TALKING SPORT - New RL structure risks alienating fans

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A GIMMICK, or ground-breaking?

Rugby league has danced down that fine-line many times in the past – to massively varying degrees of success.

And now, following a meeting last Friday, we now know the structure of Super League from next year.

Two clubs will be relegated this year. And from 2015, two leagues of 12 teams will play 23 matches, before splitting to form three divisions of eight – the bottom four of the Super League, and the top four of the Championship, will form a new ‘middle’ division.

The clubs then play the others within their league once, before a top-four play-offs. The regular season will again be a battle for places on the starting grid, before the Grand Final race really begins, only now it’s dragged out to 30 rounds instead of 27.

Something needed to be done to make the bottom of Super League more appealing.

I get that.

And I welcome the open pathway to the Championship clubs. But I’m far from convinced this is the way forward.

Let’s presume Wigan maintain their current strength: they’ll play their closest rivals twice, then again in the ‘breakaway’ league, then again in the play-offs. Throw in the Magic and the Challenge Cup, and it’s possible they could face, say, St Helens six times in competitive fixtures. Too much of a good thing? Quite possibly.

But my biggest concern is over the complexities of the structure itself.

Anything which is even remotely complicated – Super League’s play-offs, rugby union’s ‘bonus points’, cricket’s Duckworth Lewis method – risks alienating those fans who aren’t die-hards.

For all the good intentions, this system risks limiting, rather than broadening, the game’s appeal.

LONG before they won the double, Wigan lost three of their four friendlies last year – so Shaun Wane knows better than anyone that the results have next-to-zero significance.

Still, they’re a good chance for fringe players to catch the eye, and a couple certainly did that last Sunday.

Fleet-footed Ryan Hampshire looks a capable deputy for new No.1 Matt Bowen, new signings John Bateman and Dan Sarginson showed their quality, and Joe Burgess – unfortunately nicknamed ‘budgie’ – scored four fabulous tries to suggest he will be a winger of some promise.

THE Uwe Rosler bandwagon suffered its first stumble at Doncaster last weekend, but it’s important not to read too much into it.

As Rosler himself was the first to admit, with a schedule as hectic as Wigan’s, they were always going to hit a brick wall sooner or later.

The lack of a midweek game this week will give Rosler the opportunity rest weary legs and minds before Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace, a game which should have a party atmosphere.

The visit will be particularly special for former Eagles Emmerson Boyce and Ben Watson – Wigan’s captain and goalscorer from their famous final victory over Manchester City last May.

Despite the prospect of another game to an already-congested fixture list, Rosler will be going all-out to secure Wigan’s passage into round five. And as we learned last year, from then on, even the most unthinkable is possible.

FINALLY, my favourite story of this week – possibly any week – was the news the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team had qualified for the winter Olympics.

In what is shaping as a real-life sequel to the brilliant film Cool Runnings, they are seeking donations to ensure they can reach the Sochi Games.

Let’s hope they get there ... with thermals.

As Sanka said in the flick, loosely based on Jamaica’s ‘88 qualification: “Cold? I’m freezing my royal Rastafarian nay-nays off!”