Though there are two bids still very much still alive, there’ll be no new ‘expansion’ teams in the UK’s club structure next season.
Instead, Ottawa are expected to join League 1 in 2021 and New York will hope to join them.
The RFL are doing the right thing by not rushing into admitting the new sides, but is the third tier the right level for them anyway?
In his NWE Mail column this week, Barrow chairman Steve Neale ponders the future of League 1.
He said: “For League One to be sustainable it needs more teams.
“With Ottawa and New York on the horizon, promising to enter with massive budgets, I’m not sure if that is the solution, as many teams in the division operate with very low income streams.
“Personally, I am a fan of expansion, but maybe there needs a fast-track system. Some sort of hybrid franchise/promotion system to make your way up the pyramid.”
Neale is not anti-expansion, but like me, he believes that adding teams with much bigger budgets, based thousands of miles away, does not represent a positive direction for the competition.
When Toronto take their place in Super League next year, they’ll line up alongside established clubs employing full-time athletes and boasting a network of commercial partners.
But just three years ago we were asking clubs propped up by volunteers, employing players that train two evenings a week with nine-to-five jobs, to transplant their operation across the Atlantic for a weekend – and several made the trip more than once.
It wasn’t feasible and served chiefly to fuel resentment against the new club, because in simple terms what they were asking the other clubs to do wasn’t fair.
Yes, you can make the argument that the addition of Toronto to League 1 brought benefits, such as bigger home attendances for clubs playing them and a rise in commercial and broadcast focus on the competition.
And yes, the decision to put Toronto in League 1 was taken with the best intentions.
The idea of them playing their way up through the leagues and earning their promotions like everybody else was a noble one.
But ultimately it was a waste of time. They were far too strong for everybody else and immediately promoted to the Championship.
All putting Toronto in League 1 did was delay their rise to the top level of our game.
Already their promotion to Super League has brought Sonny Bill Williams back to Rugby League and we’ve not even entered 2020 yet.
So, if we are adding Ottawa and New York to the stucture, let’s not make them start at the bottom.
There’s probably a debate to be had about whether they should enter at Super League or Championship level, especially as the Championship is fast-becoming a ‘Super League 2’ anyway.
But surely there’s no strong case for making them line up against so-called development clubs like Coventry and West Wales. Nobody benefits from that arrangement.
For the sake of expansion, and the long-term sustainability of League 1, let’s hope the RFL heeds heartland chairman Steve Neale’s advice.
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