The Armchair Pundit: Marwan Koukash escalates war with The RFL

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Marwan Koukash is bringing his war to Red Hall

IT WOULD not be a surprise if, over the past couple of days, the scenes in the corridors of power at The RFL resembled ‘Dad’s Army’, with Nigel Wood running around like Lance Corporal Jones urging “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” to the governing body’s very own Captain Mainwaring, Brian Barwick.
All joking aside, few would be surprised if the chief executive and chairman of the organisation would be battening down the hatches in the wake of Marwan Koukash stepping up his one-man war against The RFL.
Except, it no longer seems to be a one-man war – not if what the maverick Salford Red Devils owner says is to be believed.
Koukash is attempting to bring chairmen from the other 11 Super League clubs together and convene a special meeting where he intends to bring about a vote of no confidence, which would require at least six clubs to agree to said meeting.
This represents a significant escalation in hostilities since the 57-year-old threatened “all-out war” with The RFL if Salford were found guilty of salary cap offences, almost daring them to punish his side.
Almost predictably, a guilty verdict, £5,000 fine and six-point deduction followed last month, although Koukash insisted his latest plot to overthrow the game’s current rulers is not to do with that decision and more long-running gripes about a lack of leadership.
“We invest millions into rugby league and want what is the best for the sport,” Koukash told Press Association Sport.
“I have been in the sport for four years and commercially the game has gone backwards in that time.”
Few would disagree that there are deep-rooted issues affecting the sport, particularly in The RFL’s approach to marketing rugby league which, at times, seems little more than a ‘build it and they will come’ approach.
And yet, it is difficult for Koukash to shake of the sense this is continuing what is coming across more and more as a personal vendetta against a governing body who will not let him simply do as he pleases.
Should he succeed in forcing a vote of no confidence, the other pertinent question would be: What comes next?
Would the owners simply assume control of the running of the sport or put their own people in charge? Would this be simply to gain more favourable terms for the 12 sides at the top table, and would there be the will to address wider issues affecting rugby league such as the declining participation numbers at grassroots level?
And then, there is Koukash’s other favourite hobby horse: the salary cap.
His interview with PA Sport discussed his concerns that Super League is being left behind the NRL, with the Australian salary cap set to be increased to over £5million while in this country it remains at little over £1.8million.
Although Koukash was, eventually, able to get through a marquee player exemption, the clubs are still reticent to raise the cap further and as recently as March this year voted down proposals to do just that.
Despite all of his posturing and bombastic statements though, it is clear Koukash does have a passion for a sport he is a relative newcomer too and is desperate to see it grow beyond the M62 corridor stereotype.
Whether that is for more personal than altruistic purposes may be up for debate, but the fact he has stuck around at Salford for four years despite having little success to show for it and becoming perceived as rugby league’s bête noir shows his commitment to both the club and the sport.
Given his outspoken nature, it is perhaps surprising he has not rattled a few more cages in the somewhat more austere world of horse racing, where Koukash is one of the biggest owners of thoroughbreds in the country.
Indeed, the only time he appears to have fallen foul of the British Horseracing Authority was when he was blocked from using ‘Gabrial’ – many of his horses are named after his son and daughters, Lexi and Layla – in the name of any more of his string due to it apparently becoming confusing for commentators and pundits.
Koukash has enjoyed much more success in the racing world – having saddled winners in the Chester Cup and some Group races – than rugby league though and his Salford side continue to flounder in the lower reaches of Super League after a 34-20 loss at St Helens last Friday.
Even succeeding in overthrowing the reign of terror being wrought by Barwick and Wood and leading rugby league into a brave new era may not be enough to bring glory to the AJ Bell Stadium in the immediate future.

Player welfare demands closer attention: Eorl Crabtree’s revelations about the harsh realities of being a professional rugby league player in an interview with the Daily Star last week should serve as a wake-up call to those running the game.
The injury problems afflicting Super League’s clubs and players this year have been well-documented in several quarters, which lead to demands for reducing the fixture list growing ever louder.
This season will again see each of the 12 Super League sides play 23 regular season games, plus another seven games in either the Super 8s or the qualifiers, not to mention Challenge Cup and play-off matches.
Contrast that with the 16-team NRL, which features just 24 regular season rounds and then the play-offs. Not to mention the fact many Super League players had little over a month off between the end of the 2015 season and the return to pre-season training.
One of Huddersfield Giants prop Crabtree’s concerns is that the players’ views are not listened to at the highest level, which was no doubt not helped by the collapse of their association, League13, due to a lack of support.
Given how Castleford Tigers are sponsored by general workers union GMB, it seems an opportunity to ensure some sort of proper representation for their concerns is being missed.
After all, the players are the ones who make rugby league what it is. Without them, we would not be able to enjoy everything that Super League has to offer.

Championship round-up: One of the worst-kept secrets in rugby league was finally confirmed when Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont announced Rangi Chase had left the Kingston Press Championship leaders after just five appearances.
It appears as if Chase’s career is over at the age of 30, with Beaumont saying he was pursuing opportunities outside of the sport, and will leave many wondering what might have been for one of the most enigmatic players to grace the rugby field.
Not that it seemed to affect Leigh though, who remain three points clear of London Broncos following a 56-14 triumph away to Oldham over the weekend.
The Broncos suffered a surprise 42-18 loss away to Featherstone Rovers, but new Bradford Bulls coach Rohan Smith will be pleased with what he saw from his team after they ran out 54-8 victors at home to Swinton Lions.

League One round-up: Rochdale Hornets’ imperious form continued as they remained unbeaten and top of the table with a 52-24 triumph away to winless basement boys Oxford.
Keighley Cougars are now the leading point-scorers in League One as well following a 74-6 win at home to Hemel Stags.
It remains somewhat disconcerting that the domestic expansion teams continue to struggle against the heartland sides, although the longer-established North Wales Crusaders did at least manage a 16-16 draw with York City Knights.

Amateur score of the week: Thatto Heath 52 Biganos XIII 6, Women’s European Challenge. A crowd of 300 turned out at Crusaders Park to see the reigning English champions defeat their French counterparts to be crowned top side in Europe.
Tries from Jodie Cunningham, Sammi Simpson with four, Roxy Mura, Faye Gaskin, Danni Bound, Katie-May Williams, Rachel Thompson and Tara Stanley, who also kicked four conversions, helped the St Helens-based team end Biganos’ ten-game unbeaten run.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email marcbazeley@googlemail.com with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

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