HAPPY new year! 2022 is a big one for rugby league – a challenging season given the shadow of Covid still lurks, but an exciting one with the delayed World Cup at the end.

Although the sport faces huge challenges across the board – and it is important to be honest about those, there is plenty to look forward to.

All those involved in the game, whether spectators, reporters, players, coaches or administrators, will have different outlooks on how to approach those challenges but here is a suggested list of rugby league new year resolutions.

1. Be positive.

Rugby league is still a wonderful product – even if there are aspects and changes that some of us don’t like. And within that the sport still has superstars – they are not something that was boxed away in the BBC video archive in the file marked ‘Keith Fielding’.

St Helens Star:

That the game does not have the household names of the 70s and 80s is not a reflection of the talent or ability of the payers themselves.

The sport still has an abundance of characters; players with skill and sparkle. Let’s showcase the Regan Graces and Tommy Makinsons et all, talk their exploits up and promote them as box office players.

This is particularly important when going to non-traditional platforms to introduce players’ work to non-aficionados of the game, like when Tommy Makinson was a guest on Soccer AM.

The players are the game’s biggest asset; that combination of individual brilliance and collective endeavour makes it such a compelling sport to watch.

We need to celebrate that fact and let the players write our story.

St Helens Star:

2. Be constructive.

Being positive does not mean we bury our heads in the sand when it comes to the issues in the game that need addressing. And there are many.

But let’s be constructive in the criticism and always offer potential solutions. If we offer no alternative to our moans and gripes we risk just demoralising people (fans, young players or grassroots coaches) and turning them away.

It is right that individuals in senior positions have questions asked of them and are held to account for decisions that are made. But play the ball, not the man.

Spell out clearly the areas that need addressing, identify potential solutions, question why decisions are made in a certain way and try to assess what the stumbling block is to any resolution. Simply shouting – literally or via social media – moves the game forward not one inch.

3. Be decisive.

Although the game from top to bottom has been built on compromises for 120 years or so, as seen by the watering down of the initial Super League plans in 1996, at some point the game needs to bite the bullet.

Although Covid has had a big impact on the game this past two years, we have to accept the underlying weaknesses of the game. It has been treading water for years, while other sports seem to be innovating and reaping greater audience share and revenue as a result.

The 70,000 packed into Twickenham over the festive period for a Harlequins club game is a case in point as was the 22,000 at Leicester.

Much has been made of the game’s re-alignment – bringing together Super League and the RFL under one body and CEO Ralph Rimmer, in his new year message, reported that discussions remain complex and sensitive, and that there has been “significant give and take on all sides”.

St Helens Star:

But one thing that can’t happen is for it to return to the way it was before the breakaway as much as some in the game probably want those who forced that change to come back with tails between their legs.

Rugby league is one sport – and there is a symbiotic relationship between each sector, the stronger the grassroots the healthier to top tier and similarly the bigger the profile Super League has the greater will be the participation at junior level.

The game’s leadership has always had to tip-toe through compromises in every big call it makes, but sometimes trying to keep all happy is not the best route.

The problem with the Super League clubs’ breakaway was that it was too easy to portray it as self-interest.

On the other side of the coin there is no appetite to wind the clock back, no expectation that the old muddled formula will suddenly start producing the goods.

That is why the sport would benefit greatly from an independent voice, with no baggage or foot in any camp, but with a steely determination to lead the game and force through changes to see it through a seriously challenging period.

St Helens Star:

4. Be open to new ideas.

We need to be respectful to the game’s traditions, heritage and its heartland support but we also need to think out of the box more. That does not mean encouraging more daft gimmicks like the stop clock, but taking on board serious plans to develop the game and broaden its appeal.

We also need to remember that it is does not exclusively belong to the people who live in towns lucky enough to have a pro team.

St Helens Star:

One of the exciting aspects of the way the Rugby League World Cup has been planned by Jon Dutton and his team is that it has set out deliberately to break new ground and pull in new people.

As a sport we need as many new eyes as possible on the game, to broaden its appeal and in turn boost sponsorship and TV revenue.

And yet it is remarkable how many league die-hards (maybe through past experiences) believe they carry the burden of filling these big venues – whether it be Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Coventry or Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

If rugby league is as good a game we keep telling ourselves it is, then there is no reason why folk in other areas should not like it similarly.

6. Be respectful.

Rugby league has always been an upstart sport, and much of that has come from the way it was born. And over the years that outsider status has been fuelled by a fair degree of discrimination and a degree of snobbery, particularly given the heartlands have always been northern industrial towns.

And we see that in media coverage and in little things like recognition and honours.

Now sometimes our straight-talking, unfiltered way of thinking in response to that is refreshing. But some of the constant ridiculing and rubbishing of other sports – constantly calling footballers soft, overpaid prima donnas or rugby union as just a boring sport for toffs - can make us look small time, rude and bitter.

St Helens Star:

We can talk our game up without denigrating others – and you never know we may be able to win over a share of those over.