Swinton Lions Chairman Andy Mazey returns in his monthly column to discuss the arrival of the Toronto Wolfpack to rugby league, a new addition to the ‘Pride’ and how he believes the club can achieve its targets for the season.
The Championship is four rounds in and the Lions are yet to play in front of their own fans at their current home ground, Heywood Road. This has been just one of several issues that has challenged the club Chairman in the opening month of his first full season in charge.
Swinton have had a tough start to 2018 in the Championship and head into March still looking for their first two points of the season. Defeats away at Toulouse and Dewsbury, plus a loss against Batley at the temporary home of the AJ Bell Stadium, confirms Andy’s belief that this is the strongest Championship season ever.
“As a competition its exactly what it says on the tin and is by far and away the strongest second tier competition in the summer era.
“Some of the early results have been eye catching with Barrow being the stand out having picked up some vital early points against full time teams which nobody, myself included, expected.”
The Lions start to the season was also hampered by a postponement in the second game against Rochdale, due to the severe weather which left the Heywood Road pitch waterlogged. This proved to be an expensive setback for the club.
“The Rochdale Hornets postponement was a very costly one. I’ve spoken on a number of occasions about our careful budgeting and the need for sustainability, so it was quite a financial blow to lose our first home game to the weather. We had guests flying in from abroad and more than 100 people booked in to the splendid new corporate facilities at Heywood Road – but all to no avail.”
Despite the off-field financial implications of a home game postponement to the balance books, Andy also recognises the issues it created for the playing staff.
“Even more importantly you had to feel for our players and coaching staff. All week long Stuart and his squad and back-room staff had planned meticulously for what was a very important game, only for the rug to be pulled from beneath their feet by the conditions.”
“If expanding to Canada and the US the game can attract more interest and exposure, I’m all for it”
The Lions have a long, distinguished history in rugby league but this weeks visitors, Toronto Wolfpack – the world’s first trans-atlantic sports team – are just beginning their story in the game. The long-term brainchild of Chairman Eric Perez, the Canadian side joined League 1 last season, winning all fifteen of their regular season matches and five out of seven playoff games to secure promotion to the Championship.
“I’m really looking forward to this one. I have a good relationship with Paul Rowley and many of the Toronto lads so have kept a close eye on developments and watched the majority of their games since the inception.
“Speaking with some of the guys involved its been fascinating to hear what they are trying to do and its clear to see there has been a vast investment from the owner so you can’t really fail to be impressed. I have always been supportive of expansion of the game.”
So Toronto now embedded into the sport and future expansion planned out to the United States, does the Lions Chairman think this is a good move for the sport?
“I firmly believe that Rugby League is a fantastic spectator sport that deserves to be viewed by a much wider audience. I also believe it’s an injustice that many of our outstanding talents have never really received the widespread recognition that they truly deserve due to a lack of publicity.
“If by expanding to new places such as Canada and the US the game can attract more interest and exposure then I’m all for it. What I do believe strongly in however is that no expansion should ever be at the expense or to the detriment of the grass roots of the sport or clubs like ours in the Championship and Championship One.
“It’s time we people who know and care about rugby league, its history and traditions started doing more to put our game in its rightful position and getting more people in our communities engaged with this marvellous sport.”
“We are always on the lookout for quality”
Recruitment for the 2018 squad kept Andy and Head Coach Stuart Littler busy during the off-season with no fewer than 13 new faces coming through the door at Heywood Road. The club also confirmed in February that the dual-registration partnership with Wigan Warriors would continue, giving Littler access to some young talent. However, Andy reveals they are still on the lookout for further reinforcements to benefit the squad.
“It’s a difficult market right now with the uncertainty of the reserve structure effecting clubs decision making processes on players, however some good news for our supporters is that we’ve managed to get a deal done this week with half back Rob Fairclough, joining us initially on a month’s loan from St Helens.
“Talks are also ongoing with others so we will keep working hard and doing our best with what we have.”
It’s still under a year since the Lions future was threatened by debts owed to HMRC, however Andy tries his best to give Stuart Littler the resources he needs whilst ensuring the club runs to a sustainable budget.
“We are always on the lookout for quality. Stuart identifies the players and between us we then work overtime to get things done but are restricted both in terms of salary cap and our own sustainable budget parameters we have in place to safeguard the club.
“People might not like me keep going on about it all the time but fact is we are the lowest spenders in this competition and as such I believe it’s a big achievement to put a squad together with the calibre of player we have and we must remember the position we were in last September at the start of this journey with not a single player on contract and everyone free to leave.”
“It’s absolutely vital and we must stay together as divided we will fail”
Following some disappointing results in the opening rounds of Championship, Swinton face another tough month which includes a trip to Featherstone before the London Broncos are welcomed to Heywood Road.
The Lions Chairman calls on the incredible support of the Lions faithful to rally behind the team, which he still believes can achieve their set goals for this season.
“It’s absolutely vital and we must stay together as divided we will fail. This was always going to be a very difficult season on the field of play in what is year one of a rebuilding process.
“I keep reading people making comparisons on social media to last year’s players and team but they need to understand that we have pretty much had to half our staff and player spend from last year and we all know how last season’s kamikaze spending ended.”
There are no easy games at this level and the previous two seasons despite spending far more than we are doing this year the club still faced a battle to avoid the drop. It’s also worth remembering that had Bradford not started on minus twelve points last year the club would now be in championship one so the challenge always was and is to keep this club in this division and to prove all those who wrote us off wrong.
“Nothing has changed and I believe in Stuart, our staff and players and believe we can achieve the results and goals we have set this year.”
Watch Swinton Lions take on the Toronto Wolfpack on Sunday 4th March at Heywood Road. Tickets are available via paying on the gate only. Salford, Wigan and Super League season ticket holders can get in for just £10 and Under 16s are FREE with a paying adult. Find out more information on regular match-day ticket prices here.