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Last weekend saw Harlequins knocked out in the fifth round of the challenge cup by Leeds Rhinos. It was just another woeful episode in the on-going failure that is top flight expansionist teams. Rugby league is an entertainment business and Iím afraid itís just not entertaining enough to draw in new audiences to the game. However itíd be silly not to acknowledge the thousands of fans who engage with the game via media such as the radio and television. After all this brings money into the game along with the traditional fan on the terraces.
But itís on the field that matters and Iím afraid that Crusaders along with Harlequins donít have a world class player in either of their teams. Even if you merged these two squads together and called them the expansionists, you still wouldnít get a team that could challenge for honours with the current players that they have between them. Theyíd be at the bottom of the top eight at best which really is not good enough at all.
I remember a time when Harlequins did have some world class players in their team. Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards were probably two of the biggest players to turn out for the club at the same time. During that time they both helped the then named London Broncos to the challenge cup final in 1999 along with second place in the super league table in 1997. Iím sure that Iím not the only rugby league fan that can see a return to these days anytime soon.
Whilst itís evident that Rugby league is not failing in these expansionist areas on an amateur level, the professional game is having a slow and painful death. Drastic measures are needed to save the likes of Harlequins and Crusaders from the on-going shame that theyíre experiencing at the moment. In any other entertainment business these clubs would be closed down now because of the lack of real audiences coming to see them.
The solution in my opinion is that we as a rugby league community have a duty to make this expansion work. Iím not talking about the fans; Iím talking about the players and the RFL who can bring genuine brilliance to the barren lands of professional rugby league. Imagine if we picked the ten best players in the world and put five each in the teams of Crusaders and Harlequins. People would not only turn out to see them at home games. Fans of opposition teams would turn out to see them at away games that were traditionally avoided by those seeking entertainment.
I genuinely think that world class players alongside youth development would be the combination to finally make professional rugby league in these parts of the world a long term reality in the game. After all Gareth Thomas isnít really adding up is it?