WELSH club Crusaders have dramatically withdrawn from Super League from next year.
The Wrexham-based outfit had widely been expected to be awarded one of the 13 remaining licences to compete in the elite competition for the 2012-14 period.
The surprise decision to pull out means a reprieve for Wakefield, who had were the red-hot favourites to miss out on a place in the 14-team division.
Championship side Halifax failed in their application for a licence, meaning the other 12 current Super League clubs will join Wakefield and Widnes in Super League next year.
The Rugby Football League only made their decision as to the make-up of Super League on Monday.
Chairman Richard Lewis admitted he was not shocked by Crusaders’ decision, which will end a tumultuous three-year stay in Super League.
Lewis said: “There was bound to be a lot of speculation beforehand and it was important we kept the process confidential. It was a secret for virtually every club up until we made the announcement.
“The Crusaders situation had been part of the licensing process for many months. It came as no surprise over the last week that things were coming to a head.
“The final decision from Crusaders came on Monday and the RFL made its decision then.”
Crusaders, originally based in Bridgend, were admitted to Super League in 2009 after making rapid progress in the Championship competitions.
Yet after just one season they were forced to move to north Wales due to financial problems.
Uncertainty over their future continued and they were later deducted four points for the current season after falling into administration.
There had also been further controversy when it emerged several overseas players had been playing for them before their elevation to Super League without the required visas.
Despite that, the RFL’s commitment to expansion was thought likely to earn them a prolonged stay in Super League ahead of Wakefield, who were also in administration and have failed to meet minimum stadium criteria.
Crusaders had even started recruited for 2012, signing former Great Britain centre Keith Senior from Leeds and tying Wales rugby union legend Gareth Thomas to a new contract.
Crusaders chief executive Rod Findlay said: “This has not been an easy decision but after a lengthy and exhaustive examination of the club’s finances, our view is that Crusaders is not sustainable as a Super League club at this stage.
“Every other aspect of the application was strong and we now need to work to ensure we retain those elements, particularly the community and player pathway programmes in north Wales, an area where no rugby league was played two years ago.
“A lot of people have done a lot of work to get us to where we are now but it has become clear that we cannot continue in our current guise and so a decision was taken to withdraw our licence application.
“It would not have been fair to the players, the supporters, the other clubs or the engage Super League competition for us to proceed with our application.
“I would like to congratulate those clubs who were successful in their applications.
“In many ways the licensing process helped us realise that the club was not viable in Super League at this stage and I would like to place on record the club’s thanks to the Rugby Football League for the practical support they have given us in the last few years.
“I would also like to thank the club owners for their support over the last two seasons.”
The RFL now hope Crusaders will be able to continue as a club in the Championship next season.
Lewis added: “They need to take stock of their situation but I think there is a reasonable chance they will play in the Championship.
“It would be good if they did. It would be great for Wrexham and north Wales.
“The people there have responded well to rugby league being played in north Wales and I am sure they will give it a long, hard look.”
Many of the Crusaders’ top stars and now expected to find new clubs, with the Giants the favourites to complete a deal for impressive back-row forward Jason Chan.
For clubs such as Wakefield there were stern words that the RFL could revoke licences if promises are not kept.
Wakefield were one of four clubs awarded C grade licences along with Castleford, Harlequins and Salford.
Lewis said: “The revocation of licences is very much about keeping pressure on the clubs.
“The clubs will have promises in their licence applications they will need to fulfil.
“There is an opportunity for licences to be lost if clubs are reneging on their promises.”
The Wildcats now face the task of having to think about re-building a competitive squad for Super League XVII, with many of their top players having already put plans to move on for next year.
Those include three-quarters Luke George and Aaron Murphy who continue to be linked with moves to the Giants.
See the next page for a breakdown of licences and how they are worked out
THE 14 clubs who will compete in Super League between 2012 to 2014 and their new grading licence (current licence grading in brackets), with Widnes having been promoted.
B - Bradford Bulls (B)
C - Castleford Tigers (C)
B - Catalan Dragons (C)
C - Harlequins RL (C)
B - Huddersfield Giants (C)
A - Hull FC (A)
B - Hull KR (C)
A - Leeds Rhinos (A)
B - St Helens (B)
C - Salford City Reds (C)
A - Warrington Wolves (A)
C - Wakefield Wildcats (C)
C - Widnes Vikings (-)
A - Wigan Warriors (B
ALL applications submitted for a Super League licence for the period 2012 to 2014 have been assessed against A Grade criteria.
There are over 60 in all, covering five key areas:
Commercial, Marketing, Media and Community.
Governance and Business Management.
Playing Strength and Player Performance Strategy.
Clubs that meet all of the A Grade criteria across these five areas have been awarded an A Grade licence. For example, those clubs that have been awarded A Grade Licences have to prove the following:
Commercial income of at least £1m in each of 2009 and 2010.
Average weekly home crowds of at least 10,000 in either the 2008, 2009 or 2010 seasons, and an average home crowd of at least 9,000 in the other two seasons.
At least 5,000 season-ticket holders in 2009 or 2010.
A stadium with an operational capacity of at least 12,000, with at least 12,000 of the stadium capacity under cover and at least 5,000 seats (all of which are under cover).
Audited turnover of at least £4m for the financial year ending in 2009 and unaudited turnover of at least £4m for the financial year ending in 2010.
A Business Plan which includes budgeted profit and loss accounts and cash flow statements covering the four year period 01/01/2011 to 31/12/2014.
All NI/PAYE/VAT payments up to date, with the exclusion of any ongoing investigation or recent extraordinary assessments.
Achieved a top-eight finish in any of the 2008, 2009 or 2010 Super League competitions.
A four-year Player Development Strategy covering 2011 to 2014, with a clearly defined pathway from school to club to Service Area to Professional Club. The plan must stipulate budget and staffing structures.
Demonstrated over the course of the 2009 or 2010 seasons that their community activity has engaged at least 10,000 individuals with the club.
The club must have the following full-time employees: chief executive officer, media lead with at least two years experience, marketing lead with at least two years experience, community lead, commercial lead with at least two years experience, financial controller, player performance manager.
B Grade clubs are clubs that meet most of, but not all, the A Grade criteria or satisfied the RFL Board that they will meet the A Grade criteria in the next round of licensing.
C Grade clubs are clubs that failed to meet a significant number of the A Grade criteria, or were unable to satisfy the RFL Board that they would be able to meet the A Grade criteria in the next round of licensing.