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24th July 2019, 14:27 | therfl

Simon Johnson | An Exciting Time

Simon Johnson | An Exciting Time

A message from the new interim Rugby Football League Chairman

I am incredibly proud to have been asked by the RFL Board to serve this great game as Interim Chair, to follow on from the inspired leadership of my friend Brian Barwick, whilst we undertake the process to recruit a Permanent Chair. I am also honoured to begin my term at the same time as our appointments of Tony Adams as President and Carl Hall as Vice President. 

My term as Interim Chair will cover a very exciting period for the game of Rugby League - starting this weekend, with the Coral Challenge Cups Triple Header in Bolton.

Last year's innovation of a double-header for the Challenge Cup produced a high-profile occasion and a capacity attendance. This year, we have added the Coral Women's Challenge Cup Final between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers, providing a suitable stage to reflect the growing stature and importance of the women's game - with significant national coverage of all three matches across the BBC's various platforms.

Next month, on the day before the Coral Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, I will lead a little-known tradition, but one which encapsulates the magnificent heritage of our game and how Rugby League is woven into the fabric of its communities and into the history of the North.

I will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, as will the Coach and Captain of the two competing teams and the Armed Forces Rugby League, in memory of those from the Rugby League community who lost their lives in the service of the country during the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. I find it incredibly moving that the game of Rugby League can honour its sacrifice in the heart of the nation's capital. Many people come to watch this solemn ceremony in their club colours.

The Coral Challenge Cup has this season provided a thrilling showcase for our great game, with live matches on BBC Sport outlets.

Bradford Bulls' sixth-round victory over Leeds Rhinos at Odsal was shown live on BBC1 on a Saturday afternoon, and secured a peak audience of more than 1m, which compared favourably with other sports coverage that weekend, even including the Premier League.

That was also a significant result for the Betfred Championship, and that theme will be maintained by the presence of Halifax in this weekend's semi finals - the first non-Super League team to reach this stage of the competition since Hull Kingston Rovers 13 years ago.

As we move into the autumn, the Betfred Super League will reach its climax and the season so far is full of intrigue, with a thrilling battle for the end of season play off places, and an equally tense scrap at the bottom to avoid relegation. The battle for promotion in both the Betfred Championship and League One is also producing great tension and excitement. 

After the agreement to a new relationship between the RFL and the Super League, the Board has made good on its commitment to give a greater focus to the Betfred Championship. Toronto Wolfpack's fixtures, in Canada and England, have been a regular focus on Sky Sports.

The RFL's innovative Our League app has allowed further live coverage, highlights and magazine programmes featuring the Betfred Championship and League One. And we have introduced the 1895 Cup, which will culminate with a Final at Wembley immediately after the Challenge Cup Final.

Our streaming of live Rugby League on Our League is giving the game valuable data and intelligence on the appetite for live Rugby League action in the digital environment.

In addition to the increased interest in the women's game and especially the Women’s Super League, there has been a growing focus on Physical Disability and Learning Disability Rugby League. The PDRL and LDRL games at the Dacia Magic Weekend were an uplifting celebration of the growth of this part of the game.

As we build towards the Rugby League World Cup in 2021, which is a thrilling opportunity for our game to take centre stage in the UK's sporting offer, I will be following the GB Lions on their tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. This will be a first Rugby League Lions tour since 2006, and although our players will be wearing Great Britain shirts, it will form another crucial opportunity for Wayne Bennett to continue his planning for England’s World Cup campaign in two years’ time.

As Interim Chair, along with my fellow Directors, I look forward to implementing the Recommendations from the Independent Evaluation of the Board which Brian Barwick set in motion.

The results were presented to our Council today. We were encouraged to build on the finding that the RFL is "fit for purpose" - and to move towards making it "fit for the future."

Two particular areas will be my initial focus. The first is to make the strategic leadership of the Board more visible to the game. The second will be to reboot the relationship between the Board, the Council and the different elements of the game. 

It will be an honour for me to serve this great game, even for a short time as Chair, and I hope that we will all be able to enjoy an exciting end to the season.