Although the plans had been in the pipeline for a while, the RFL have confirmed the full details about the new league structure being introduced into European Rugby League from 2015 onwards. Here are the 10 most important changes being made.
1) The season begins with 3 leagues as there is now
There will be 3 tiers initially: the Super League, the Championship and the newly named League One. The 12 teams finishing 1st-12th in this year’s Super League will compete in Super League next year. London and Bradford are relegated from the elite competition and will join the teams who finish 1st-9th in this year’s Championship, as well as the winners of this year’s Championship 1, to form the 2nd tier. The 5 clubs relegated from the Championship at the end of this season will join the remaining 8 Championship 1 sides and new team Coventry Bears to form a 14 team League 1.
2) After 23 rounds it all changes
In the Super League and Championship each team plays each other twice (home and away) as well as contesting a 23rd game at either the Magic Weekend (Super League) or the Summer Bash (Championship). The 24 teams are then split up into 3 groups determined by where teams have finished in their respective leagues.
Teams finishing 1st-8th in Super League will continue to compete for Super League glory with points gained in the first 23 rounds being carried over. Each team plays each other once, with the top 4 sides playing 4 home fixtures. 1st will then play 4th and 2nd will play 3rd for the chance to compete in the Grand Final.
Teams who finish 9th-12th in Super League will join the top 4 Championship sides in the Qualifiers. This will be a new league with each team starting on 0 points and playing 7 games- 9th and 10th in Super League and 1st and 2nd in the Championship will play 4 of the fixtures at home. The top 3 will then play in Super League the following season, with a 4th v 5th play-off determining the 4th Super League spot in a match dubbed as ‘the million pound game’.
Sides finishing 5th-12th in the Championship carry their points forward and compete in the ‘Championship Shield’. Each team plays each other once with 5th-8th playing 4 home fixtures. 1st will then play 4th and 2nd v 3rd to decide who competes for the Championship Shield. The bottom 2 sides are relegated to League 1 for the following season.
3) Promotion and Relegation is well and truly back
All eyes will be on the Qualifiers to see who will take the 4 Super League spots for the following season. The same 4 sides finishing 9th-12th could return or it could be 4 new sides who line up in Super League the following season. The million pound game is also likely to gain a lot of interest with so much at stake.
4) The Magic Weekend will remain
Although the location is yet to be finalised, the Magic Weekend will return in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. The weekend will see all 12 Super League sides compete in one venue over a weekend and has proved to be hugely popular with fans in recent years. The ‘Summer Bash’ will also be introduced next season. This will see the same concept as the Magic Weekend but for Championship sides and will be held at Bloomfield Road in Blackpool.
5) A lot more importance on the Championship
The licensing system killed off a lot of Super League interest in the Championship, but with sides finishing 9th-12th facing the top Championship sides, there will be a few teams looking over their shoulder. Bradford and London will join a league which already boasts a few sides capable of Super League quality in Leigh, Featherstone and Halifax.
6) No Super League salary cap changes
Much to the dismay of Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash, there will be no change to the Super League salary cap in 2015. However, Championship sides will see their cap raised to £1m in an attempt to help bridge the gap between the two divisions.
7) Challenge Cup places will be determined by league finish
Where a team finishes in the league also holds significance for the stage at which they enter the Challenge Cup the following season. The 12 Championship clubs will join in round 4 and the bottom 4 from Super League in round 5. The top 8 Super League sides will only enter at round 6 which means they are only 3 wins away from Wembley and 4 away from lifting the trophy. The final will still be held on the August bank holiday weekend.
8) A new League 1 cup introduced
As well as a name change, a new cup competition will be introduced in 2015. The 14 teams in League 1 will be compete with the winners of the 2014 National Conference Grand Final winners and the 2014 RFL Conference Challenge Cup winners in a knockout competition.
9) Bonus points may be introduced in to Super League
With promotion and relegation restored, a consistent points scoring system will be adhered to across the leagues. Currently the Championship and Championship 1 adopts a bonus points system, where clubs earn 3 points for a win, 2 for a draw and 1 if they lose by 12 points or fewer. In contrast it’s a straight forward 2 for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 points for a loss in Super League. One of these systems will be used in 2015 onwards.
10) Every minute of every match will be meaningful
Every game across the leagues will be of importance with each point gained determining which group the club competes in after 23 rounds. For the top Super League sides top 4 rather than top 8 will now be a priority, as well as the race for 8th spot never before being so crucial. Getting home advantage for 4 of the 7 games is another priority across all leagues and could be a factor in how well the team does in their group.
The new league structure is the right way to make Rugby League bigger, more exciting and more competitive than ever before.