Super League hopefuls meet deadline
Widnes, Halifax and Barrow today met the deadline to submit bids for a three-year Engage Super League licence.
The trio, who were among five Co-operative Championship clubs to meet the minimum playing requirements, are all vying to secure a place among the game’s elite from 2012.
Featherstone, beaten Grand Finalists this year, and Batley, the 2010 Northern Rail Cup winners, opted not to submit an application.
Widnes, the clear favourites to gain promotion, drove across the Pennines in an Eddie Stobart truck to deliver their business plan while snow-bound Halifax charted a helicopter from Leeds-Bradford airport to fly officials to RFL headquarters at Red Hall on the outskirts of Leeds.
Widnes and Halifax, who have both enjoyed previous spells in Super League, were unsuccessful applicants in 2008, along with Leigh, Featherstone and Toulouse, but it is Barrow’s first attempt to secure a Super League licence.
The Cumbrian club made their submission via email while Halifax’s document was handed over to RFL chief operations officer Ralph Rimmer by Santa Claus, alias director Ian Croad, who insisted their Super League bid was no gimmick.
“It is a very serious application,” he said. “We’ve worked long and hard over three years since the last application.
“Obviously Widnes are the favourites but it’s a two-horse race as I see it.
“Three years ago we weren’t ready but we’ve made massive strides both on the field and off. Financially, playing-wise and structurally, we’re very serious about going ahead.”
Development work at Halifax’s Shay stadium has been completed since their last failed bid and a current capacity of 10,000, rising to 14,000 with further minor improvements, means they tick another box in their application.
“We’ve made a £5million investment in the East Stand,” added Croad. “It’s probably better than some Super League stadia to be honest.
“We’re debt free and we may make a small profit this year, which is a big achievement in the present climate.
“We’re not being propped up by outside money and the business is thriving while on the field Halifax are probably nearest to Super League because of the results.”
The Vikings remain confident that they can succeed where they failed last time.
“I think we’re as confident as we can be,” said Chris Shirling-Rook, head of Widnes’ commercial department.
“We’ve put an awful lot of preparation in and, as far as we’re concerned, especially on the administrative side, we’ve ticked all the boxes, including investment in an academy.
“It would mean everything for the people of Widnes. Rugby league in Widnes is the heart and soul of the community, it’s absolutely everything for the people.
“We’re just focused on our own bid. I think it makes the competition all the more exciting that there are more bids and I think it shows rugby league to be very progressive and the core of Super League now is as strong as it’s ever been.
“The more teams, the more competition, the better.”
The RFL have made it clear that at least one Championship club will be awarded a Super League licence, provided it meets the minimum criteria, which include a stadium with an operational capacity of 10,000, no insolvency during the last three years, a turnover of at least £1million and an average attendance of at least 2,500 in 2009 or 2010.
The all-important decision will be made by the RFL’s board of directors and the successful Championship club will be announced in March.
Existing Super League clubs must submit their licence applications by April and the final make-up of the division for 2012 will be announced next July, with one club almost certain to lose their top-flight status.
Super League clubs recently voted to remain at 14 clubs for the foreseeable future and Rimmer does not expect that to change.
“That is certainly the expectation,” he said. “I can’t see how that will change so it will be one up, one down.”