RUGBY league has been warned to get expansion in the south right or risk becoming a ‘Victorian museum piece.’
The latest attempt to crack the country sees the launch of the new Southern Conference, which will see sides from South Wales to Essex compete.
But Lionel Hurst, one of the men behind the new competition, insists the game has to unlock the door to bring new clubs and new talent through or the game could be condemned.
And the glass ceiling should be removed with the winners being able to play for a place in the third tier League One.
Hurst, boss of the Gloucestershire All Golds, said: “Unless the game becomes national, it’s going to end up as a Victorian museum piece.
“This is massive for the game nationally but it has to be resourced properly and it has to be done in the proper fashion.
“Gloucestershire All Golds haven’t been in League One for two years and Hemel Stags aren’t this year, so I reckon that will have saved the Rugby Football League over £200,000.
“And if you want to work your way up through the divisions, you should be able to. If say Bedford Tigers win the Southern Conference and Keighley Cougars finish bottom of League One, why shouldn’t Bedford play Keighley for a place in League One?
“Hopefully by 2022, that can be written into the structure of the competition. There’s no agenda, it’s because I love the game and want to make it a truly national sport.”
In total, 14 teams will take part ranging from Wales’ Valley Cougars to Colchester’s Eastern Rhinos, taking in Brixton, Hammersmith, Swindon and Cardiff.
The talent pool cannot be denied as the likes of Dan Sarginson, Tony Clubb and Mike McMeeken have come through the London Broncos academy to play for England. The Griffin brothers – Darrell, Josh and George – hail from Oxfordshire.
But Hurst believes more has to be done with the Southern Conference, which was launched at yesterday’s Super League clash between London Broncos and Castleford, the start.
He added: “We’ve tried it before but in a fitful fashion. It’s a start but we need a plan for three, five or 10 years.
“Just from this, we’ve secured nine new sponsors in just 20 days and they are significant companies – this isn’t the Dog and Duck we’re talking about.
“If you mention rugby to the ordinary person, most will go on about England v Wales but I’d tell them it’s all about London v Castleford – they look at me like I’m some sort of halfwit.
“But this could be the start of something that can get them talking about rugby league as it will be on their doorstep.”
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