Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood fielded wide-ranging questions from journalists about England, the Magic Weekend, the Super-8s, the World Club Series and much more. Nothing was off-limits. Here is an edited transcript of the hour and 20 minute-long session...
Wayne Bennett came over for a week last month, but the media had no access - why not?
Nigel Wood: The agreement we came to with Wayne was he did a lot of Press when he was here in February, this last visit here was about getting under the skin of the British game, it was an intense schedule anyway... normal service will be restored for the Four Nations.
Where are you up to with Wayne’s plans leading up to the World Cup?
NW: There is support (among clubs) for a pre-season warm-weather camp. The clubs have always been extremely supportive of the needs of the national team. There’s some detail to work through, but I think we’ll be having a mid-season international next year. We’re just working out who that will be against and where it will take place. It will be wherever it needs to be, the overwhelming consideration is the quality of the opposition - it could be overseas or here. Whatever happens, half the team will be flying halfway round the world, one way or the other. We’re not there yet, but the likely outcome is it will be May 7 (the representative round in the NRL). I wouldn’t rule out Dubai or Hong Kong, but fundamentally I would say it’s here or (Down Under).
Any talk of limiting the number of games the leading players play?
NW: I think that needs a sensible discussion between clubs and the RFL, but it would be wrong to put a (random figure) on it now.
Any changes to the eligibility rules for internationals?
NW: There’s been a piece of work done by the chief executive of the RLIF, and that was tabled in front of the RLIF board last week and is now being circulated among the 18 full members for comments. It’s unlikely anything will happen which effects the Four Nations. The rules as they are currently written are broadly in the right place, there may be some changes on the margins, to improve the tier-two nations - for a player to move between Australia and, say, Samoa more easily. Residency is being looked at, and that may be lengthened (from the current three years).
Will Wayne be given a free rein to choose who he wants, even Australian-born players who qualify?
NW: Whatever the rules are, we will play by, because our opponents are.
Will the Super League clubs be involved in choosing the new Super League General Manager?
NW: No, it’s an RFL appointment. The clubs have been consulted extensively on the type of person they are looking for.
Why has it taken so long to advertise the position since Blake Solly left?
NW: We wanted to make sure we saw the clubs, and made sure the job description we came up with, met their needs.
Does the disciplinary process need an overhaul?
NW: I understand there has been some topical issues, and if there are some improvements to be made, we’re all ears. But look at the three elements - refereeing, match review panel and judiciary - there are different dimensions. Most fair observers would say the panels have been refreshed. I would hate it if it was presented as a system in crisis, because it isn’t - but that’s not to say we’re not open to making tweaks.
Do we need to look at the system where the referee makes a decision on-field, before referring it to the video referee?
NW; There is no proposal to change it. To me, it seems bizarre you wouldn’t ask the ref’ to make an on-field decision, because for four of the six games (with no video referees) he has to make a decision. I think there may need to be some work on the (level of proof needed to overturn an on-field decision), and improve the communication between the referee and video ref’.
Is the Super-8s here to stay?
NW; We said it would be reviewed after three years. I know the litmus test for many is whether a team gets promoted, and until they do, some will say it isn’t quite right. But the drama it has delivered - the chase now for the Championship to get into the top-four - and the Million Pound Game... the universal opinion last year was that 2015 had been the best season in recent history, in terms of the closeness of finishes. If you wanted to write it, it was a Hollywood script. But we also need to be mindful of the fact there won’t be a league system on the globe which doesn’t have matches of less significance as others. I’m perfectly happy with it.
Are any changes planned for the salary cap?
NW: Championship clubs have been able to spend the same as Super League clubs (£1.825m) this season, and League One will join that next year. There’ll be one salary cap limit, so everyone is playing to the same rules, as long as it isn’t more than 50 per cent of their income. The clubs are discussing the cap, and will look at that at the end of the season - but the reality is, it’s a club decision. It wouldn’t be as unsophisticated as ‘it should be moved to this’, there will be conversations about allowing more England players getting allowances, or a second marquee player... there are exemptions already. There has been growth in the spend on players, but it doesn’t come across in the headline figure. Leeds, I suspect, spent £2.5m on players last year because prize money falls outside the cap.
Will we ever get to a point where the RFL intervenes and instructs clubs to run reserve teams?
NW: Probably only by consent. I know we are expected to lead, but we lead by consent of the clubs, and the position of reserves is some people think it’s essential, others think the best way to develop fringe players is to put them into the best standard of competition, which is the Championship or League One (on dual-registration). Currently, the RFL role is to facilitate both. I would prefer there was a unanimous position, but that’s for the clubs to reach.
Do you have any regrets you had a conversation with Marwan Koukash about joining Salford, given the criticism he has aimed at you and the RFL?
NW: You have to ask, where would Salford be if he hadn’t come on board? I’m not going to dignify everything that’s said (by Koukash) with a response, our job is to uphold the rules fairly. Truly, I have a £60m business to run here, we have issues with England, promotion, plenty of things, without worrying about what one person says. We had an AGM of clubs last Friday, Salford were present, and nothing was forthcoming. Everything is media-noise, from what I can see.
With a ‘live’ salary cap, why have Salford been punished for a past breach?
NW: The salary cap is based upon the information provided, if payments are taking place outside of those disclosed, that’s (why it only came to light later).
Will the World Club Series be held in England or Down Under next year, and will it again be three clubs from each competition?
NW: The expectation is it will be over here, but there are a number if discussions which don’t preclude a match taking place in Australia. There is a lot of discussion going on - what the World Club should look like, at a bare minimum, it should be two games over here - the Grand Finalists - but it may be bigger than that. It may be three or four games. We have to work with the NRL to see what they want out of it as well, some people there think it should be two, three or four teams (each), some over there want to host it... it’s about getting some common (ground). It’s a difficult one to pull together.
Given the concept is based largely on clubs’ willingness to participate, are we only likely to know the format after the Grand Finals?
NW: I hope not, but that is a possibility. I know at least two clubs over here who would welcome the opportunity to play over there. We could easily have matches in either hemisphere. The underlining point is we all want to continue international club competition, in the most compelling and affordable way as we can - there’s no retreating from that position.
Realistically, is there scope to make Super League’s profile much bigger in terms of crowds, audiences and general awareness?
NW: I think there’s quite a bit. It’s a crowded market because you can now watch any sport from anywhere in the world, so you have to fight for air-time and presence, that’s why events like Magic work well for us because they give us some cut-through. But yes, I think there is room for growth. I think the thing which would light the touch paper for the sport, is if we do well internationally - that’s when we will get a fundamental shift in awareness.
Are you satisfied with the current international programme?
The international game needs to be as compelling as possible, and I don’t think it is yet. I can only speak for this country, we would welcome a stronger and deeper international programme - within the current window provided. We would happily see our team play four or five times a year. The strategy for the international federation is to run the best World Cups it can, and then run a second global tournament in the intervening period, and that still leaves two years for bi-lateral Test matches for England, Lions tours, Kiwis or Kangaroos tours. I think we can get to that.
Wigan took a game to London last year - would you welcome more on the road games?
Yes. Part of raising visibility and profile would be to incentivise and encourage clubs to do that.
Magic Weekend - when will we know where it is?
Soon. Tender was issued and that runs until the end of July, everyone would like certainty as soon as possible.