Super League returns: English clubs should forget NRL and turn on the style in 2017

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Wigan Warriors fan
Wigan fans had plenty to cheer as the Warriors lifted the Super League trophy in 2016

Come on, Super League, entertain us!

As much as rugby league remains 'the greatest game' to its thousands of devotees, there is a sense that the sport at the top level needs some of its flair back.

And it's up to the players and coaches to act on their licence to thrill as the new campaign arrives.

There has been a growing grumble in recent years that Super League has lost its zip - that the skill factor has often been missing.

Rugby league has always evolved to mirror success and Australia's NRL is the market leader on the field with its adherence to highly disciplined structure and low-risk plays.

But should that be the English way?

The game over here used to pride itself on its risk-takers and chance-makers. But percentages, position and possession have been the prevailing mindset of late.

But at least two Super League coaches will buck the trend in 2017.

And both have a chance to lead their sides to silverware to re-establish the prototype of invention and entertainment as a way of winning matches and competitions.

Castleford Tigers have already courted plenty of admirers with their approach to the game under coach Daryl Powell.

And Powell will remain fixed on putting smiles on faces when he sets up his side for a much-fancied crack at success this year.

"I think sport should be entertaining," says Powell. "When you talk to players, you want them to be excited about how you play. For me it's a crucial part of coaching.

"It needs to be effective, don't get me wrong, but I want the players to show what they can do.

"We work so hard on skills on such a consistent basis that there's no point working so hard on those skills if you don't try to exploit them to break defences down.

"We work our backsides off to be able to create things and look like we're an entertaining team.

"All coaches have their own different opinions and that's fine - we're all different. But for me, I think there's a way the game should be played.

"I genuinely enjoy watching us play."

And with England heading to the World Cup at the end of this year, Powell also firmly believes that putting adventure ahead of conservatism is the only way to tame the Kangaroos and Kiwis.

"We're different to Australia. We're not going to beat them at their own game, there isn't a chance. So for me I think we could be a blueprint," he added.

Tom Lineman
Warrington Wolves won the League Leaders Shield in 2016

'It isn't just winning, it needs to be done in a certain style'

'Entertainment First' is a philosophy that Warrington coach Tony Smith is also keen to expound.

The Wolves have been catching the eye with their fluency in recent years - a style that won them the League Leaders Shield and got them to two finals in 2016.

And he would love to see more clubs playing the same way.

"The styles that us coaches bring in, or influences from other competitions, maybe stifle our game," said Smith.

"I think we've got to understand what we want as an entertainment and we've got to make our rules and regulations fit to that standard.

"We need to make sure we produce something that people out there in the stands want to watch and enjoy.

"It isn't just about winning, it needs to be done in a certain style. We're trying to be a bit more expansive this year and hopefully we've got a bit more creativity in our ranks."

Mimicking the NRL is not the only way to success. Even the Aussies would agree.

Former coach and Channel 9 pundit Phil 'Gus' Gould recently tweeted: "English football has lost its identity. It has spent the last 30 years trying to play like Australia. How's that plan working?"

Maybe 2017 could be the year the Super League regains its identity, with some breath-taking thrills and spills along the way, and gets us all smiling all the way to the Grand Final.

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