Exactly 2 years ago I wrote a post outlining my views on how we could improve the intensity of Super league games which would then hopefully positively impact on the national team.
With all the recent talk of re-structure, I thought I would review and update that proposal.
Key factors in the game that have changed in the last 2 years :
- Much improved NRL TV deal which is now a factor in quickening the top talent drain to the NRL to significant although not epidemic levels
- Some financially challenged clubs are now showing some postive recovery signs ( Widnes,Wakefiled,Bradford) although , as ever , some have gone backwards ( Castleford , Hull KR? and especially London)
- Some French TV money available
- Improved Sky TV viewing figures and Monday Night Football
- The good Doctor has arrived ! - highlighting some new entrepreneurial money coming into the game.
The game has not changed in the sense that the following are the same stakeholders of the British game in similar descending priority order :
1.Sky TV who undeniably are the prime funders of the British game
2.The key infuential SL Chairmen/Chief Executives ( Hetherington,Moran,Leneghan,McManus etc)
3.The RFL who facilitate the game rather than command and control.
4.The Others - fans, championship clubs , referees, BBC, Challenge Cup, International game etc
In view of the above changes and similarities , I would agree that with the RFL that some form of League structure is required. Indeed with all the talk of 2x12, 3x8 , 2x12 , 3x10 and even 4x10 proves this debate is very topical.
In defence of the RFL they are floating ideas to provoke the debate but in reality they have to balance off the interests of the 2 key stakeholders and no-one solution fits all their requirements.
My view is that any re-structure proposal has to recognise some fundamental principles of British sporting heritage heritage and expectations.It is now self-evident that some aspects of Australian and American sporting models do not translate into British sport for various reasons - history , competing sports , the weather etc.
In context of Rugby League I believe that they are :
1.Some form of promotion/relegation on a more immediate/rapid basis rather than the full 3 year licensing process
2.The UK sporting ( and political) physce is dominated by a 'first past the post' system. There is no denying that play-off's are seen as being contrived and fans vote with their feet (and wallets) accordingly.
3.Even fixture lists are expected : even number of home and away games against all teams playing each other twicw only - we should stop the days of diluting the derby day's - less is more will apply here : 2 league matches plus max 1 possible cup match
4.Drawn matches are vaild results
Therefore considering all of the above my proposal would be for a 'Super League Conference'
- 16 team conference split Super League 1 (Top 8 from previous season) and Super League 2 ( Bottom 6 + 2 from Championship and/or Toulouse providing main qualifying criteria achieved)
- All play Home and Away : 30 matches
- 1st place :1st pass the post : League winners are Champions - (Danny Brough recently admitted that League placings dont really matter given a play off system)
- 8th place relegated to SL2 in following season
- 9th place promoted to SL1
- 16th place relegated to Championship and replaced by Championship winners provided they meet relevant qulifying criteria
- No play-off's or Grand Final - the Challenge Cup Final should be restored as end of season finale - see below
- Magic Weekend to continue but should just feature the 4 Challenge Cup Quarter Finals on 1 day ( could be increased to 2 days with a 7's tournament?)
- Final placings 1-16 to determine seeding for following years Challenge Cup
- Top 3 places qualify for expanded World Club Challenge to incentivise league placings.
- Flexible competition points awarded depending on game grading in order to incentivise ALL games
- SL1 v SL1 matches : 4 points for a win ( 2 for draw)
- SL1 v SL2 matches : 2 points for the SL1 team but 4 for the SL2 team ( 1 point and 2 points for draw respectively)
- SL2 v SL2 matches : 2 points for a win ( 1 for draw) I believe the revised competition points system would provide big incentives for coaches to skillfully manage and fully utilise their squads on a match by match basis.e.g. Recently Wigan played more young players against Widnes resulting in a marvellously close game. Shuan Wane was obviously correctly managing his squad with the Exiles weekend , the forthcoming Warrington/Cas games as well as the usual injury situation. Correspondingly , even-though Dennis Betts had injuries , he did not 'write' that game off and his team competed for the full 80 minutes.That level of commitment came with a 2 point incentive but I believe given their League placings last season a Widnes victory should have earned them 4 competition points.
- I would also argue that the fixtures should be pre-arranged and staggered to ensure that many of the big games ( for both groups within the Conference ) should be played in high summer to enable strong event led marketing campaigns to promote high intensity games on firm pitches.
The Conference would provide the amount of games that club owners require to maintain cash-flow and stadium utilisation , an even number of games against a wide range of opposition for fans with realistic risks and opportunities of promotion and relegation.
As regards end of season , it is no good pretending that our game can continue to support two late season Cup Finals. Neither sell out regularly.The season should peak with one meaningful game. The NRL just have their Grand Final with no Cup equivalent. We should build on our proud Challenge Cup heritage and Wembley history and play the final on the first weekend in October which is now a Premier League free weekend due to International football -the Saturday is now free as they now play soccer internationals on Friday evening.The Semi Finals could be played on the 1st weekend in September again capitalisating on a soccer free weekend.
The Super League seaon would finish late Sptember with a first past the post champion followed by the Challenge Cup Final.
The relatively small RL fan base are expected to support the Cup , Play-Offs, Grand Final , Magic , France , Bronco's trips , Internationals - it is too much to consistently expect them to support all these events.The days when fans of all clubs would univerally turn up at Wembly are reducing given costs and stronger single club loyalties with the opportunity to follow your team in the South of France.
The main issue would be the number one stakeholder -Sky TV who place alot of faith in the play-off /Grand Final concept. However RL fans are canny and can read read through Eddie Hemmings increasingly desperate hype for the 'crtitical 8th place finish'.Therefore an arrangement would obviously have to be made with the BBC about shared coverage as per this years Quarter Finals.They must realise that play off matches in front of minute crowds is not sustainable.
Over the course of the season the amount of league games played would be comparable to the current (28 v 27) but overall could be evened if SL clubs enter Challenge Cup competition 1 round later.
In conclusion , the overall aim of the Conference and revised Challenge Cup would be to maximise chances for more meaningful top flight rugby league matches particularly as the season climaxes in mid/late summer which better support the international programme and help grow the greatest game.
Edited by Wirral Warrior, 20 June 2013 - 09:27 AM.