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February 2019 n Volume 9 Issue 2

n Behind the drawn shades of his Super League office, swilling his malt to just under the rim of his tumbler and pulling on a cheroot (we get the picture – Ed), CEO Robert Elstone contemplates the impact of #NewBeginnings.

On the plus side of his blank ledger, changes to the rules have, by consent of players and fans, produced a faster spectacle; a product that had become turgid and predictable, more a test of endurance than skill, has already been more watchable.

According to Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan, and one of the chief architects behind the ‘new dawn,’ initial television viewing figures are encouraging. “The opening game at St Helens was watched by over 300,000 Sky viewers, a 35 per cent increase on the opener in 2018,” he wrote in his programme notes for the Warriors’ first home game with Leeds – vital in the quest for a new deal, the biggest issue that permeates the sport.

The quality and wit of club social media output has stepped up under the overall influence of SL creative director Lee Hicken, with Salford, Huddersfield and Warrington worthy of special mention. London’s Eddie Battye and his viral scoring gif led to a guest appearance on national commercial radio.

All commendable easy wins and a nod towards engaging with an existing audience which, for too long, has been neglected or taken for granted. There is a sense of that alienation being reversed.

Which also seems to apply to a more compelling Championship, not under Mr Elstone’s auspices.

But, there must be realism too. The plan was to make a big impact in the opening round with derby fixtures to the fore, yet the overall attendance average was static.

Even Mr Lenagan must have been concerned that for the visit of the Rhinos, a blue-riband event, just over 11,000 was below a falling

Screen test: Warrington Wolves and Hull Kingston Rovers get it on during Super League round two

SWPix.com

A game of strategy n tonyhannan@forty-20.com philcaplan@forty-20.com n average at the DW Stadium. And Battye’s sandwich antics aside, there hasn’t yet been a noticeable cut-through in wider conventional mainstream or social media.

Despite all the talk of ‘making superstars’, the only story leading the headlines surrounded enfant terribleBen Barba, when surely no self-respecting Super League club owner would sanction his capture.

With a governance split, it is increasingly difficult to ascertain the sport’s agenda. Irrespective of willing entrepreneurs, who need certain assurances to invest, what is the actual growth strategy?

The RLWC2021 venue announcements – superbly done – have again championed the North East at exactly the same time that Super League has moved Magic Weekend away from the region. And this in an area that has a team and investor ready to cement and accentuate such roots. The same could be said for Coventry.

Northern hemisphere rugby league is still intent on preaching to the converted and little more, closing its eyes to the iceberg on the horizon. We are right to remain sceptical, notwithstanding the early razzmatazz, about how an actual brave new world will be deivered.

n With all of that in mind, a new club in Liverpool as proposed by former Salford owner Marwan Koukash is harder to take seriously.

Having ditched Cumbria and Widnes, the millionaire racehorse owner does however appear keen to start at the bottom, alongside two other local businessmen, Luke Backhouse and Andrew Mikhail.

“The three of us have invested heavily in rugby league in the form of sponsorship or ownership etc,” Koukash told the Press Association. “We are in discussions with the council with options on a ground that I think will end up being in the Sefton area of Liverpool. We are open to starting in League 1 or the alternative is we are told by the RFL that it might be easier to buy an existing club and re-brand it.

“We hope to launch the project at the Magic Weekend and will

4

Super League launch 7 Richard Shaw-Wright reports...

Warrington’s Widdop 5 Trevor Baxter’s monthly profile Five Drives & A Kick 7 Reports from Manchester, York, London and Kitzbühel await The Reality Is... 13 Brian Noble MBE turns his mind to Wigan’s salary cap misfortune Louie the Lip 15 It’s Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook Match of the Month 16 A Totally Wicked opening night Stand Up for League 18 Ian Boldsworth makes his point teamsheet

Marquee moments 20 Three SL stars on club debut Irvine’s Indigestion 22 Chris Irvine is back from Belgium Cas the real deal? 23 Pete Smith has reason to think so Mantality Matters 24 Stevie Ward on a slow Leeds start Woman Power 26 Angela Powers visits Rochdale Café des Treizistes 28 Mike Rylance on a big departure

Roar of the Cougars 30 Tony Hannan on Keighley reborn Latham’s Loft 32 Workington’s first stadium story Serbs up for the Cup 34 When Red Star came to Millom Southern Conference 37 Ian Golden’s brand new column Footy20 club-by-club 41 George Clarke’s big NRL preview No Helmets Required 44 Gavin Willacy’s World Club story Any Other Business 50 Martin Kelner, our final ingredient

Bring on the world 38 RLWC2021 venues are revealed

February 20193Forty2043

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