Aussie Tony Smith backs promotion and relegation shake-up for Super League

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The Hull FC boss says off-field criteria must play a part in promotion and relegation.

One of the most highly respected and knowledgeable coaches in Rugby League insists promotion and relegation should be based on how well run clubs are if Super League is to bridge the gap in class and cash to their Australian counterparts.

As part of its long-term strategic partnership with the game, media giants IMG have proposed a form of licensing from the 2025 season, which could see clubs excluded from the top flight if they fail to satisfy a range of as-yet-undetermined requirements.

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But Tony Smith, who entered Super League management at Huddersfield Giants in  September 2001, believes such a change in thinking is crucial if clubs are to stop the continuing exodus of their best players to Australia’s comparatively-lucrative NRL, as well as giving them breathing space to nurture new stars of their own.

Smith, who is preparing his new Hull FC side for the Super League season, said: "I don’t think we will produce so many fantastic young players in this country as long as you have promotion and relegation as it is now.

“I have never been against promotion and relegation, but it has to be based on far greater criteria. A club with a good business model should be promoted up to the top flight, and you’ve got to prove that in a lot of ways. And if anybody’s holding back the competition, they go.”

Australian Smith first came to Britain to play for Workington in the inaugural Super League season, before launching a distinguished coaching career, in which Hull – whom he joined in a cross-city switch from Hull KR last year – are his fifth Super League club.

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Despite the unrest that surrounded the initial introduction of a licensing system under then RFL chief Richard Lewis in 2009, Smith has fond memories of that period, insisting its lessons were self-evident and ought to drawn upon as the game’s authorities, led by IMG, plot the way forward.

“I’ve been here for 22 years and at certain times the administration has been very good, and under Richard Lewis I thought it was terrific,” added Smith.

“It brought a whole lot of credibility to the sport and we started to get on the map because it was well run and respected.

“Financially it was pretty sound and in that period some of the best rugby league was played, not panic rugby league, not the kind of rugby league that is all about, ‘Let’s not take any risks so that we don’t get relegated’.

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“It freed everybody up, but it also allowed people to put the time and effort into developing fantastic young players who became household names both here and in Australia, and I don’t think we’ve produced so many since.”

All senior clubs with the exception of Keighley Cougars either voted in favour or abstained in a vote for IMG’s initial plans in September.

But while there is clearly an appetite for change, many clubs are reserving full judgement until the precise criteria for the proposed A, B and C-grade licences are revealed next month in March.

“While Australia are in the position they  occupy, they’re going to continue to pluck off our best players,” added Smith.

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“The only way to stop that is to have a fantastic competition for them to be a part of. We can’t compete with them in terms of money, so as a sport we need to recognise that if they are to take our best, we need to replace them by producing more of our own and developing a more sustainable competition."

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