Super League new chief executive faces stormy start

Robert Elstone - facing potential civil war
Robert Elstone - facing potential civil war

Super League's new chief executive Robert Elstone is facing a potential civil war just eight days after taking office.

The 54-year-old former Everton chief found himself embroiled in controversy just hours after announcing a major re-structure of the domestic game when Leeds boss Gary Hetherington launched a withering attack on his plans to axe the Super 8s.

Flanked by Wigan owner Ian Lenagan and St Helens chairman Eamon McManus, two of the so-called rebels who led to the overthrow of former Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood from the board of Super League last November, Elstone unveiled his proposals for change at his first press conference in Warrington.

The dust had barely settled on the announcement when Hetherington, who stayed away from the press conference, waded into the debate.

"The announcement appears to be an absurd grab for power by a small group of men who think they own the game," Hetherington said.

"Leeds Rhinos are not party to this and are totally against the creation of a separate Super League executive.

"The game is in need of strong leadership from (chairman) Brian Barwick and his board of directors at the Rugby Football League and this announcement should bring a response from everyone connected with the game."

Lenagan had earlier claimed Hetherington was in a minority of one on the Super League board but the Leeds boss found a strong ally in Kevin Nicholas, chairman of Championship club Batley.

"Do not be misled by any conclusion that the format for 2019 has been decided," Nicholas said.

"We believe this was disrespectful to the present consultation process involving the RFL and Championship/League 1 representatives where we are nowhere near a conclusion.

"Any Super League plan at the last meeting had not even made it to the back of a cigarette packet, let alone a formulated document proposal.

"We need the RFL response to confirm this position working towards a whole game solution or war looms."

Elstone says he needs the support of Hetherington and is hoping to persuade him to drop his opposition.

"I've the utmost respect for Gary and what he's achieved at Leeds," he said. "I know Gary really well from all sorts of different backgrounds. I've already been to see him and we've had some positive discussions.

"Like all of us, we think the game has to grow and change to stand a chance, and Gary's view is really about how we do that and that's the difference.

"I would hope that, by working with me and seeing we're collaborative, we do carry out our responsibilities to the wider game and Gary will come with us.

"Undoubtedly, we need Leeds with us and I'm confident we'll get that.

"In the Premier League, Man United were always an outlier in terms of commercial development - this is different but over time, you have to bring them with you."

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