Last week, rugby league clubs voted in favour of a new Super League structure for 2019 onwards, with the headline being the scrapping of the current Super 8s.
Next season there will be 29 rounds, rather than 30. Instead of the potential chance of the 9th placed Super League club being relegated, it’ll be a straight one-up, one-down system which will provide a little more certainty for Super League clubs. It also gives Championship clubs a better chance of being promoted – rather than having to go through the Qualifiers and finish ahead of a top flight side with a bigger budget, there is a guaranteed promotion place.
In terms of the top of Super League, the play-offs will be made of the top five instead of four, with six matches instead of the current three in the end-of-season series, more alike to the system used in the early years of the rebranded competition.
There is risk to the changes, because even though it may seem good on paper, the question is will it work how the Super League hierarchy want it to? I do think it’ll work and in the long run it will be good for our game, with the greater focus on the top end of the game making all of British rugby league stronger.
Some Championship teams gain promotion through the Qualifiers, but it meant finishing above one of the four stronger top flight sides, where now there will be an automatic place to fight for in a play-off series like in Super League.
In terms of broadcasting it seems like little will change, but Super League will hope that these changes lead to a deal with Sky Sports that is just as good, if not better, than the current one.
All of the excitement at this stage of the season is in the Qualifiers, and that will be lost with the battle at the bottom of the Super League table hopefully offering some thrills and spills, but nothing on the same level. With fans unhappy at meaningless fixtures at this time of the year, the greater importance of a higher league finish in the play-off race has a lot to make up for.
Off the field, the change can help clubs in the long term, particularly in attendances. They can now plan sales of season tickets and memberships for the whole season, knowing how many home games are on offer and having the full fixture list at the start of the season. Owners have complained about dips in the numbers at this time of year, so now it’s in their hands to rectify that.
It also allows struggling clubs the opportunity to know which league they will be competing in earlier than they do at the moment. Salford, Leeds and Hull KR are all likely to be safe, but with just over a week to run of the season they still don’t know for sure which league they will be in next year, whereas under the new system their fates would be clearer earlier, and they would have less of a disadvantage in planning for the following season.
The Super 8s were introduced to bring more jeopardy into the game, but it seems that things have gone a little too far in that direction. With attendances and interest falling, fans, the clubs and the entire league can look forward to some much-needed stability.