St Helens chairman hits back at Leeds boss over restructure remarks

Saints chairman Eamonn McManus
Saints chairman Eamonn McManus

Rugby league’s in-fighting continued with St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus accusing Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington of distorting the truth over Super League’s planned re-organisation.

McManus was among the Super League chiefs who seized control of their own destiny at an extraordinary general meeting last November by successfully overthrowing former Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood from the board with a 9-3 vote.

With a majority now of 11-1, their next step was to appoint their own chief executive and they took the opportunity at the unveiling of Robert Elstone on Tuesday to announce plans for another major restructure of the game with the scrapping of the Super 8s.

That prompted Hetherington to describe it as “an absurd power-grab by a small group of men who think that they own the game”.

McManus has responded by insisting the new board has acted democratically and says Hetherington’s comments were “inaccurate in content” and “destructive in intention”.

“The decision to appoint a dedicated and focused CEO of the highest professional calibre was made enthusiastically and overwhelmingly by a fully constituted board of directors of Super League who wish only to improve the quality, profile and commercial performance of their elite competition,” McManus said.

“This appointment has been very well received by supporters, commercial partners, media partners and by the RFL.

“No director of Super League acts as though he owns the game. However, their clubs do actually own Super League and in equal shareholding proportions.

“They intend to run Super League democratically and professionally, as is our duty. I have never known Super League clubs to be so unified and to have such a strength of purpose as they do presently.

“Gary’s comments on the Super League competition structure vote were also as inaccurate in content as they were destructive in intention.

“The board of Super League, by a majority of 11 to 1, voted to end to the Super 8s structure and to replace it with a more orthodox and readily understood form of promotion and relegation.”

The RFL on Wednesday issued a statement making it clear that, although it welcomed the appointment of Elstone, no binding agreement has yet been made on changes to the league format.

McManus says he is confident of gaining that agreement and hinted at the threat of a breakaway if the Super League board is thwarted in its intentions.

He added: “The annual risk of up to one third of clubs being relegated acts as a major disincentive to full, proper and long-term investment, which in turn will also have a consequent negative effect on the entire game.

“However, it was made abundantly clear in Super League’s press conference on Tuesday that the implementation of this unequivocal view was still subject to the agreement of the RFL.

“It was also made known that constructive, private and professional discussions had been taking place between Super League, the RFL and the Championship clubs in recent weeks and that it is now Robert’s priority task to continue these to an appropriate conclusion.

“That said, any theoretical continuation of the Super 8s beyond this season would effectively force a competition structure upon a very unwilling Super League by bodies which are significantly funded by Super League - that is not a practical or sustainable scenario for any party.”