Super League has confirmed the departure of executive chairman Robert Elstone, who says he is leaving a game with a bright and exciting future.
The 57-year-old former Everton chief executive had been in the post since June 2018 but had come under increasing pressure to step down and in 2020 survived a vote of no confidence.
Elstone tendered his resignation just over three weeks ago and the league announced on Thursday that he will leave the organisation on Friday.
In a statement issued by the league, Elstone said: “I am grateful to the Super League board for giving me the opportunity to do the job I have always wanted and will look back with great pride on what has been achieved since I joined Super League at the start of its new journey, almost three years ago.
“I’d also like to thank colleagues, clubs, coaches and players and our great partners for their unswerving commitment to Super League.
“They have made my time at Super League enjoyable and fulfilling and I leave with many wonderful memories.
“Rugby league will always be in my blood and, just as I have always believed for as long as I can remember, it has a bright and exciting future. I look forward to watching that unfold.”
Elstone, a one-time Castleford director, was recruited by Super League clubs dissatisfied by the Rugby Football League (RFL) to head up a rival administration to prioritise the distribution of central income generated by the top flight.
His priority was to negotiate a new television deal, with the current contract with Sky Sports due to run out at the end of the 2021 season, and to bring in extra revenue.
However, clubs rejected a proposal from private equity firm Novalpina Capital thought to have been worth £61million in return for giving up a 27 per cent stake and officials are also bracing themselves for a reduction in TV income.
Plans to sell to a stake in Super League would have needed unanimous support but Leeds, St Helens, Warrington and Leigh were all thought to have voted against and now the league is facing a bill for a finders fee of around £750,000.
Clubs were also split over the decision to decline Toronto Wolfpack’s application to rejoin Super League in 2021, a move strongly advocated by Elstone.
A spokesman for the Super League board said: “Super League would like to thank Robert for the commitment and energy he has brought to the role of executive chairman.
“His undoubted passion for the game of rugby league has always been clear and he has worked hard to increase the success of Super League. We wish him every success in his future endeavours.”
Elstone’s departure comes just three weeks before the start of the new season and looks likely to pave the way for renewed calls to merge the two governing bodies.
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington went out on a limb in 2017 when the majority of Super League clubs voted to break away from the RFL, a move he described as an “absurd grab for power for the game by a small group of men who think they own the game”.
St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus was a big supporter of Elstone but has since aligned himself with Hetherington’s views.
Rugby league officials have also come under pressure to reunify the game by the Government, who have made a total of £28m available in loans to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
A likely reduction in income from the next television deal will be acutely felt by Championship and League 1 clubs who will see Elstone’s departure as a way to potentially end rugby league’s civil war.