Long considered as a northern sport, rugby league has begun to take a foothold in the south, with the London Broncos now proudly representing southern England in the Super League.
With the competition recently expanding beyond London to include Catalans Dragons and with the Toronto Wolfpack currently on the brink of making it to the top flight, we ask whether a Super League team could be coming to Suffolk in the near future.
The current state of Super League
With the majority of the Super League season now played, St Helens currently lead the league, followed by Warrington Wolves in second and Hull FC in third. Although there are still eight games to play, the latest rugby league odds suggest that St Helens remain heavy favourites to take the title from Wigan Warriors, who were champions last season.
However, although this may sound like business as usual between the same teams as always, lower down in the table, we can see some interesting positions. When Catalans Dragons first entered the Super League in the 2006 season, they comfortably finished bottom of the table, only winning six games. However, they were handed a three-year exemption, which meant they could not be relegated.
Since then, they have built on their team and, as well as winning the Challenge Cup last season, they are currently fourth in the Super League, comfortably ahead of prestigious teams such as Leeds Rhinos and Hull Kingston Rovers, who are battling in the relegation places with London Broncos.
So, with Catalans proving the successes of expansion, London Broncos holding their own representing the south and the Toronto Wolfpack currently leading the league in the division below, could we soon see rugby league come to Suffolk as the next expansion destination?
When will we see a Suffolk-based Super League team?
Although not as prevalent as rugby union in the region, there are several amateur rugby league clubs in Suffolk. Most notably, Bury Titans and Eastern Rhinos both play at a high amateur level, with the Eastern Rhinos now competing in the Southern Conference League, which used to be the highest level of amateur rugby in the south of England.
In recent years, we’ve also seen the Rugby Football League invest heavily in rugby league in the south of the country, with the creation of the Southern Conference League forming part of this. Overall, the creation of this new competition aims to showcase the quality of rugby league in the south of the country, while also improving the standard through lengthening the playing season and increasing competition.
Although this competition will undoubtedly raise the profile of rugby league in the south of England, one key development has been the formation of a number of junior clubs in the area, which can help to lure good players away from the rugby union setups that currently dominate in Suffolk. However, although these developments are welcome and the standard of amateur rugby league is high, no team is yet on the precipice of joining the professional ranks.
Overall then, it appears as though it could be a little while before we see a Super League team from Suffolk. However, it’s clear that solid foundations are in place across the area and, if the quick-fire success of the Catalans Dragons and Toronto Wolfpack are anything to go by when the professional leagues do come to Suffolk, it will catch on quickly.