29 March 2014

Discipline Matters - a view on the RFL disciplinary process

It's become a big topic again in 2014. We've heard a lot of criticism from all quarters but little suggestion for change has been put forward. SLP presenter Mark has been thinking how he might change things, here are those thoughts.

I've always been interested in the disciplinary process and the absolute slaughtering it gets from fans, players, coaches and club owners. The first blog I ever wrote was on the topic of bias in the system because I was sick of people claiming a bias against their club and in favour of certain clubs they dislike. I think I demonstrated no bias but you can be the judge of that.

Last year I tried really hard to put something together on consistency. The problem I found was that there wasn't enough footage of incidents freely and openly available to really drill down on the issue.

That has actually changed this year a little with incidents getting highlighted quicker so that fans are getting footage out through social media of similar incidents where inconsistency has been seen. A piece on The 18th Man website highlighted this well recently over the Justin Poore and Willie Isa dangerous throw inconsistency, amongst other examples. Despite a little bit of 'the RFL don't like Hull clubs' sentiment it's a really good piece well worth a read.

Consistency, both in decisions and the reporting of them (loads of player names are spelled incorrectly in the RFL records), is a topic I might return to in the future but here I want to throw in my suggestion as to how I might amend the process to provide fairer decision making.

Having the Match Review Panel (MRP/panel) and then following this up with an Operational Rules Tribunal (ORT/tribunal) for me isn't a problem, it's how it's done that I have a problem with. I suspect there is both an element of the ORT making their mind up before the hearing and an element of them erring on the side of the MRP calls. The set up for me certainly calls into question the real independence of the ORT, however it is made up.

What would I change? I would have the hearing see both sides - the player/his club and the MRP - present cases to an independent ORT and see offences with the ability to impact a game or injure an opponent be dealt with more severely. I'll go through how I would achieve this.

Panel/Tribunal members
At the moment the ORT panel members can't have any active club association, although there will be previous club associations obviously. There is nothing in the rules to suggest they can't have any RFL and MRP associations. The names of the weekly ORT members are published, those of the MRP aren't, but the criteria for side members on both is the same (former players, referees or coaches) and you have to assume some overlap in those sitting on both without any evidence otherwise. I couldn't even find the name of the RFL Compliance Manager who chairs the MRP on a Google search.

It isn't clear how many members sit on the panel each week but we know it is chaired by the RFL Compliance Manager. The tribunal has a chair with a legal background and two side members with rugby league backgrounds.

It makes sense to me that the MRP members are employed/contracted by the RFL in their roles and would be the RFL representatives in the process. I also agree that those with current associations with clubs should be prevented any involvement. For me this would be extended to the tribunal decision makers also not featuring anyone currently on the RFL payroll. I would also consider ex-players or coaches with a particular association to any one club be prevented from sitting on decisions related to players of that club, though this could prove impractical and I wouldn't want to question the integrity of those with no current associations. 

Tribunal costs and fees should be jointly paid for by the clubs and the RFL from a dedicated disciplinary fund to ensure independence of the final decision.

The process and hearings
Currently the MRP assess Super League matches on a Monday, inform players through their clubs of any charges later that day, then the ORT is held on the Tuesday, with appeals heard on the Wednesday. Each match is reviewed by a member of the panel then any incidents highlighted are discussed on the Monday morning and clubs have until 10am on the Monday to notify the compliance manager of any allegations of misconduct they want to be considered.

One major change to the process I would make is moving the tribunal hearings to a Wednesday. I'll explain why that's needed.

I have no problem with how the matches are reviewed and any incidents identified by MRP members can continue to be considered on a Monday morning. I would extend the deadline for clubs until 2pm on the Monday - currently clubs that play on Sundays are disadvantaged in being able to highlight incidents so I would give them a little more time to review tapes. The club would have to provide clear details of when on the match tape the incident happened to help the panel look into it. I would also extend the MRP work to Tuesday morning where they would consider any incidents clubs raised that there was not time for on the Monday and any other incidents that have been brought to their attention by the RFL Match Commissioners or following the referee performance review process. This extra time also allows a last review of all charges proposed because the ORT shouldn't have to do this quality check, they should just be considering the evidence and cases from each party on charges made. All charge letters should be issued to the player through their club as some as possible, but by 1pm on the Tuesday, at the latest, otherwise it would have to be considered the following week.

As more time is being taken by the MRP, the ORT has to be moved to the Wednesday, with any appeals heard on the Thursday. This also gives both the MRP and the club more chance to prepare their case - the way the cases are presented being another change I propose. The Compliance Manager and respective panel member for the game in question would present their evidence of the charge, the reason for the grading and any aggravating factors, to include supporting evidence for these and any precedents referred to. The player and their representative from the club would present the plea and any mitigating factors with evidence to support these and details of any precedents being referred to.

Whilst attitudes and assessments should change gradually over time, consistency is key, which is why precedents set by previous similar incidents should form a key part in any charge and defence of this. These should be central in the presentation of cases and clear in the reporting of these so everyone with a stake in the process can see more consistency. As well as the written record of the case being provided on the RFL website, a video clip of the incident should be included so all can see what was considered for future referral as a precedent.

I would also have the tribunal chair, the person with no direct rugby league experience, be more of an overseer than decision maker, making sure fairness is maintained and ask pertinent facts are considered appropriately, with their judgement only used if the two side members aren't in agreement over the case.

Charges, grading and punishment
The outcomes of MRP assessments at the moment are no charge, caution or charge.

There are 11 'Laws of the Game On Field Misconduct' offences. These are:
15.1(a) - trips, kicks out strikes another player
15.1(b) - when tackling or attempting to tackle makes contact with the head or neck of an opponent
15.1(c) - drops knees first on an opponent on the ground
15.1(d) - uses a dangerous throw
15.1(e) - intentionally & continuously breaks the laws of the game
15.1(f) - uses offensive or obscene language
15.1(g) - disputes a decision of the referee or touch judge
15.1(h) - re-enters the field of play without the permission of the referee or touch judges
15.1(i) - behaves in any way contrary to the true spirit of the game
15.1(j) - intentional obstruction of an opponent not in possession
15.1(k) - shoulder charge

The offences are graded in six grades, A to F, with A the lowest level offence and F the most serious. They carry the following sentence guidelines:
A - NFA-1 game ban
B - 1-2

C - 2-3
D - 3-5
E - 4-8
F - 8+ or period suspension

These are guidelines only and punishments handed out can be outside the normal ranges. Players may also in some circumstances submit an early guilty plea (EGP) in Grade A-C offences, meaning they will get the ban at the lower end of the normal guidelines, but they can only use this once in a 12 month period.

A standard £200-£300 fine applies to Super League players (usually £300 in practice) deemed guilty of a charge by the ORT. Fines currently aren't allowed to be issued instead of suspensions.

For me, cautions and EGPs have to be radically overhauled. Cautions should be removed as an option - any and all incidents considered by the MRP should result in either a charge or an advice letter if there is to be no charge, so the player is aware of the incident and warned over future conduct at the least. EGPs should only be allowed on Grade A offences and should act as a warning. You should be allowed one EGP/warning for a Grade A charge in all 11 offence categories for a 12 month period, but any further charge will be considered by the ORT with a ban possible. I would not allow an EGP for a charge at any other grade than A but a guilty plea combined with genuine remorse will still be allowed to be used as a mitigating factor in defence of a charge for the sentence to be at the lower end of the possible range. Players who have regularly received advice letters and EGP cases can't be considered to have a 'clean' record.

Another major change I would make is to treat physical actions with more serious bans and non-physical offences with more serious fines.

So for physical offences the punishment would be the standard fine with the maximum guideline ban unless mitigating factors are sufficient to see this reduced. Physical offences would be those under a, b, c, d, j and k above, and could also be some offences that fall under e, and i.

Non-physical offences would be f, g, h and some e and i offences. I would have a lower ban range but a higher fine range for these, to reflect that whilst these offences are serious they don't actually have the same opportunity to impact the on field result or potential to cause injury to an opponent. I would go on this basis:
A - no ban, £300 fine
B - 1 game ban, £400 fine
C - 2 game ban, £500-£700 fine
D - 3 game ban, £700-£1000 fine
E - 4 game ban, £1000-£1500 fine
F - period suspension, £1500+ fine

I think this change would be something that fans would support, with bans seen as a fairer way to punish foul play and the sense of injustice when a player is banned for pushing a referee for the same length of time as a player who injures another player from a reckless action (Castleford fans in particular should support this based on recent complaints!).

Summary of my proposals
  • Greater independence of disciplinary decisions from the clubs AND the RFL
  • More time to prepare cases and greater importance on precedents in cases presented for MRP and player/club
  • Caution and EGP options to be overhauled making disciplinary action more likely for offences made
  • Physical offences to be treated differently to non-physical offences, with stronger bans for the former and higher fines for the latter.

That's Mark's say on the matter, get in touch and let us know what you say! What changes would you make? Any ones we both like will get the fair airing they deserve on a future episode of Super League Pod.

17 March 2014

How to kill a club in 10 years - the decline of the Bradford Bulls

Thursday 1 July 2004. The events of that day are cited by many as the starting point for the Bulls current troubles.

That day didn't signal the end of the glory times for the Bulls. They would go on to reach the next two Super League Grand Finals, collecting the top prize in 2005, and followed that with a World Club Challenge triumph over Wests Tigers in February 2006.

So what makes that date so important? What happened that day that can be traced through to what the most pessimistic fear may be the end for professional rugby league in Bradford? Iestyn Harris was presented as a Bradford Bulls player on a reported £1 million four-and-a-half year deal.

Harris left the Bulls at the end of the 2008 season, but some claim they are still counting the cost of that deal today as the club sits without an owner, on -2 points in the league table despite back to back February wins and losing players every time you visit the Telegraph & Argus website.

An out of court settlement between Bradford and the Leeds Rhinos over the breach of contract they induced Harris to make was finally agreed in 2008. Some estimates had the figure set in the millions of pounds, £3.2m being the claim raised.

Some clarity was given in 2012 after the compensation payment had been completed and the Bulls were in there first period of administration. It was announced by then director Stephen Coulby that the settlement was £550k, paid over three years after an increase in TV revenues afforded them the opportunity to still afford a competitive side as well...in theory. A total cost of the saga of £629k was given - this included the legal fees the club's books showed between the high court case in 2005 and settlement in 2008.

Surely the much reduced figure actually paid means that the Harris deal can't be the main reason for the state they currently find themselves in? We shouldn't forget that 'Bullmania' was the envy of most other Super League clubs as the Bulls won four of the first ten titles and attracted the league's top crowds along the way. One mistake over the legal ownership of a player's availability can't itself have undone all of that can it? So what other factors were at play?

On the field
Not all Bradford's problems can be seen on the administrators desk in financial reports. Some of what went wrong can be seen by looking at the players on the pitch and the results they produced,

The decline in playing quality started after that last Grand Final win in 2005. You can compare the quality and experience of that side with that which started in Round 1 of 2007, notably the forward packs.

2005 Grand Final
Front row: Jamie Peacock, Ian Henderson, Stuart Fielden
Back row: Paul Johnson, Brad Meyers, Lee Radford
Bench: Jamie Langley, Adrian Morley, Joe Vagana

2007 Round 1
Front row: Joe Vagana, Terry Newton, Chris Feather
Back row: Jamie Langley, Ben Harris, Glenn Morrison
Bench: Matt Cook, Ian Henderson, Sam Burgess

In just over a year the quality in the forwards had notably reduced. There were still some quality players but I know which pack I would have preferred to have playing for me.

None of that 2005 pack were done playing - all of the six that left by 2007 went on for a number years, some playing NRL, many winning trophies elsewhere, and some still playing in play off competing sides now. Yet Bradford somehow let that great team get broken up before it's time was done.

A major factor in the on field decline must be the inability of Bradford to either develop or retain talented players in the last decade.

The 2005 squad had a number of players who had made their names after coming through at Bradford (Peacock, Fielden, Langley, Leon Pryce, Paul Deacon, Rob Parker) and a group of young players starting to emerge through their system (Karl Pryce, Brett Ferres, Stuart Reardon, Matt Cook).

None are now at Bradford. Those retired didn't end their career at the club either. How many of those names would be renowned now for what they did at Bradford? Only really Deacon, Langley and maybe Fielden? Most earned or enhanced their reputations elsewhere. Many have won trophies and/or international honours since leaving the Bulls.

The same tend has been seen since the break up of that side. You can add Ryan Atkins, Craig Kopczak and Joe Wardle to that list, as well as Sam Tom and George Burgess. Jason Crookes, Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman are more recent leavers that will fulfil their potential elsewhere.

The last player to play for one of the top tier international sides whilst at Bradford was Sam Burgess in the 2009 Four Nations.

The last star signing made by Bradford was Matt Orford. The former Dally M winner was brought in on a three year deal in 2010, then aged 31. He was reportedly on Aus$500k per year, roughly £275k at the time. He played a dozen games, busted his shoulder, then forced an early release from his deal before the 2011 season.

They haven't really made any other signings that would set the pulses racing in the last decade, and certainly not in the years since the Orford deal went wrong.

Instead of a team of Britain/England and New Zealand internationals, you would get the odd player to represent a Celtic or South Sea Island nation together with a strong of signings discarded by other clubs or plucked untested from the lower reaches.

No longer could top talent be attracted and the performance level dipped to the point where no playoff appearance has been made since the signing they apparently ruined the club left at the end of the 2008 season. Licencing has not been kind to the Bulls - despite the increased playoff spots allowing mediocre sides a shot at Old Trafford, Bradford haven't made the top 8 in five years of licensing (Okay, in 2012 that was only because of a points deduction for the off field problems).

Off the field
The closing point above shows there is an element of on and off field problems going hand in hand.
In the opening decade of Super League 'Bullmania' saw Bradford be the best or second best supported club in Super League season in season out. And this was despite a dip when they briefly relocated away from Odsal. They only sat outside the top three in the regular season ladder at the end of one of the first 11 campaigns.

In part the relative decline in Bradford crowds is because of on and off field improvements at other clubs. However three of the last five seasons have seen average gates fall below 10,000 so there had also been an absolute fall. Since 2006 when the Bulls last claimed some silverware the attendance rank has only been top 3 once. They've also only finished in the top 3 in the league once and spent most of the last 8 years out of the play offs.

2010 was the low point for attendance and performance. In an effort to get more fans through the turnstiles they slashed season ticket prices for the 2011 season. If 10,000 memberships were sold, adult tickets of £60 were available.

An attempt to reward and draw in fans should be applauded. I'm not sure they ran their numbers right though. We've run some very crude numbers but the result of our calculations suggested that the ticket revenues in 2011 were around half 2010 numbers despite average crowds being a lot higher - average gate went from 8338 to 13352.

It didn't have the desired effect on influencing the team as they again finished 10th. It also was a questionable move coming off the back of £311,403 losses in 2010 and a determination to still spend too the cap limit, whilst paying of the last of the Harris settlement.

Undeterred, Chief Exec Ryan Duckett decided to go around again, this time 2011 tickets would be available for £75 if 12,000 were sold. That target wasn't meet but £90 season tickets were still available. Average crowd dipped to 11761. This would mean a marginal increase in ticket revenues from the year before, but the financial reality started to bite. This scheme was not doing it's job and the key source of ongoing revenue wasn't coming into the club. Money was being forsaken, investment in facilities and playing personnel would be hit. The writing was possibly on the wall for what was to come.

The next step in the sorry saga came with the same of Odsal to the RFL in January 2012. It was positioned that the sale was to protect the iconic venue from property vultures looking to take the site away from our game. Sadly we all fell for this line and didn't expect what was to come. Maybe the RFL fell for the lies too because they had awarded the club another three year license not too long before being needed to step in to protect the club's major asset.

The scale of the issues stated to emerge in March 2012 when the club announced a £1m shortfall in revenues that left the club potentially a fortnight away from liquidation. Begging letters were sent to fans and former players donated treasured memorabilia to the cause as £500k was raised to prevent the Easter derby with Leeds from being the last game at Odsal as had been threatened.

It couldn't however stop the Bulls from administration when the real depth of the crisis was revealed to be a debt of £1.25m or more that prompted administration, a points deduction and the redundancy of all non-playing personnel - the coaching staff and many others at the club returning to work for free shortly after.

A protracted period of administration was survived and the team actually battled to the brink of a play off appearance before the points deduction did for them in that 2012 season. Eventually local restauranteur Omar Khan and politician Gerry Sutcliffe were successful in saving the club in September that year and were even afforded the opportunity to remain in Super League with a 12 month provisional license. The draw back to that was the surrendering of the following years TV money, to be shared amongst the other clubs instead.

That again was another very questionable decision in the whole messy saga. It could therefore have been hardly surprising that more issues would start to show themselves in July 2013 with player wages starting to find themselves delayed with banking issues blamed before owner Omar Khan reportedly released £900k in property equity to fund the club through to the end of the season and apparently the off season too. 

But it wasn't really that clear cut and the drama was about to fully come to light again. Khan and Sutcliffe were to relinquish control of the club at the end of the season, citing ill health of Khan and staying they had achieved their primary objective of saving the club from extinction.

It son became questionable how much that was true, but first their was the issue of one of the new owners, Ryan Whitcut, failing the RFL's fit and proper person tests with a string of badly managed companies on his record books. Of course he had managed to get by despite this and had a board level involvement in the (mis)management of the club since the administration.

Mark Moore remained though and looked set to take over the club with Ian Watt and Andrew Calvert until they started to wrangle with the departing owners about the transfer of shares after finding "massive holes and that cash-flow projections were based on extremely poor forecasts." They claimed to find over £400k outstanding to a host of creditors, with a further undisclosed loan of £180k. This all led to them temporarily stepping down to try and force a deal through on their terms before coming back to the table with apartment RFL guidance and support in early 2014.

No contractual agreement was sorted out so the new company left the old one to be forced into administration on the eve of the new season before claiming to have successfully taken control of the club. All that was apparently left was for RFL ratification and the discovery of what sanctions this latest administration would impose upon them.

An intriguing twist cane when it emerged three other parties were also wanting to bid for the club, but the incumbent board won out. Then came a second 6 point deduction in 3 seasons and a war of words with the RFL about the new ownership's credibility - a combination of which saw the board withdraw their offer for the club.

The other parties remained interested and up on the rails came Mandy Koukash, Dr Marwan's good lady wife. The bids are now in, the decision is with the administrators to make. One thing is clear though, if you want to learn how not to run a sports club you need to look no further than the chequered history of the myriad of owners and chief executives seen pulling the strings at Odsal in the last decade. Who would have thought signing a major world class talent would prompt the demise of one of Super League's champion clubs.

The Bull's aren't quite dead. Long live the Bulls!

Researched and written by Mark - Tom couldn't bring himself to relive it all!

15 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: London - My Views, My Visions, My Fears

Starting Super League Pod for us was all about expanding our rugby league horizons, whether that was through new experiences of our own or getting in touch with fans across rugby league to share their experiences with us. With that in mind we're really pleased to present our first guest blog.

We're both really interested in the spread of the game but we aren't best qualified to talk about it with the true passion of a fan on the ground. Everyone is aware of the recent and current issues facing the London Broncos but we wanted to know what following the game in London feels like for a London fan. So, here are the thoughts of Ian Gatward, we hope you find it as interesting and entertaining as we did:

First of all for those who don't know who I am I am a London RL supporter, now for those who wonder why I have not put Broncos there is a simple reason.

I went to my very first live Rugby League game on Sept 14th 1980 when Fulham played Wigan in Division Two of the Slalom Lager Rugby League Championship and since then I have followed the club from it's high point in winning the second division championship in 1982 to seeing it play at Chiswick polytechnic stadium in a cup tie against Bradford Northern as it was then in near freezing conditions to playing in the Cup Final in '99 to where we are now and it is that part I want to put my point to.

I seem to remember a Boots 'n' All programme when Brian McDermott basically said that the club needs help from some one or some group with a lot of money and also the RFL to provide help with promoting the club and the game in the capital.

True David Hughes has been the main lifesaver of the club and the RFL well that is another subject.

But today I went to the Hive (for London v Wakefield) anticipating a fighting display from the club. I mean after all last week for 60 minutes we were well in the game against Warrington and only in the last quarter Warrington ran away with it, so really the scoreline was harsh, and we had the usual 'the team is gelling' and 'all the players and coaches are working hard to get a competitive if not winning side together' and as a realist I accepted that because, lets be honest, we are lucky to still have a club.

So I turn up to watch a display which was inept at best and downright awful at worst. So awful in fact I was so angry I resorted to Twitter to basically say my thoughts and my feelings to the club.

All I kept getting back was the usual drivel of 'we are working hard and...' etc etc etc.

Please don't get me wrong I understand with all the issues we have had that this was always going to be a long hard season, which we are still seeing new players, but in my mind the problems run a lot lot deeper than all this.

I spend a lot of my time defending why London should have a Super League side and for all the reasons of the game needing a national presence not just the M62 corridor so to speak up to a point I felt I was winning my argument. But how can I defend the club especially the way it is run and coached.

Let me explain, getting back to the RFL now unless I live on cloud cuckoo land I do believe the Challenge Cup Final is played at Wembley Stadium in London. Now apart from the usual fans from both cup final teams there are neutral supporters of the game probably looking for a club to support, I know about London but how will they know there is Rugby League in London? Simple answer is they don't. Why not advertise the fact? Why not have folks handing out leaflets or tickets or whatever just to promote the game?

But to blame it entirely on the RFL would be total folly, I believe we have a Chief Executive in Gus MacKay. Who is he you all ask? Well we hardly know him. He is never seen when he needs to be seen and in my opinion has basically driven the club to the wall.

From the end of last season when we beat an injury hit Hull KR side and not finish at the bottom merely on the fact that Salford were deducted points we all went away from the game thinking and asking what was going to happen with the club.

Like everything else rumours were flying around from all areas as to the club had ceased to be, to ground share with so many clubs and anything and everything possible. Then we heard we were going into administration. Then we were saved. Then we were not and for a couple of months we knew absolutely nothing. In fact on the days of court appearances the Twitter feed was going into overdrive and the voice of London Rugby League Ian Ramsdale was continually being asked what was happening but even he did not know. Now there might have been business and commercial reasons behind it but at least Wakefield fans were being honestly told that finances were so bad that key players were having to be sold and Bradford were going through torture but again the fans were being told, we were being told nothing.

When we knew the club was safe we were realistic to know that we were having to start from scratch and fairness to the club we were going to be patient and support the team and coaches. Now this is where my worries begin with what is happening, we all as one said we would all help with the promotion and publicity of the club. As to now nobody has been contacted by the club, I have even volunteered so many times given my e mail address my mobile number and whatever, not even a thanks but no thanks.

So what is the Chief Executive and the RFL doing about it? As far as I am aware nothing. Stanmore is a busy shopping area about a 10 minute drive from the ground with pubs and clubs and supermarkets, in fact a great place to advertise the club...but nothing. And when I mention it not a whisper from the club, so what does the Chief Executive do during the week? Not a lot from what I can gather because where is the publicity drive? where are the future supporters going to come from when nobody knows within the area we actually exist.

The same old excuses and the same old pre-game spin is starting to sound really hollow now and unless urgent action is taken the club I have supported for 34 years and made many many friends with and gone to so many grounds and met so many wonderful people will be allowed to drift and die and I do not want to see that but I fear for its future and for the game as a whole in the south.

So what are my suggestions? 1. The club seriously needs to listen to the supporters. We are paying good money to watch the club and we need to be listened to. After all we have volunteered to help with no reply from anyone, and 2. Sort the squad or the coach out because surely we can not afford to play like today again.

Hope this makes sense as you can see my frustration is so much that something needs to happen and this is my view.

You can contact me at IAN.GATWARD@sky.com or on Twitter @Gatwardian

Thanks for your assistance.

Regards Ian

Thank you Ian for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. I'm sure anyone reading this will get a sense for his frustration and that is shared by many London fans now the season is up and running.

We hope that the London club will make use of passionate fans like Ian and the others who have volunteered to help the club. What we've seen at all clubs over the years in rugby league is the great role fans can play in the progress of a club. From those fans that take in young out of area players to their homes to those that give up their time and resources to build new stands, there are great stories of fan volunteer power in our great game. It may be time for the London club to embrace that rugby league spirit if it stands a chance to remain at the top table, before that enthusiasm to support the professional game in London declines too far.

If you're interested in sharing your rugby league experiences with us like Ian has done please get in touch by email to superleaguepod@gmail.com. More importantly, if you want to help Ian on his quest to get more fan information and involvement then please get in touch with him on the contract details given above. For more from Ian or on London rugby league we recommend you visit London Broncos photos and news fan blog and also follow Ian Ramsdale on Twitter.

1 March 2014

Marquee Players? Not For Tom

Last week we re-posted a piece Mark had written about the salary cap that effectively addressed the question of Marquee Players as the Super League clubs built up to voting on Marwan Koukash's proposals. Mark basically concluded they wouldn't have much of an impact on competitive balance so the positives outweighed the negatives and he was in favour of the idea.

Tom has a different perspective and in an unprecedented manner, there is disagreement between the hosts of UK Rugby League's premier podcast. In the interest of balance, here is Tom's view:

I feel differently to Mark about the idea of Marquee Players and the effect they would have on Super League. That said I'm not sure how voraciously I need to make my point since the majority of Super League chairmen agree that, at the very least, the timing of such a proposal is inappropriate.

Let's begin with the comparisons being made to Rugby Union. Kick-and-Clap has a Marquee Player system in place. It also has higher attendances, a more lucrative sponsorship deal, wider television coverage, an international game that is competitive beyond three leading nations, and a network of leagues across the world where players can earn similar amounts of money. Players move more freely around the sport (unless you want to play for the All-Blacks) and can look forward to experiencing a similar level of competition in one of five or six domestics competitions. That's before they gain the opportunity to play in either the Rugby Championship (formerly Tri-Nations), Six Nations or a World Cup. Union is, for me, the happy medium between the Super League and top flight association football - it lives within its means, and it's means ALLOW a Marquee Player to be part of it's make up.

Don't get me wrong, Rugby League is the better product, but despite tentative growth in South Africa, the USA, and Eastern Europe, no one can argue that as a sport we aren't some way behind Union in terms of a wider global appeal.

The gap in financial clout between the NRL and Super League is also wider than we would like it to be. The NRL has broad nationwide coverage as Australia's number one winter sport, it has a higher salary cap and players can earn tonnes more cash though lucrative sponsorships and endorsements. These, coupled with the lifestyle and climate in Oz make playing over there a highly attractive proposition for our home grown talent and the trend for bringing over northern hemisphere players is growing.

The pro Marquee Player chairmen that exist in Super League come from the financially most able clubs, and it's understandable they want to flex their fiscal muscles so that they might improve and develop their squads and reap the potential benefits of having a marquee player. However, away from the East Lancs Road, the HJ and the Trafford Centre car park *wink-wink*, the idea of a marquee player should be filling clubs with dread. Only the most foolhardy and poorly run teams would try to sign a Marquee Player in the hope that one man could have such an impact as to turn them into a top four side (so I fully anticipate the Bulls will sign up SBW on a three million a year deal fairly soon!). 

The clamour to remain competitive could well outweigh the need to grow sustainably. As a Bulls fan, I know first hand just how valuable even £600k (half the current Sky TV money) can be to a team in need. If we suddenly make that market value to tempt players over from down under then we are putting our institutions at risk.

The argument that this system will improve the quality of the competition holds little water for me. I'll use Luke Walsh as an example. Let's say for the sake of this hypothetical that he is St Helens' Marquee Player. He certainly costs them enough in wages, and his early performances in Super League have been of a very high quality. In Super League.

In the NRL, however, he lost his place in an average Penrith team that finished tenth in 2013. Take nothing away from him in Super League, but he is hardly Marquee in the eyes of the Aussies. And maybe that's the problem. Our idea or marquee is their idea of average. 

Maybe there is more catching up to be done in terms of financial growth, but allowing clubs to rack up a massive strain on their already tight budgets puts teams under undue pressure and at unnecessary risk. If teams start folding as a result of signing up  average NRL players at inflated prices,then the game as a whole will suffer.

If teams don't live within their means they fail. If teams are forced to overreach to be competitive they will not be living within their means and they will fail. Marwan Koukash is no doubt doing great things for Salford but as yet they haven't shown that having bags of money to throw at people will pay off. This week they were butchered by Saints having previously seen off a poor London side and nearly letting a strong lead go against Wakefield. 

If the RFL doesn't administrate these proposals properly, we will very quickly see an insurmountable gap open up between the richest and poorest sides.

So, you've read some of the things that formed our opinion, now we want you to get in touch with yours too. We'll discuss all this and more on Episode 7 of Super League Pod.