Talking RL: ‘Do the RFL make bad decisions on purpose?’

Sean O'Loughlin has yet to find out if he will captain England
Sean O'Loughlin has yet to find out if he will captain England

Social media is not always a reliable gauge of public opinion.

But still, I was amused by the response to the RFL’s tweet about England’s Test against Samoa being streamed on their website.

‘Do you make bad decisions on purpose?’ asked one.

‘Absolute disgrace’, ‘absolute joke’... ‘Are you trying to keep rugby league a secret?’

They went on and on.

The BBC wanted to screen the Test.

They have attracted viewing figures of around a million for recent Tests; a 10.30am kick-off on a Saturday morning would, we can guess, have drawn a similar figure.

Trouble was, their offer - unconfirmed, but reported to be under £10,000 - wasn’t “acceptable”.

Which is why the RFL instead decided to show the game on its own website, charging fans £3.49 for the privilege.

As a sweetener, fans buying Magic Weekend tickets from the RFL, not from the clubs directly, will get to watch it for free. But anyone who has already booked their seats for Newcastle will miss out (I’d suggest they get in touch with the RFL directly about it and complain).

It’d be easy, almost tempting, to have a pop at the Beeb for being stingy.

But this, remember, was a Test confirmed with just six weeks’ notice. Six weeks!

What other sport does that?

Keep in mind, too, that England’s previous mid-season representative games - against a weakened Kiwis, Exiles, Australia’s 64-10 mauling, even the County Origin - have bombed, so you could forgive some apprehension about this Test too.

Of course, many of us expect this game to be different.

And in a World Cup year, and after a disappointing Four Nations, and with NRL players involved, there is quite a bit of interest.

I’m excited about it. I reckon it will be a full-blooded encounter... what a shame more people won’t get to see it.

In defending their controversial decision, Roger Draper, the RFL’s chief commercial officer, points out that the way people watch sport, like TV, is changing.

He’s right.

But we are way off that tipping point; the entire new series of Car Share can be streamed on the BBC iPlayer... but I doubt the online views will be anywhere near the 6.5m who watched the opening episode on BBC One.

And let’s not forget the fans - many older - who will be left alienated by this decision.

They can’t, or won’t, get to watch this game now, because they don’t watch TV programmes on phones, laptops, tablets or smart TVs.

Look, I get the RFL has to protect its position for future negotiations. I get that.

They may have a home Test series next year which they need to speak to broadcasters about, and they want to show they are prepared to walk away if they don’t get offers they like.

I doubt anyone at the RFL expects to make a large sum of money from streaming this game. And £3.49 for a Test isn’t expensive, certainly not compared to other pay-per-view boxing events I’ve been fleeced for.

But at a time when rugby league is desperately short of national attention, I think they have let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.

This could be a Test which would win over potential new fans and sponsors.

At the very least, it would strengthen rugby league’s weak position in the national sporting psyche. It’s hard to put a value on that – but it’s worth much more than £10,000.

Instead, the RFL have annoyed many existing fans, alienated many older ones, and ensured they won’t attract any new ones.

Welcome back, Micky McIlorum!

If the tough No.9 is introduced from the bench tomorrow, expect the volume to be dialled up to 11.

He’s been out for 14 months and, while it’s been great to see Sam Powell flourish in that time, it’ll be great to have Micky back out there rattling cages.

Good Friday has been great for Warriors fans since 2010, with all the traditional derbies going in their favour.

This one has taken on a new complexion, firstly because of Wigan’s run of form and secondly because of Saints’ decision to sack club legend Keiron Cunningham.

The saying ‘form goes out the window’ may well be a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I almost feel sorry for those fans - usually on the other side of the Pennines - who claim ‘their’ derbies as the biggest.

We know the truth. And this should be a cracker.

As a coach, Keiron Cunningham never quite connected with St Helens fans. Their style wasn’t particularly, well, stylish. And his sacking was not a shock.

But I don’t buy the argument their results this year have been bad.

Sure, losses again Wakefield, Leigh and a draw against Huddersfield were unexpected. But their wins against Leeds, Warrington and away at Catalans were unexpected, too.

And as for the narrow defeats to Salford and Hull FC, they seem like fair reflections of the teams on the pitch; those clubs have pretty good teams now!

Some people seem to want the impossible - a more competitive Super League, and their team to always win.

A colleague reports some of the clubs who opposed the salary cap rise have written to the RFL threatening to pull the plug on their academies.

The logic is they will use the money they will save on their first-team squad, in the hope of competing with the richer clubs.

To recap: Two of the 12 Super League clubs don’t have academies. Eight of the 12 clubs don’t have reserve teams.

The RFL prefer clubs to have those development pathways - but they refuse to do it for financial reasons. It’s hard to blame clubs for looking after their own self-interests - but this fresh threat is a reminder that action needs to be taken against this farcical situation.

“Where are our next marquee players from?” asked Lee Briers, the England and Warrington academy coach. “Where are the next juniors in this country coming from? Because currently, if they’re not good enough, at 19 they’re thrown on the scrap heap.”

Which is why the RFL needs to take the decision out of the clubs’ hands and make having academies and reserves, in whatever guise (and I saw no problem with an Under-21s, which allowed three ‘overage’ players), a requirement.

If they need to ring-fence money from the central funding, fine. Use a carrot or a stick, whichever works best.

But there’s already long-list of conditions clubs must meet to be in Super League - developing young players needs to be one of them, too.