SAINTS chairman Eamonn McManus hammered out a stark warning yesterday at the unveiling of new Super League CEO Robert Elstone – the game must get its act together or face a terminal decline.

McManus, Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan and Warrington owner Simon Moran – all speaking on behalf of Super League – flanked Elstone at the press briefing.

And although the proposed restructure, involving the axing of the Super 8s and restoring one up, one down promotion and relegation captured the initial headlines – the focus of Elstone’s brief is much more significant.

He will spearhead the drive for higher quality on the field, produce a more commercially profitable sport by boosting attendances and sponsorship, and increase a diminishing media profile.

The Super League-centric approach means the big clubs will take the lead in driving standards – with the effects of that success trickling down to the game as a whole.

Explaining why the change, which has been in the offing for months, had to take place McManus said: “If the elite competition is successful it will permeate down, if not we will wither on the vine.

“When I got involved in the game 18 years ago Super League was absolutely on a par with the NRL and ahead of the Premiership and other club rugby union competitions around the world in terms of TV deals, sponsors and spectators. Now we are way behind and we cannot leave it any longer.

“You have got to judge yourself ultimately with your relative performance against with your peer group of competitor businesses.

“We have got to get our act together now to improve that performance to continue to exist and then to thrive.

“That is the background where we are coming from and we cannot allow it to continue in that vein in the future, otherwise the results will be terminal.

“The point in time has come where the clubs have got together and said a new direction and a new vision has to happen. And it is happening now.”

McManus, Lenagan and Moran were there to represent Super League as an entity, and as such were authorised to speak as Super League as a whole, although Leeds chairman Gary Hetherington’s dissenting press statement later in the day showed that it was not unanimous.

Outlining Elstone’s brief McManus said: “Robert’s job is to lead the vision of a higher quality, higher profile and more commercially successful Super League, which in addition to improving its own performance, the sport’s elite competition, also consequently establishes itself  a firmer bedrock upon which the entire sport of rugby league will undoubtedly benefit.

“A stronger Super League equates to a stronger game of rugby league.

“Historically the vast majority of Super League clubs felt that the RFL’s singular management of all the game’s components and competitions resulted in too many serious conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency and to a degree, a lack of accountability.

“That in turn leads to a commercial underperformance of Super League and that is something we now wish to address, address properly and immediately.

“Our sole and absolute aim is to improve in order to produce a Super League competition which has higher playing standards, more spectators, more and better valuable commercial partners and ultimately a higher media valuation for which I again emphasise, both Super League and the wider game will benefit.

“Robert has been appointed to spearhead this process in a dedicated manner for Super League and has the full support of Super League.”

Elstone’s first jobs are working with the RFL to finalise a funding a services agreement and, with the RFL, produce a more commercially viable structure for the league competition.

McManus added: “After four years we don’t believe that the Super 8s is the optimum structure to produce the optimum commercial returns for Super League and the wider game.

“That is the clear view of us. We have had a number of discussions with the RFL in recent months and what we have to do is go through the right machinations to conclude a new structure, on an agreed basis, between the board of Super League and the RFL to put in place for next year.

“That will involve promotion and relegation.”

One of the key reasons outlined for change was the relegation threat that hangs over four Super League teams from the outset, but also the uncertainty over fixtures which renders it impossible for supporters to make plans for the late summer.

Despite his stark warning on the need for change, McManus is upbeat about the potential for the game as a whole.

He said: “We see tremendous opportunities for Super League and the wider game, which we fully intend to exploit.

“The appointment of a new, highly capable, highly respected, experienced senior executive is a first a critical step in ensuring that a bigger better and brighter future for Super League and the game of rugby league in this country eventuates.

“Robert’s and our vision is energised, positive and forward looking.

“That vision is to build on our many strengths, raise Super League’s profile and improver its commercial performance.

“In turn, and I emphasise, that will benefit the game in its entirety.

“Although unashamedly led by Super League, we believe it leads to a wider game strategy.

A thriving, and more strongly supported elite competition is the only way to ensure a better future for rugby league as a whole in this country.”

Elston, who joins from Everton football club, was relishing rolling his sleeves up and getting to work.

He said: “We have lots to be positive about, great clubs, great players and the sport we play is fantastic.

“My job starts by building a positive relationship with the RFL and with that is recognising Super League’s responsibilities to the wider game.

“We will look at addressing the competition structure that isn’t working effectively and providing too much uncertainty for fans and clubs alike.

“But also the focus, as quickly as possible, is on growth – and that is about recruiting fans and partners and rewarding those who come with us on that journey.

“We have lots to be positive about.”