A lot was made of the decision for rugby league in England and France to strike a deal with IMG which would last 12 years, but the success of Leigh Leopards this year could prove they’ve got it spot on.
The Leopards were promoted back to the Super League ahead of the 2023 season and currently sit third in the table, behind table toppers Catalan Dragons and Wigan Warriors – they’re even one spot ahead of World Club Challenge winners St Helens.
And this weekend they go in as favourites against Hull KR in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
Rugby league road to Wembley
Ahead of the Super League season, City A.M. spoke to Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson about the deal with IMG and what it would mean.
Few, though, could predict the rise of the Leopards in a league that will soon lose automatic promotion and relegation.
Because rugby league is changing, and promotion into the Super League will now be based on a number of factors including facilities, community reach and fans.
“This is about creating sustainable growth for the game, building on what we think is a really great platform given to us by the World Cup,”Johnson told City A.M. earlier this year.
Super League excitement
“There’s already some very, very exciting teams doing really good stuff within the Super League.
“The aim is to turn those five [top sides] into 12 and then to turn those 12 into 14 and into 16. It’s not by coming up with anything really radical, it’s about building on the strengths of what we have and creating really good sustainable growth that makes our sport continually more attractive to players and fans.
“If in 2025 or 2035 we have a situation where we’ve got 16 outstanding teams playing in a sustainable way, in great competitions, I think then this will have been a really strong success.”
The Leigh Leopards have won the Challenge Cup – rugby league’s version of the FA Cup – on two occasions and lifted the trophy in their last final appearance in 1971.
Hull KR have won the title once but were beaten 50-0 in their last Wembley final appearance in 2015.
Leigh beat St Helens to reach the final while Hull KR beat Wigan in golden point extra-time.
The match takes place later this afternoon, with kick-off at Wembley scheduled for 3pm.
The final will be broadcast live on BBC1.
The women’s final between St Helens and Leeds starts at 12pm while the 1895 Cup final between Halifax and Batley starts at 5:30.