Former Super League coach Phil Veivers has urged the RFL to change the structure of Super League in a bid to prevent players mental health from continuing to decline.
The current format involves Super League and Championship sides splitting after 23 rounds of the season into three groups of eight, with sides in the ‘middle 8’s’ fighting for Super League status.
However, the much discussed Million Pound Game, which pits the fourth and fifth-placed sides against each other for the final top-flight spot, has come under fire for its uncertainty over player contracts, should a side get relegated.
Veivers, who coached the then-Salford City Reds between 2011-13, believes that the sport’s governing body needs to look at altering the current system to improve the welfare of players.
“The reality of it is that it’s just like playing in a Grand Final, but the end result is that one of these teams is going to end up with no employment; that’s what I find very difficult to understand,” said the 53-year old.
“I’m aware that supporters want promotion and relegation but I’m pretty sure that there’s a better way of delivering that without the Million Pound Game. The stress and pressure that it puts on the individuals playing in that game are far and beyond what the results are.
“It’s not just about the players too. They’ve got their partners, families and kids, so that game can impact on up to ten individuals in the one family.
“It’s got me flabbergasted as to why the RFL want to put so much strain on the player in this one match”
Several high-profile players, including Leigh Centurion’s Kevin Larroyer, who was part of Hull Kingston Rovers relegated side in 2016 against the Salford Red Devils, have criticised the RFL for failing to provide any support over players futures when a team drops down a division.
Veivers believes that there needs to be something in place to ensure that those athletes can continue to play, which avoids the possibility of their contracts being torn up.
He stated: “Obviously, the RFL aren’t supporting these players because their contracts become null and void, so they’re not looking after them that way.
“They should have something in place whereby, if a team gets relegated through the Million Pound Game, 65% of their contract should be available for the next season, with funding or parachute payments to cover that.”
Many supporters of the sport have called for promotion and relegation to be scrapped from the 2019 season in favour of the old licensing system, with officials set to announce the long-term structure of the game in the coming weeks.
Veivers is adamant that adopting the old format is crucial if Super League is to become more respected and competitive in the years ahead.
“I have always stated that I was right behind licensing. I thought it was a good venture; it gave clubs the ability to have a shot at the big league and gave them three years.
“It gives teams an opportunity to buy more players. Quite often when teams are floating near the relegation places midway through the season, they are a bit more reluctant to throw out big money contracts on the top players, as they don’t know if they’ll be in that division next year.
If they do go out and buy top players from here and abroad during the first year of their license, it will give them a better chance to be more competitive in the long run,” said the former Salford boss.
Veivers is an ambassador for State of Mind rugby league, an organisation which helps to support players struggling with the pressures of the game.
The programme was founded in 2011, following the tragic death of former Great Britain star Terry Newton, who sadly took his own life, aged 31.
Veivers now believes that the RFL must act on calls for change to avoid similar instances of players feeling that they aren’t given enough support and security from those in charge of the sport.
“What has happened over the last couple of years is a real indictment on the RFL in a way because of things that have occurred,” he said. “Players have bought houses and had to sell them.
“Guys who are out of contract have had a massive strain put on their mental health, and that has put a lot of them in a very dark place.
“We all know why bodies like State of Mind are there, because of what happened to Terry back in 2011, and what we don’t want is the same kind of incident to occur again.”
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