Which option is best for Super League?

The RFL has revealed three proposals put to clubs in Super League and the Championship with a view to changing the structure of the game from 2015 onwards.

The three options are:

Option 1 – Super League reverts to a 12-team competition and a 10- or 12-team Championship with one club promoted/relegated between the two divisions each year;

Option 2 – A two-division Super League with each division comprising 10 teams;

Option 3 – A 12-team Tier One competition and 12-team Tier Two competition that splits into three groups of eight in mid-season.

Each of the three groups would conclude with a play-offs and climax in a Grand Final/play-off final with final standings at the end of the regular season determining the make-up of Tiers One and Two the following season.

Option 1

This would effectively see a return to the format that we saw prior to 2008, a format that wasn’t deemed successful enough to keep at the time.

The return of promotion and relegation would be the main positive, and a reduction to 12 teams may help to improve the quality across the top flight.

However, the same issues still remain from 2008, with regards to the gulf in class between the two leagues, and also the short amount of time that the Championship team has to prepare itself.

That said, besides Leigh in 2005, the promoted teams didn’t do as badly as what we were made to believe when relegation was scrapped in 2008.

Hull KR, promoted in 2006, went on to establish themselves in Super League as a play-off team, while Castleford, promoted in 2007, were only relegated due to the exemption of Catalan.

Any changes need to be fair and there should be no exemptions, be it Catalan, London or any promoted team.

This option would also see the need for at least two teams to be relegated from Super League in 2014, possibly three if there is a desire to introduce a new team for 2015.

Option 2

There’s not too much information available on this option so far, but it would likely consist of a two-up, two-down promotion and relegation between the two leagues.

Based on the current Super League and Championship tables, and assuming Toulouse will join the league as rumoured, the two leagues might look like:

Bradford   Batley Catalan   Castleford Huddersfield   Featherstone Hull   Halifax Hull KR   Leigh Leeds   London St Helens   Salford Wakefield   Sheffield Warrington   Toulouse Wigan   Widnes

Of course, all of these examples are just hypothetical, given that only certain games have been played, and attitudes and squads may be very different.

The issue with this system is just how the fixtures would be organised to generate enough games. Playing each team twice only makes 18 games. You’ve also got a situation where the two teams going up and down each year would more than likely be the same.

This set-up would probably just see the number of full-time teams drop to 10, possibly stunting the youth development.

For two leagues of 10 to work, it would have to involve sustainable, full-time teams in both leagues.


Option 3

The most complicated option of the three. It involves teams playing five home games, five away and a Magic game before the two leagues of 12 splits in to groups of three.

This could pose sales problems for clubs, who might depend on the revenue of big games. Castleford, for instance, could lose one of their big money spinners against Leeds, and it also makes season tickets a hard sell for clubs, without the guarantees of certain games each year.

If the leagues were to split today, taking in the existing 14 Super League clubs, the top nine Championship clubs and Toulouse, they would look like:

Bradford   Castleford   Batley Catalan   Featherstone   Hunslet Huddersfield   Halifax   Leigh Hull   Hull KR   Sheffield Leeds   London   Swinton St Helens   Salford   Toulouse Warrington   Wakefield   Whitehaven Wigan   Widnes   Workington

Of course, all of these examples are just hypothetical, given that only certain games have been played, and attitudes and squads may be very different.

The main benefits of this system is that it should see more competitive games, and also enables significant movement between the two leagues of 12. In theory, four second tier clubs could earn the right to play against the “big boys”.

Would the league tables be shown as three separate leagues, or would the league tables remain as two leagues of 12?

The difficulty comes when considering the logistics. How would the salary cap work?  Does a team budget to be in the top eight or the second eight, and what happens if a team who expects to be in the top eight, misses out?

Perception of rugby league must be considered. The game receives criticism from the outside due to its existing set-up, and this supposedly revolutionary set-up could cause more confusion.

So which set-up is best?

The game needs to revert to basics in terms of league structure, and invest its energy in marketing and the commercial side of the game.

A 12-team league with promotion and relegation and an appropriately sized play-off competition would increase competition. It would stop the murmuring about the lack of promotion and relegation, and enable more focus on the on-field action.

Concerns about the financial strain caused by relegation are fair, but sport is about on-field progression. Clubs need to budget appropriately, and take responsibility for where they place themselves.

The RFL can’t carry the can for every team that goes bust chasing the Super League dream. The owners of the clubs have to take some responsibility. Clubs go up and down in football each year, and deal with the consequences.

Personally, I would like to see option 1, with a 12-team Championship, and two-up, two-down between the leagues.


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