Super League clubs considering plans to extend marquee player rule

Gareth Widdop
Gareth Widdop
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Super League chief executive Robert Elstone says clubs are considering plans to extend the use of the marquee player rule.

The Rugby Football League introduced the concept in 2015 to give clubs a better chance of attracting top players to the English game as well as retaining Super League's elite talent.

Clubs were allowed to count the first £150,000 of a nominated player's wage on the cap and two years ago they were given the go-ahead for two marquee players.

Most clubs do not make use of the facility but Leeds have made two marquee signings for 2019 and Warrington on Tuesday announced the capture of England international Gareth Widdop for 2020, when he will play alongside current marquee player Blake Austin.

Elstone, the former Everton chief executive who joined Super League last summer, is keen to see more high profile recruits in the English game and told a media briefing in Manchester that talks are under way to increase the number of marquee players.

"There's discussions," he said. "A number of clubs have talked about it.

"Whether it's ratified by all clubs - some may have different views - we'll see but it is on the agenda and clubs are aware of it.

"From where I'm sitting, high-quality marquee players across the board gives us more assets to work with.

"You have to work out the pros and cons. Six teams are 12-1 or less to win the Grand Final, but if you lift marquee rulings you may have three or four.

"I'm down the Wire route but that's for Super League to decide.

"When Wire announced Blake, I said to Karl (Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick) it was the best news since being in job and this is as good.

"Our game is about players and superstars and to get someone of Gareth's quality in Super League is fantastic."

Elstone was recruited following a move by the 12 Super League clubs to seize control of their own destiny from the RFL and Elstone has unveiled a raft of measures designed to strengthen the top flight.

They include rule changes introduced for 2019, highlighted by the golden point and the shot clock, and a revamped fixture list incorporating a top-five play-off instead of the old Super 8s.

Elstone is close to finalising a 15-strong marketing and media team to help raise the profile of Super League, which kicks off on January 31.

Elstone says plans to turn the Man of Steel into a season-long event will be unveiled at next Thursday's 2019 season launch at Old Trafford and clubs will consider introducing a Nines tournament to kick off the season in 2020.

Elstone wants to reverse decreasing crowds, targeting a Good Friday aggregate attendance record this year, with the overriding aim of winning a lucrative television deal when the current agreement with Sky runs out in 2021.

"We have some fantastic assets and, if we can package those assets in the right way, I think we'll be a hugely attractive proposition for a broadcast partner," he said.