Since arriving as Super League’s new CEO, Robert Elstone has certainly set tongues wagging over proposed changes to the league structure.
It’s fair to say that there has been a mixed reaction since he announced his intention of re-introducing the ‘1 up, 1 down’ format from the 2019 season. Whether it be Batley and Leeds’ outright condemnation of the proposals or Hull KR’s full support of the alterations, it seems that there will be no pleasing everyone.
The main thing for the RFL now is to make their decision on the league format, stick to it and cut out all of the ambiguity. Leaving the long-term structure of the league in limbo does little to help anyone and it is only fair that teams know what they will be playing for in little under 12 months time.
One thing that most can agree on is that the eradication of the much-criticised Million Pound Game is a step in the right direction. Games of this magnitude should be a celebration of all that is great about the game of rugby league but, since it’s introduction in 2015, the match has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Seeing players livelihoods at stake is not something that should be enjoyed and it has been truly-heartbreaking to see so many players fall to their knees after 80 minutes, unsure of what the future hold for them and their families. The concept has produced some dramatic moments; nevertheless, it is certainly the right move to scrap the Million Pound Game going forward.
I for one feel that the concept of ‘1 up, 1 down’ could very much bring back the competition of years gone by. So long as sufficient funding is given to both Championship and Super League clubs and sides are given the requisite help if they do fall out of the top division, this has all the makings to bring back the roots of our game.
Thinking logically, the team that finishes bottom of Super League should be relegated; for the last two years however, this has not been the case. Rather than scrambling to avoid finishing in the bottom four, it could prove to be much more exhilarating watching the bottom two or three sides facing each other towards the back end of the season if we deviated from the current format.
So-called nothing matches would suddenly be given importance and it would generate excitement for the fans from the top of the league right down to the bottom. After all the rounds are played, the team at the foot of the table will surrender their spot in English rugby’s premier competition; and rightly so.
Critics have also argued that only having one side promoted from the Championship would make the competition far less exciting. If one team is streaks ahead of the rest, the majority of the matches would be rendered meaningless. This could be the case, depending how the RFL decide to run the Championship.
It truly has been exciting this year seeing five or six sides all vying for a spot in the top four. There are many sides all more than capable of securing a spot in the qualifiers, and seeing part-timers overcoming full-time professionals is exactly what makes the Championship so special.
In relation to the above point, how about this for a suggestion; to keep the league interesting until the very end, how about retaining the top four in the Championship, who would then play-off to make it to the Championship Grand Final?
That way, both the Super League and Championship will prick the interest of the fans throughout the year, and a Championship Grand Final would be a celebration of our great game, rather than the chilling reality of life outside of Super League, which is exactly what the Million Pound Game currently gives us.
It is clear to see that there are many options for the RFL to consider and I’m sure that Elstone and co will use all their experience and knowledge of the sport to decide the right outcome. Until then though, there will be much speculation about what could happen going forward.
Going towards the final weeks and months of the season, the ambiguity and unease about what lies ahead will do nothing for fans, coaches and players.
If I was the RFL, I would certainly want to get rid of the tension and make a decision on the future of the sport as soon as possible to appease all parties. For the sake of all involved, it makes sense for our sport’s governing body to announce their concrete plans sooner rather than later.