17 hours ago
Leeds Rugby League CEO Gary Hetherington has predicted a "golden era" for the 13-a-side code after being elected president of the Rugby Football League.
Hetherington followed in the footsteps of his wife when he was voted in at the annual meeting of the RFL in Huddersfield, nine years after Kath Hetherington was chosen to serve as the League's first-ever woman president.
Mrs Hetherington, now chair of Hull, was for 12 years the RFL Council representative for Sheffield Eagles, the club which was founded in 1984 by her husband.
"This completes a full circle for me," said Hetherington. "It's exactly 20 years since I went before the Rugby League Council to make the presentation on behalf of Sheffield Eagles and we got accepted by one vote.
"The condition was that I couldn't serve as chairman because I was a professional player at the time and chairman of the professional players' union and I think I was deemed unfit to be a council rep.
"It's a proud moment because rugby league has been one of the most important things in my life since I was seven or eight years old. I've been privileged to have been involved in the game at every level."
"I think the game is in great shape," he said. "I think enormous strides have been made since the game went to summer, but over the last two years it's been enormous and I believe we're ready for a golden era in the game."
Wednesday's meeting of the 32 professional clubs heard that the League have managed to virtually wipe out a debt of ?1.9million, largely a legacy from the ill-fated 2000 World Cup, and that the game's administration are set to operate in the black for the first time for many years.
"To clear a ?2million debt is an excellent effort," added Hetherington. "It's credit to the RFL board, who have done it within the time-frame and it's more good news for the game.
"2004 will be without doubt a profitable year for the RFL, which spells good news for everybody in the game. The RFL has been hamstrung over the last few years because of its inability to generate income.
"Thankfully, that is a thing of the past and the team at Red Hall are now working profitably and carrying out a lot of extremely good work, particular regards to development."
Hetherington added: "The game is flourishing at all levels. There is more participation than at any other time - it's played in every county in the country - and, with the divisional structure at professional level, I reckon we are set for record attendances in 2004.
"I reckon that we'll see six clubs in Super League with average attendances of over 10,000 for the first time in living memory.
"I think 2004 could be a really significant year for the game. I really do believe we are on the threshold of a golden era.
"One of the major challenges is, of course, to beat the Australians and I reckon we are closer now to doing that than we've been for 30 years. The signs are good because we are beating them for the first time at junior level and that augurs well.
"I reckon that 2004 could be the year that we finally make the elevation up to beating both Australia and New Zealand in the Tri-Nations."