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Lenagan: This is the radical change Super League needs

Ian Lenagan
Ian Lenagan

Ian Lenagan hailed the “radical change” which he believes will lead to the start of a new era for Super League.

He flanked the competition’s new chief executive, Robert Elstone, as he was unveiled at a media conference in Warrington this afternoon.

The Super League clubs have taken control of the top-flight and charged former Everton CEO Elstone with the task of leading the “reboot”.

Lenagan said:

- Super League’s standing has receded in recent years.

- The Super 8s structure, which been “killing” Wigan’s season ticket sales, will be ditched.

- Elstone is “totally” the man to spearhead the growth of Super League.

St Helens owner Eamonn McManus and Warrington’s Simon Moran were also on the top-table as they spoke with passion about the direction they want to take the competition.

Asked how significant this change was, Lenagan said: “This is very big.

“This is going back to saying the core of our game is Super League, and all of our efforts will be on Super League.

“It’s been diluted for 10 years.

“The RFL are trying to do everything, and that dilution means nothing succeeds.

“So Sport England thinks participation is down, everyone thinks the Challenge Cup - because of attendances - is down, and Super League has not gone where it should be.

“Without any doubt, we have lost our relative positioning because we haven’t promoted the top-tier.

“The fact you have three club owners, and Robert, here saying, ‘We are going to make this growth occur’, is big, big news for rugby league.

“It’s a refresh, reboot, call it what you like. I said ‘radical change was necessary’ in my letter last October. We’ve got that radical change now.

“Robert is superb. I’ve seen him at Everton, you can see his passion, and I’ve checked many references and people speak extremely highly of him.”

In taking control of all Super League matters, Lenagan believes fans will begin to see improvements – from the spectacle on the pitch, through to the scheduling.

“Look at our fixtures - our three biggest home games are together,” he said, nodding to the matches against Leeds, Warrington and St Helens within a three-week window starting later this month. “And two are on a Thursday. What’s that going to do? It’s stupid beyond belief.”

Lenagan has previously been critical of the Super-8s structure, in which the competition splits at the end of July and the bottom-four fight for their futures alongside the Championship’s top-four, because of the uncertainty over fixtures.

“Were focussing on the Championship - for what?” he said. “The Super-8s has crawled on into a fourth year and it’s killing Wigan’s season tickets.

“Once it gets to July 23 it all fizzles away until the semi-finals.”

He speculated next year’s competition may be 12 teams, playing each other once with a few additional fixtures to form a 27 or 28 round campaign, with a relegation element.

The promoted team from the Championship would need to meet minimum standards, and Elstone echoed his remarks for a proper reserve competition.

Lenagan repeatedly said during the media conference he was speaking on behalf of the Super League clubs, who he said voted through the changes 11-1.

The one opponent was Leeds, and chief executive Gary Hetherington reacted to the planned changes to the structure next year by labelling it as “an absurd grab for power for the game by a small group of men who think they own the game.”

Lenagan believes the change has happened in time to revitalise Super League before they begin talks about a new broadcast deal, which still has three-and-a-half years to run.

“This year is about, ‘What is 2019 going to be about?’ No Super-8s, 12 clubs, promotion and relegation,” he said. “For 2020 and 2021, who knows what changes may come in? It may be 10 teams - I doubt it, but it may - it may be we change some of the rules.

“Some of the NRL rules, the shot-clock for example, work well.”

He added the Championship and Championship One clubs will continue to receive the same amount of funding, at least until the end of the current Sky Sports deal.

Lenagan, who has owned Wigan for more than a decade and was previously at the helm of London Broncos, has been silent for the last few months during this process.

“The last six months has taken a lot of time and effort, which I am delighted to hand over to Robert,” he added.