Super League is now a feeder competition, says Wigan legend Martin Offiah
?Former Wigan and Great Britain winger Martin Offiah has issued a stark warning to Super League, claiming it is and will remain a "feeder competition" for other leagues and sports unless it starts to pay big wages to its players.
Offiah is still one the most recognisable rugby league players 18 years after he played his last match and he believes the absence of star names will ensure its continued struggle.
The one-time rugby union convert, who scored 444 tries in 424 rugby league appearances - mostly for Widnes and Wigan - retains a keen interest in the game and is on the recently appointed Steve Prescott Man of Steel selection panel.
But he fears for the future of rugby league as it struggles to compete financially with rugby union and the NRL.
"For a decade I was a consultant for a sports agency and I found that every time a player in Super League reached a certain level, he was looking for an exit strategy and that hasn't changed," Offiah, now 52, told Press Association Sport.
"Kyle Eastmond was one example when he went to rugby union. He is a little bit forgotten now and he is probably never going to play for England but he still chooses to stay in the sport, whereas if he did come back to rugby league he'd be a superstar.
"I wouldn't say it's a second-tier competition but it's almost a feeder competition. I suppose there are exceptions, such as the James Robys, and players do come back, but you are getting to the situation now where it's very hard for the sport to sustain a superstar.
"We had Ben Barba, who stayed for one year. Even if Super League creates a superstar, they get picked off.
"The rewards in other areas are so great. It's a drum I've been banging for a while now and people only thought I was saying it because I was an agent, but nothing will change unless they can get their act together financially."
Offiah welcomes the return of former Everton chief executive Robert Elstone to Super League and believes the arrival of Toronto, possibly to be followed by New York and Ottawa, may help produce a momentum shift, but he says the game "missed a trick" at the advent of Super League.
"When Super League started it was a great concept and it helped save the game, but they missed a trick. Even when we signed that TV deal a few years ago, I think we missed a beat," he added.
"By Sky offering Super League less money, they cut their own throat. You are never going to attract players of the level of Jonathan Davies and Va'aiga Tuigamala, the only players you are going to attract are home-grown talent or people with a chequered past.
"Super League needs to go out and get partners who are going to inject money into the sport, otherwise it's going to be a fantastic sport but it's not going to be aspirational.
"Sometimes rugby league is too inward looking. Look at the NFL or the NBA, they are sports that are only played in one country but they have a world presence.
"In my day, I was playing against England rugby union internationals, All Blacks, Springboks and top players from the NRL. You don't get that now.
"All the New Zealand players who wanted to earn a lot of money didn't go to the NRL, they came to this country.
"(Australians) Wally Lewis, Andrew Ettingshausen, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny and Mal Meninga all played in this country.
"Look at the Man of Steel winners and all the people who won things in rugby league, how many of them came from rugby union?
"Rugby union has always been the bigger game and could compete even when it didn't pay its players. League had a hundred years start in the race and is still losing.
"Regardless of how much history and heritage it's got - and rugby league has got that in spades - it's suffering as a modern, global sport.
"If you don't have stars in your game, you've got no game."