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Rugby League Opinion

OPINION | Stop constantly changing the Super League structure

The new Chief Executive, Robert Elstone, has announced that the Super 8’s and Middle 8’s format is going to be scrapped, and replaced with a simple “one up, one down” format.  This is not the first time that the format has changed recently.

Robert Elstone addresses the media after being confirmed as the new CEO of Super League. Photo Credit: SWPix

The super 8 formats were only announced in 2015; and that was brought in to replace Licensing, where no team could be promoted or relegated for three years.  So, with the format changing much more frequently than in other sports, is this new format the right one?

The Licensing System

The format that the Super 8 formats replaced was that each team would be able to have three years in the Super League before being eligible for relegation. The gap between Super League teams and Championship sides was enormous- realistically no team that gained promotion was ever going to stay up.

So, the theory behind it was not bad, but the reality of the format was poor.  Teams that were in the Championship had no incentive to try to finish top for two out of three years, after all what was the point with no reward other than being named the league leader?

On the other side, Super League teams may have had three years to build and try to retain their status in the top tier, but they are competing with well established, more financially solid clubs that dwarf the amount of revenue that they have.

Pastures New

Since its arrival the Super 8 and Middle 8 format has not exactly been a success.  The top eight teams in the Super League split into a separate league, trying to claim a spot in the top four and play-off for the chance to be crowned champions in the Grand Final.

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The bottom four teams of the Super league were then joined by the top four teams in the Championship.  This mini-league saw the top three teams promoted, with the fourth and fifth placed side playing in what was known as the “Million Pound Game” to see who will take the final spot in Super League.

In reality, since the creation of this format, only two Championship sides were able to get into Super League.  Hull Kingston Rovers and Leigh Centurions are the only sides to have made it into the top flight, and Leigh Centurions were then relegated the following season, losing the Million Pound Game to Catalans Dragons.

Catalans Dragons’ Richie Myler consoles opposite number Josh Drinkwater following the 2017 Million Pound Game vs Leigh Centurions. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The problem with this format was that the Super League teams are always going to be heavy favourites, as the gap between the Championship and the Super League teams is still significant.

The Million Pound Game, since its creation, has always featured a Super League team.  So, watching this game is the equivalent of having to watch two colleagues at work battle it out to see who keeps their job and who gets let go.

With so much on the line in that game, like Super League status and financial backing potentially being ripped away, the game is more uncomfortable to watch than it is exciting.

Will the latest change work?

With that said, will the new format be any different?  If the format was in place for this current season, this would mean that Widnes Vikings, who are currently adrift at the bottom of the Super League table, would be related, whereas runaway leaders of the Championship in Toronto Wolfpack would be promoted.

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The elimination of the Million Pound Game, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.  The other positive is that under the current format, there are playoff games set for the end of each season where fans and clubs have no idea who they will be playing or where, so it removes the ambiguity and allows both supporters and players to prepare from the start of the season.

Having said that, the new format doesn’t go far enough.  In recent times, the gap between Super League and the Championship has reduced slightly.  Toronto, Toulouse, Leigh and London are all teams that would be able to compete in Super League, so for three of these teams, the odds are that they will still have a number of years in the Championship before they gain the opportunity for top tier rugby.

I would like to see the bottom two teams relegated from the Super League, with the top team promoted from the Championship.  The Million Pound Game should then be for what it was intended, a spectacle of skill and an opportunity for two teams who have battled hard in the Championship, to face off and have a golden chance to gain Super League status.

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The teams who finish second and third in the Championship would be in the Million Pound game, held at a neutral venue, and the winner would be promoted.  This means that the game is no longer an uncomfortable game, but a show of what the Championship as to offer.

As for the losing team, they haven’t been relegated; they simply stay in the Championship and come back the next season to try and aim for one of those top three places.

The Summary

The new Chairman has made his decision, and whilst I believe more should have been done, it is imperative that they stick with a decision, stop changing formats when they feel like it, and let teams try to build to achieve that elusive Super League Status.

What do you think?

Is a return to '1 up, 1 down' the way forward for English rugby league as a whole?

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