Talking RL: '˜Nearly all Super League clubs want to scrap Super-8s. It'd be unfair to force it on them'

Rugby league's scrapheap is so big, there's risk of a landslide.

Thursday, 13th September 2018, 8:36 am
Updated Thursday, 13th September 2018, 10:22 am
Ian Lenagan has blamed the Super-8s for a drop in attendances

From ClubCall to licencing, a World Club Series to War of the Roses, Nines to Exiles, Paris to Denver, Margin Meters to 3D TV, nasal strips to Torpedo shorts, all have been tried, tested and abandoned.

And we are poised to discover if the Super-8s concept heads the same way.

Tomorrow, a number of Championship and League One clubs will attempt to block Super League’s attempt to ditch the convoluted competition format.

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Leeds are the only top-flight club in favour of keeping the system.

The other 11, they want a change.

They want a more straight-forward season.

They see Super League’s presence and popularity receding. They are feeling it in on the bottom-line, too, with dwindling attendances, which they blame on the Super-8s structure.

And they are worried that - if this continues – Sky Sports’ next broadcasting contract offer will be a lot smaller than the current one.

Trouble is, a number of lower league clubs are happy with the current arrangement.

They say the Super-8s gives them a greater prospect of promotion. Please.

Aside from Toronto, maybe Toulouse, which of the Championship clubs are really – really - striving for Super League?

I’d argue none, right now.

No, what they really like is the reward that reaching the Qualifiers gives them.

And why wouldn’t they be?

Before the Super-8s, their income from the TV deal was around £100,000 a year.

Now, the top Championship club pockets a cool £750,000, sliding down to £450,000 for fourth, and so on.

Why would they want to give that up? Or part of it? These are tough times.

But if they get their way, what do they think will happen in three years’ time when the current TV deal – the lifeblood of the sport – runs out?

A joint-statement from Hull FC and Hull KR yesterday had a not-so-thinly-veiled threat that they could not guarantee any future money from the broadcast contract.

In other words, vote against the proposal and we may throw you a bone to stop you starving. Maybe.

The Super-8s is being blamed for the boring competition at the top. I’d argue that under any format, the play-offs spots could all be sorted with weeks to go. It isn’t the structure’s fault that Wigan are out of the race to finish top, it is Wigan’s for not winning enough games. Same applies for why Huddersfield, Catalans, Wakefield and Hull FC are not scrapping for places in the play-offs spots.

So as the top clubs tread water until the semi-finals, the focus is on the celebration of mediocrity called the Qualifiers.

Of course it is. We all want to know which four teams will book spots in the top-flight next year.

Trouble is, it is a passive interest. A kind of ‘I’ll check the result’ interest. Because, quite literally, all that matters is the result. It’s rugby league rubber-necking.

There have not been extra bums on seats or more viewers in front of screens. Salford posted 86 tweets about their game against Toronto on Saturday and not one mentioned the attendance (I checked: 2,509).

If the Super-8s is scrapped, yes, I have an issue with the proposed replacement structure, because the season will be padded with “loop” games. They may increase attendances – because fans and clubs can plan in advance – but the idea a club could be relegated because of tougher ‘extra’ games doesn’t seem fair to me (personally, I’d prefer 14 teams, 26 rounds, and no loop fixtures).

But relegating Hull KR and Leigh through the Super-8s, when they didn’t finish bottom, didn’t seem fair, either. And I certainly don’t think it’s fair that a club finishing 9th in Super League could be replaced by a team ending 4th in the Championship.

So while I have my reservations about what they want to change to, I’m convinced change needs to be made.

Something needs to be done.

Super League clubs took control of the competition and brought in their own chief executive, Robert Elstone, to revitalise the competition.

To improve the spectacle, drive up standards, create more stars, increase viewing figures and attendances and sponsorship, open up new revenue streams.

Make the competition healthier, better, so that it is in a better position to negotiate the next TV deal, with Sky Sports and other broadcasters.

Can that be achieved? I don’t know.

But at least they deserve that chance – and to do it with the competition structure they want. Not with one hand tied behind their back.

Personally, I think it is ludicrous that it has got this far, all the way to a vote at an EGM, when it didn’t need to. Maybe new RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer feared a rebellion from the likes of Batley, Bradford and other opponents.

Self-preservation. It’s a common theme in this debate.

But when the Super-8s was introduced, we were promised a review after three years. It has now been four. And 11 of the 12 Super League clubs don’t want it. Sky Sports don’t, either.

It seems unfair to force it on them, at such a crucial time for the sport.