Koukash calls for change

Marwan Koukash wants to see change at the RFL

Marwan Koukash wants to see change at the RFL

First published in National Sport News © by

Marwan Koukash launched Salford Red Devils' new season with a blazing attack on the game's governing body.

Twelve months on from entering rugby league in a blaze of publicity, the charismatic businessman and one-time Palestinian refugee told a lively news conference in Manchester of his plans to shake up the Rugby Football League.

The horse-racing owner spoke of his addiction to rugby league and his determination to not only turn last year's wooden spoonists into champions but to transform the fortunes of the sport as a whole.

The conference was held at The Lowry Theatre, appropriately within sight of Old Trafford, where he expects to be leading his team out in the Grand Final in the not-too-distant future.

Top of Koukash's hit list is the salary cap, which is set to remain at £1.8million despite the influx of cash generated by new sponsorship and television deals.

"Since I came into the sport I have become addicted to it," he said. "I truly love it. For me it's possibly the best sport in the world and played by real gladiators.

"Yet our highest-paid player is paid only a fraction of what the people at the RFL are earning. Where's the fairness in this? And it's our money they are spending!

"Things will change because I'm not just going to take part in what's going on."

Koukash was the only man to vote against the new five-year Sky deal which will generate around £200million from 2017 and was among the dissenting voices over the proposed restructuring, which was passed by a majority of 7-6.

Koukash believes the fact that the two clubs relegated this year will still receive a considerable bigger chunk of central funding than those in the Championship and will operate on a higher salary cap will undermine the principle of promotion.

"Under the new structure, I would be genuinely very surprised to see teams like Leigh ever getting promoted to Super League," he said.

"Whoever wins the Championship should be promoted. Let's have no gimmicks."

Koukash echoed the criticism of Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan in voicing his opposition to the television deal, pointing out that the meeting to vote on it was called at 24 hours notice and with no prior information.

"I looked around the room and the majority of chairmen didn't have a clue what was going on but, all of a sudden, we had to vote for the deal," he went on. "I couldn't believe it.

"This deal is not going to shape the future of the sport.

"Clubs will receive an extra £300,000 a year and that will stabilise some of them in the near future but if the salary cap remains the same in six or seven years' time, it will drive our best players out of the game that we love to union and the NRL."

Like Lenagan, Koukash was angry the television deal was not put out to tender, with BT Sport now on the scene.

"You don't marry the first girl you meet," he said. "You don't commit to a long-term relationship unless you are sure there is nobody better."

Koukash also poured scorn on the new sponsorship deal with First Utility thought to be worth £750,000 a year and was critical of the reappointment of England coach Steve McNamara on a part-time basis following his move to Sydney Roosters.

"That shocked me", he said. "What message is that sending out? Is the England coach only good enough to be an assistant coach in the NRL.

"Instead of spending so much money on administrators, they should pay for a full-time coach and why not give it to someone who really wants the job and who's going to be passionate for the job?"

Koukash outlined other ideas such as a new cup competition and a nines tournament including Championship clubs but called on the RFL to relinquish control of Super League to the clubs.

"Super League clubs must take full control of their destiny," he said. "We must be allowed to run the sport."

Salford's former Great Britain coach Brian Noble, who is under a mandate to engineer a top-four finish this year, told the conference: "I'm as excited as I've ever been.

"We know we will be under the scrutiny of everybody in rugby league. We would have liked to go under the radar but there is not much chance of that."

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