All Golds make UK history with rugby league semi-pro move
A RUGBY league team is to be created by the University of Gloucestershire to join the semi-professional Championship One competition in 2013.
The team will be based at and run by the university, but will be open to students and players from around the country.
Trials will be held shortly, sponsorship will be sought, and an announcement will be made soon on where the team will play.
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The University of Gloucestershire All Golds – who will play in a strip of dark and or light blue with a golden fern emblem – will make their debut in a few weeks time in a nines competition.
And the embryonic team received top-level backing when it was launched at the university's Park Campus in Cheltenham yesterday.
Rugby league legend Brian Noble, who coached Bradford Bulls, Wigan Warriors and the Great Britain team, has been working with the university on a consultancy basis and said there is the "smell of success" around the venture.
While Gary Hetherington, the chief executive of Leeds Rhinos, said his club's existing partnership with the university could provide a pathway for All Golds players to progress to the Rhinos and ultimately the national side.
Lionel Hurst, who has driven the development of rugby league in Gloucestershire and funded a scholarship programme at the university, said it was a historic day for the sport.
Hurst, chairman of the student rugby league club, said: "The new club will be the first rugby league club in the country owned by a university.
"But this bit is in many ways the easy bit. If we were in Championship One this weekend, we would be facing teams such as Barrow, Workington, Rochdale and Oldham.
"The club will make its debut on May 29 this year when it takes part in the RFL professional nines circuit for four consecutive weeks.
"We will be in the same group as Wigan, Warrington, Salford and London Broncos."
While the university is keen to tap into a growing interest in rugby league in the county, the Rugby Football League is keen to spread the sport's appeal to the South.
RFL consultant Steve Ferres was involved in fast-tracking clubs into the semi-professional game from outside the game's heartland.
As well as the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, Northampton and Hemel Stags will have teams in Championship One, the third tier of the professional game, next year.
Ferres said: "Rugby league is a northern game, but we wanted to play teams from across the country – but not just willy-nilly.
"There had been 17 expressions of interest from teams and we looked into every one.
"This is a new model here, a different model to anything I have ever seen.
"I hope some of the players go on to play for the Rhinos or other teams in the Super League." Funding for the team will go via the RFL to the university – the university will be involved in very small capital outlay through staff time.
It is hoped the team will provide a link from the playing of rugby league at the grassroots, through to the semi-professional university-based team and then into the professional ranks.
The university has already benefited from a formal partnership with the Leeds Rhinos, as rugby league began its process of spreading the game beyond the North.
Rhinos boss Hetherington said: "This is a very bold and brave decision.
"This venture will provide opportunities for young students to become professional players and for other students to become involved in the game through coaching, administrating and so on.
"We have been looking to develop the sport, it's a northern sport and we are proud of that. But it is now played in every county throughout the country at different levels, including the grassroots."
The Rhinos became involved in Gloucestershire after the RFL asked the big rugby league teams to 'adopt' a region, and the Rhinos got the South West.
Hetherington added: "Players aspire to play at the best level and to those who aspire to play in the Super League, we offer a pathway through the Rhinos.
"We look forward to the day when a player from this region who represents the All Golds goes on to represent the Leeds Rhinos and ultimately the national team as well.
"We also look forward to the day, eventually, when the Leeds Rhinos will play against the All Golds in the Super League. I don't know how long that will be, but it's an aspiration."
For Brian Noble, his involvement with the university came because of the 'visionaries' he met in Gloucestershire and praised Hurst's zest and zeal.
"I was taken aback by my visits. The existing professionalism here at the university was a real experience for me.
"There are good sports science facilities at the university. There is no need to go anywhere else.
"The place is tamped with quality and stamped with authority and that smell of success."
â The All Golds are named after the famous New Zealand team that defeated England – then called the Northern Union – at Cheltenham's Athletic Ground on 15 February 1908 to win the first international rugby league series.
The All Blacks, as they were called, were dubbed the 'All Golds' Down Under because of the perception they were going on tour for the money.