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Keighley Cougars chairman Gary Fawcett eyes big future after Super League shake-up
Cougars chairman Gary Fawcett believes restoring promotion to Super League gives the club the chance to ‘build something special for Keighley’.
Fawcett has been a long-time advocate of scrapping the much-maligned licensing system in favour of automatic promotion and relegation to and from the game’s top flight.
And last week’s Super League vote in favour of such a move paved the way for a radical shake-up in the domestic game.
Fawcett said: “At one level the new structure will provide the opportunity to lay to rest the acute disappointment many felt, and still feel, in Keighley when the enormous level of expectation and effort was crushed by the decision not to allow the Cougars into Super League in 1995.
“On another level, looking into the future, the new Super League structure provides the opportunity to build something special for Keighley and the surrounding area.”
Super League clubs have given the go-ahead for a convoluted new format in which two 12-team divisions will be split into three of eight after 23 rounds to play off for the rest of the season.
The first year of this new format would be 2015, with the RFL board of directors set to ratify the change this week.
While the top eight jostle for positions ahead of a top-four play-off culminating in the Grand Final, the bottom four will join the top four teams from the Championship in a middle tier which will determine the make-up of Super League for the 2016 season.
Three teams will qualify automatically for the elite division, with the fourth and fifth clubs set to play off in a winner-takes-all clash for the 12th spot in Super League.
Fawcett, who is at the forefront of plans to undertake a £5 million scheme to redevelop Cougar Park, has always made clear his long-term ambition to see Keighley reach Super League.
He said: “It will be very hard work, and in some ways you have to be careful what you wish for, but all of us at the Cougars want to build a legacy that puts pride back into Keighley.
“We have the opportunity now to create some real excitement and create an economic hub in Keighley that will help develop the area through the development of the stadium and Super League level income.”
The changes have the backing of the Championship clubs, even though under the new format four of them will be relegated to Championship One at the end of this coming season to create a 12-team division.
But the RFL was initially forced to put its proposals on the back-burner in October when six Super League clubs, led by Wigan’s Ian Lenagan, walked out of a meeting, preventing a vote from being taken.
The so-called rebels were angry over plans to increase the Championship clubs’ allocation of funds from the Sky television deal and called for a greater say in the governance of the game.
But the 14 Super League clubs were thought to have voted 7-6 in favour of the new format at their meeting in St Helens last Friday, with the Catalans Dragons abstaining.
Super League clubs will still need to give their backing to the planned changes in central funding.
In the RFL’s policy review proposals, the Championship clubs were in line to receive as much as £650,000 a year, compared to around £90,000 at present, to enable them to compete on a more level playing field with the existing Super League clubs, who receive in excess of £1m.
“At the moment there is a funding ratio of 12 to one and, if that can be changed to a two-one ratio, we will have a more competitive structure,” said RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer.
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