SO now we know – two teams will be relegated next season. From 2015, the Super League will consist of 12 – instead of 14 – teams.
Except, really, we don’t know. We don’t know yet what structure will replace it.
We don’t know how many fixtures there’ll be, how many teams will be in the play-offs.
And we don’t know what financial help will be offered to those who tumble through the trapdoor.
The change has been brought about after a vote of the existing 14 clubs at a meeting this week. They will be well aware that, by losing two clubs, they will get a larger slice of the central funding.
Here’s a thought: if the RFL had got its act together and secured Super League a title sponsor, then they might not be looking at the extra cash?
I’ve long said that, if the current regular season is too pedestrian, too predictable, too dull at times, it’s because the play-offs system is wrong. Teams are losing and people aren’t caring. Not really. Not the way they should be.
If the bosses want a league with fewer meaningless matches, then the first issue they should have addressed was the generous eight team play-offs format.
What right does a team in the bottom half of the ladder have of taking a crack at the title?
It doesn’t. It’s there for one reason only – to try to generate interest among the Wakefields and Castlefords of this world, to give them something to aim for once the fear of
relegation disappeared with the move to licensing a few years ago.
And a knock-on effect of having an eight-team play-offs is, at the top end, the only tangible difference between finishing 1st or 4th is home advantage in the first meeting; they both get a second bite if they lose.
The old top-five format offered far more incentives to finish higher up the ladder.
And imagine if we had a top five now? St Helens, Hull FC and Hull KR would be outside the mix – what an exciting end to the season that would make!
Yes, I know promotion and relegation keeps everything excited at the bottom, and I’m not against it in principle.
But aside from the vagueness of how it will be managed, and concern for the futures of the clubs which fall through the trapdoor, remember this: if we revert to a straight-forward, 12-team competition, we can forget about teams playing each other just home and away, with the Magic fixture thrown in.
Super League will still want 26 or 27 fixtures – which will mean a return of the additional ‘loop’ games, throwing up the ridiculous scenario where Wigan end up playing some teams twice in the league, and others three times.
If that happens, then a play-offs concept is the only fair way to decide a champion – because, for example, imagine if Leeds finished top and Wigan second, but the Rhinos had played ‘extra’ matches against poorer sides.
And yet, at the bottom, one team will face relegation – staff will face redundancies, players will be left looking for new clubs – after a contrived season in which they may have faced tougher opponents than their nearest rivals!
Imagine how a side like Castleford would feel if they were relegated after losing ‘extra’ games against Wigan, Leeds, Warrington and St Helens, while Wakefield stayed up with an easier run-in?
And just on those two sides – Wakey and Cas’ had crowds of around 8,000 last weekend.
Do we really want to lose clubs with that support? Or Salford, who have attracted a millionaire investor? Or Widnes, who have done the same? Or London, who have long been trumpeted as being strategically important to the sport?
Of course, if it was left to the RFL, both Super League and a 12-team Championship would be split after 23 rounds into three qualifying play-off groups of eight clubs.
It’s a complicated system but it seems fairer – at least for the first part of the season – and it would generate more meaningful matches.
But that option throws up more questions than answers.
And so – going back to my first point – we still don’t know what’s happening, other than two teams will be saying farewell to Super League at the end of next year.
We’ve been given half a plan. But that won’t surprise many long-suffering rugby league fans.
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