Toulouse fear for heartland clubs

Fans of Widnes, Leigh and others, not long over their Super League rejection disappointment, may well suffer the same fate in 2011 with the news that Toulouse are set to accept an invite to compete in National League 1 next season.

With the RFL’s expansionist agenda in full throttle following the inclusion of Celtic Crusaders in Super League for 2009, the news that the French club, who missed out on Super League in 2006 and 2009, are to join the second tier of the game.

Many fans see this as the biggest hint yet that Toulouse will join Catalans as French representatives the next time Super League opens up for new clubs in 2012.

It marks yet more disappointment for fans of Widnes, Leigh, Halifax and Featherstone, who all missed out on a place in the 14 team top flight in July, all of whom must face up to the possibility of further rejection in three years time.

Another team flying the expansion flag is Gateshead Thunder, who have done it the right way, working their way up from the bottom of the rugby league ladder, to a superb promotion under Dave Woods and Chris Hood this season. Few would bet against Thunder putting themselves in the hunt for a 2012 licence, particularly after the spectacle they put on in front of the SKY cameras at Kingston Park against Doncaster last week.

And with the RFL unlikely to expand Super League beyond 16, if that, Toulouse and Gateshead are now probably favourites for a place in 2012, leaving traditional clubs like Widnes and Leigh hoping that an existing club fails to keep to the criteria of the top flight.

How much will depend on Celtic’s progress? Despite the relatively slow progress of Harlequins in the past two decades, the RFL are still confident of expanding the game. If Celtic fail, will the RFL lose some of its trust in expansionist areas?

Who knows, but despite the licence announcement in July, the debate still rumbles on as everyone gears up to yet another year of off the field distractions in 2011.

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