This week on The Last Tackle, Betfred caught up with RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer on some of the outstanding moments of the season - and what the future of the sport holds.
“It’s an outstanding part of our game,” Rimmer said when reflecting on the Super League wheelchair Grand Final. “If anyone wants to play rugby league we will find a way of letting them play rugby league. Those wheelchair players take it to another level altogether, it is fast, exciting, it is rugged and it absolutely replicates what the sport is - so I’m very very proud of that.”
One of the highlights of a spectacular season was St Helens’ third consecutive Grand Final win and the chief executive believes they were fully deserving of their success this term.
“They are a formidable team and when you realise some of the players that didn’t play as well you realise just how strong they are. From 1 to 17 they are going to cause you problems, they have got Alex running up the middle who is just unstoppable - James Roby - how long can he go on for? He is just phenomenal. They are an incredible team and deserved to be the best team in the competition.”
Meanwhile St Helens also tasted success in the women’s game, winning the Grand Final 28-0 over Leeds Rhinos, but Rimmer was keen to point out Betfred’s role in the development of the women’s game.
“The women’s game is on an upward trajectory and I have to thank Betfred for their support because they have been behind us from the very start and other people have been on the bandwagon as we have gone along and it has just created a momentum which culminated in the Grand Final which had record crowds to watch that game. High intensity, lots of great athletes and the girls that play there showcase the sport in exactly the way you want them to.”
Looking ahead to next season in the Super League, one of the main talking points has to be the arrival of Toulouse, and the rivalry it sets up with fellow French club Catalans Dragons.
“I think it is very interesting,” he admits. “I think you have two very different teams and two different clubs to be honest. You have Catalans who are very definitely Catalan and Toulouse who are very definitely French. Two contrasting styles of play, different business models but really be a very interesting piece of fairy dust on the Super League next year.”
The end of the season has also brought on a period of reflection for the sport, and a sense of gratefulness given the problems that the Covid-19 pandemic caused.
“Hugely tough,” Rimmer reflected. “I think whatever I have to deal with is minimal in comparison to the athletes and the staff and the fans and the commercial partners. This period of our rugby league life has tested the sport more than any other but more so with us in that it brought us closer together I think. As a governing body we have to make hard decisions that don’t please people but they have to be made and it is a huge credit to everyone who is involved.”
“I remember the Challenge Cup final last year, up until midday that day we weren’t even sure it was going to go ahead. We’ve protected the sport, we’ve survived and now we are back in the growth phase and having completed this season that is exactly where I see us. The trajectory is up and we are going to give everyone a smile on their face again.”