finances without a doubt but we’ve got to assess rule changes and the number of teams.

“If you’re not doing it extensively and with a fairly open debate, I think you’re destined to fall behind some other sports. You could argue that’s happening to us now.

“We need to assess the whole lot and work out what’s sustainable. It may mean getting someone from outside to come in and assess us, somebody who can scrutinise and be impartial and also understand a little bit of the culture of the sport.

“We can’t just keep stumbling along. It’s right we scrutinise the closeness of our competition, how well it’s organised, the right amount of teams and what would be most effective for us.

“People rattle off good TV audiences - we’ve found a stat that’s in our favour at the moment - but if we’re happy to do that and not consider how much better we could be with some adjustments, it would be naive of us.

“Often people in positions of power like to protect themselves rather than be scrutinised. That’s human nature I suppose.

“But if we’re big enough as a sport to do some self-analysis, I think there could be huge benefits.”