Leigh woes reflect Championship struggles

A team that’s top of the league and playing exciting rugby. A few years ago, there would have been a massive buzz around the town of Leigh thanks to this, but not today.

Despite their fine-form on the field, the Centurions are currently gripped with struggles behind the scenes, following the departure of chairman, and main investor, Arthur Thomas, and the subsequent departure of chief executive Allan Rowley.

Coach Ian Millward and his players have done all they can to put a winning team on the field, and Leigh were impressive in their unbeaten start to the season as well as the unlucky cup exit at the hands of Super League side Catalan.

But still that hasn’t been good enough.

Crowds haven’t increased, new investors haven’t been forthcoming, and it is perhaps the lack of potential and opportunities within the game that are causing it. There isn’t a promotion campaign to get behind, nor is there potential there for an investor to put money in now, and be able to get a reasonable return in years to come.

As harsh as it sounds, success attracts sponsorship. The problem for Leigh that being successful in the Championship, isn’t going to increase their exposure, nor is it going to improve their stature.

The same appears to be happening at Barrow, where chairman Des Johnston is becoming frustrated at the lack of support offered to him, despite his admirable contribution to the Raiders in recent years, which has turned them from a mid-table third-tier team to Championship front-runners.

It is difficult for any of these clubs to attract any sort of investment. There is no potential for growth, nor is there any opportunities to progress organically with the licensing system.

The licensing system will help Super League thrive, and the way the top league has developed over the years from a working man’s sport, to very much weekend entertainment to be enjoyed by all, is admired by many in other sectors.

However, there should be major concerns at what it means for Championship clubs. The Championship review is ongoing and should see some changes in the next few years for the better.

But while Batley are enjoying their success and thriving from it – they currently lie second in the Championship – the heightened expectations of the likes of Leigh, who themselves have played in Super League, and Barrow mean they want more. And rightly so. Clubs should be able to be ambitious, and they should be able to progress.

For fans too, the lack of feasible progress means a lack of passion and enthusiasm. Imagine the improvements the likes of Leigh would see in their attendances if pushing for a promotion place.

What’s the solution? Who knows. Maybe shortening the window between Super League elevation would help. Offer it every other season to the title winners, perhaps.

But again, that presents issues to any clubs that are demoted from the top flight, how that is handled, how it is decided and when does it happen.

At the moment, it’s a bit like fitting square pegs in to round holes. There are too many clubs with ambitions to fit in to the top flight as we know it, and it may be a case of gambling, and hoping that these clubs stick around for the next few years, until it’s feasible to expand the full time element of the game.

One thing is for sure though, rugby league cannot afford for clubs like Leigh and Barrow to struggle – in the past few years we’ve seen a raft of Championship clubs enter administration, and while the departure of Blackpool from the professional leagues last season helped to trigger the Championship review, it may be a case of sitting tight for the next few years until the RFL come up with a solution that enables the lower tiers to thrive.

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