Rugby League: Bullish mood at Super League

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The Independent Online
THE MANAGING director of Super League, Maurice Lindsay, said this week that he was retiring later this year because he wanted to "sit down while they're applauding, not when they're booing."

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether Lindsay's retirement amounts to sitting down or merely standing less close to the centre of the stage, there is no guarantee that anyone will be applauding at the end of this fourth season of the competition.

That will depend on whether it lives up to Lindsay's promise that it will be the most competitive and compelling yet, one in which a dozen clubs - not just Wigan and maybe one other - give a good account of themselves.

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? But there are enough good signs to support the generally bullish mood as Super League IV kicks off this weekend.

Last season is best regarded as a decent platform on which to build. Wigan and Leeds were streets ahead of the rest and fought out a spell- binding private battle, although Halifax showed what a group of well- organised and immensely hard-working players can achieve from an unfancied position.

The standard of play seemed to most observers to have improved and the play-off format, culminating in an Old Trafford Grand Final that carried a real sense of occasion, proved its worth in its first year.

The justification for the increased optimism this time is that so many clubs seem to be in better shape, at least on the field.

Lindsay points to the return from Australia of two legends of British rugby league - Malcolm Reilly and Ellery Hanley - to take charge of Huddersfield and St Helens, as a cataclysmic event.

It is to be expected they will bring their forceful personalities to bear on those two clubs and make a noticeable difference to them.

Elsewhere, it is a change of attitude that holds out promise. Warrington and Salford merely made up the numbers for most of last season. Early indications are that they will do much more this time.

The most important indicator of success will be Gateshead's ability to succeed where the Newcastle Falcons failed by attracting a mass following on Tyneside.