Hetherington hoping Elstone can bridge the gap to RFL

Robert Elstone. (Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)
Robert Elstone. (Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)

LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington has hailed the appointment of Robert Elstone as the new Super League CEO – but urged him to work “in collaboration” with the RFL for the greater good of the sport.

Yorkshireman Elstone, 54, has left his role as chief executive of Premier League football club Everton to take on the position vacated by Roger Draper in January.

The Barnsley-born Castleford Tigers fan was deputy to chief executive Maurice Lindsay at the RFL in the 1990s and, after helping him launch the era of Super League, was once earmarked as his successor.

However, instead Elstone, who also worked for Sports Business Group Deloitte, turned to football, moving to Everton in 2005, initially as deputy chief executive before three years later gaining the main job.

Strangely, though, there had still been no confirmation last night from Super League or the RFL about his latest appointment.

That is even after Everton chairman Bill Kenwright announced on the club’s website on Tuesday that Elstone was leaving for his “enduring love” and “favourite sport” rugby league.

The failed communication is clearly a sign of the teething problems that are affecting Super League since it seized more power from the RFL executive last November.

Essentially, back then, clubs started to take greater control of their own destiny in a breakaway move that saw RFL chief executive Nigel Wood leave the Super League board.

Wood, of course, later stood down from the RFL, too, in January and has still yet to be replaced with Ralph Rimmer acting as interim chief executive.

However, with Super League clubs gaining greater autonomy, they also have greater responsibility – it is not now the RFL’s duty to publicise Super League has a new chief executive.

Still, Hetherington was willing to speak about Elstone’s arrival and he welcomed the news.

“Robert himself has a deep passion for the game, he understands the game and has been involved in it before,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“He understands the intricacies of administrative life in rugby league and Super League. I think all of that is very helpful so, armed with all that experience, I do feel he is a good appointment for the sport.

“Exactly what his status will be in terms of the current dialogue with the RFL I don’t quite know.

“But I do think it’s good Super League has a face and a voice who will be high-profile and who will promote the sport, the game and all that’s good about it.

“I think that the Championship and League 1 should also have their own appointments to work in collaboration with the RFL and Super League to plot the way forward and help grow the game to greater prosperity.

“Critically, I still believe all three executives of all three competitions should be working harmoniously with the game’s executive (the RFL) to prepare a game-wide strategy plan.”

Granted, Leeds were in the minority of clubs who were against Super League’s breakaway last winter and it is unclear yet what Elstone’s gameplan will be.

Regardless, he will be tasked by Super League clubs in leading their negotiations when it comes to sorting a new television deal – one of the most crucial pieces of business looming for the sport – and also the potential restructuring of the competition.

A former Castleford board member, he was there on Saturday to see Tigers’ Challenge Cup defeat to St Helens.

Kenwright said Elstone had run Everton “wisely and well” becoming one of the “most respected” CEOs in football.

Elstone labelled his time there a “privilege” but – with his new role at Super League due to start on June 1 – all eyes will soon turn to see whether he can have such a positive impact on the sport that is closest to his heart.