It’s been the talk of rugby league for the past two years or so, and this week we have finally made it to the split and the Super 8s.
Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, it will be impossible to judge the new era as a success or a failure this year and we should all be careful not to.
We’ve had enough knee-jerk reactions and changes in rugby league to last us a lifetime, and it’s important that the new system, whether you like it or not, is given a chance to find its feet.
Hopefully come five years time, the official Super League Twitter feed won’t have to spend much of its weekends in July explaining to fans exactly how things are going to work.
And I’m sure those behind the scenes at the RFL will have learnt a lot already when it comes to how they can market the game in the future around the unique league structure.
With the exception of Wakefield, every club had a realistic chance of reaching the top eight until a couple of weeks ago, and just seven points separated the six teams from sixth to eleventh come the end of Round 23.
The only change to last season’s top eight saw Hull replace Widnes, who missed out by just a point, and will now enter “The Qualifiers” together with Hull KR, Salford and Wakefield.
Though personally not a fan of the unbalanced nature of the seven games (with four home and three away, or vice versa) from a marketing and logistics perspective, it certainly adds a bit of intrigue when looking at the upcoming fixtures.
Salford must welcome a resurgent Leigh in one of their three home games, which look like they are going to be massively important in the Super League and Championship clashes.
There’s the added intrigue of the Million Pound Game. It will be interesting to see how successful this game is from a marketing and awareness point of view.
It makes explaining the structure a little more complicated and does it give a Super League team a get out of jail card, knowing that if they win a one-off 80 minute match they can retain their status? Of course, that all depends on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty – by the same token, it enables a top Championship side to know that if they finish 5th in The Qualifiers, they then have 80 minutes to beat a Super League side to earn promotion.
We’ll see how it goes. My hunch is that I’d sooner see a dramatic final day of the season pan out in the seventh game (which should all be played at the same time by the way), than then have that carried on in to a match involving just two of the teams.
On Twitter on Sunday night, I posed the question is it fair that a team that finishes with 13 points more than another over 23 games still has the same chance of relegation; likewise a team that finishes 11 points lower than another still has the same chance of promotion?
But there’s no perfect system. We should stop trying to find one. No system will ever make the season meaningful and fair to every single team at the same time. Sport should be fought out on the pitch, and hopefully that’s what we’ll see this year and in the years to come.
At the top of Super League, its business as usual really, as the top eight continue on with the same number of points they have now in the race for Old Trafford.
In reality, Catalans have virtually zero chance of reaching the top four given that they’re eight points adrift, while Hull face an uphill battle too.
Of course, this situation was always likely to happen. The challenge for the structure and the league as a whole, is to become even more competitive to ensure that there isn’t as big of a gulf between fourth and eighth in future seasons.
Some of that is perhaps caused by the fact that the top three – Leeds, St Helens and Wigan – are seemingly quite comfortable and it would be a surprise if those three don’t make the semi-finals.
The full schedule has been announced today, at a Super 8s launch event. Maybe the split wasn’t that bad after all.