THE survival of the fittest rule of nature can be cruel at times – particularly at this time of year.

For the last few weeks I have been watching a couple of young blackbirds being nurtured in their rooftop nest at the back of our house.

Alas, last Friday a greedy magpie swooped down to take one of the chicks away. After a bit of squawking and a bit of a token tussle, dad was simply left there powerless to stop one of his offspring from being devoured.

Although it was tempting to throw a stone at it the golden rule, as David Attenborough would point out, is you cannot interfere with nature.

The world of sport is no different really when it comes to survival of the fittest – but should we interfere with the natural order?

Take rugby league for example. We are always hearing how it would be desirable to have a more even, competitive Super League fought out beyond the four usual suspects.

Sure, there are the occasional shocks like Quins turning over the Saints, but we all roughly know what the table is going to look like after 27 rounds.

The purpose of the salary cap is to help even up the competition and stop the bigger, wealthier clubs having a disproportionate advantage over their more humble rivals.

But we all know what happens in reality. The sooner an unfashionable club – say Castleford, Salford or Wakefield - produces an England international they are plucked away just as they are about to fulfil their potential.

Of course there is a difference, the players themselves are not helpless chicks – they actually want to fly the nest to seek fame, fortune and the chance to play at Old Trafford and Wembley.

But this cycle means it is inevitable that the power is held by the big four – with that last place, long since vacated by Bradford, interchangeable.

The supposedly unglamorous clubs simply cannot keep together a cluster of their most talented players for long enough to have a pitch for honours and are therefore weak when it comes to making a case for the players to stay.

Take Saints’ off season signing Michael Shenton. The England international admitted how tough it was to leave Castleford, but probably knew that no matter how much he and his team mates pulled their tripes out every week they were never going to really challenge the big teams. His colleague, Joe Westerman who went to Hull, is probably in the same category.

It is hard to make a case for them to stay for the greater good. Especially if you look at Salford who - if we are to believe the speculation – look set to lose half back Stefan Ratchford to Wigan or Warrington.

But you wouldn’t blame Ratchford for leaving. He may just look at Salford’s Super League legend Malcolm Alker who run his blood to water for the Reds every week, but never really achieved the success he would have had if he had moved on.

So are we happy with this natural pecking order?

Or do we need to introduce artificial measures to balance up the league that rewards smaller clubs who produce good young players without simply reducing the whole competition to pace of the plodders.