A new structure for a new era

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER presents the third in his series setting out his proposals for a league structure designed to maximise Rugby League’s appeal to broadcasters, as well as supporters and commercial partners, from the 2022 season.


This is the third article in a series of articles designed to set out a structure for the professional and semi-professional Rugby League game in the Northern Hemisphere that would give it the best chance of gaining profitable broadcasting deals for all levels of the game while giving Rugby League the opportunity to present itself as a forward looking sport that is looking to expand into new areas, both of the United Kingdom and beyond.

In the first article I set out some general strategic principles that should underlie a bid for a new broadcasting contract.

In the second article I set out a strucure for Super League that would accord with those principles to create a competition that would be most likely to generate interest from broadcasters and maximise opportunities for commercial success.

In this, the third in this series of articles, I want to focus on the Championship and League 1.

Championship Structure

My proposal for Super League is to have two Conferences of eight teams each.

I would propose having exactly the same structure for the Championship, with 16 teams playing in two Conferences that replicate the structure of the Super League proposal, divided probably into eastern and western Conferences with 22 games in total before the play-offs.

That total would be reached by the teams in each Conference playing each other home and away (14 games), with another eight games, four home and four away, against teams in the other Conference.

The Championship would have a similar play-off system as Super League, which would last four weeks and see two teams contesting the Grand Final, which in my view should be held at a neutral venue, with Headingley being an obvious candidate to stage the Grand Final.

The Championship regular season would finish a week earlier than the Super League because the Championship, unlike Super League, would have a round of fixtures scheduled for Challenge Cup semi-final week.

Promotion and relegation

The winner of the Championship Grand Final would earn automatic promotion to Super League for the following season.

And I would propose a similar Million Pound style game to that proposed for Super League to determine which team would be relegated from the Championship to League 1.

2 League 1

The RFL should aim to have a 12-team competition in League 1 from the 2022 season.

The twelve clubs should play each other home and away, giving 22 fixtures in total, the same number as in Super League and the Championship, and the season should be completed with a top-five play-off at the end of the season over four weeks, with the Grand Final winner being promoted to the Championship.

Given that there are currently 37 clubs in the three professional competitions, that would require seven new clubs joining League 1 in 2022.

The RFL should advertise the fact that it will invite new clubs to enter the competition from 2022.

The new clubs could come from a number of alternative sources.

For example, we could see some of the more ambitious community clubs making a bid to join League 1, or we could see new clubs springing up in major towns or cities, or we could see the return of clubs such as Hemel or Gloucester that were members of the RFL until recently, or we could see clubs applying from overseas, such as Ireland, North America or other parts of Europe.

So far there are applications from New York and Ottawa that have been approved by the RFL and there is reported interest from a potential new club from the Spanish city of Valencia. I don’t think it should be difficult to reach a total of 12 clubs for this purpose.

If the RFL made an announcement in 2019 in preparation for 2022, it would send out a signal that the game is in expansion mode, suggesting a vibrant and growing sport.

Seasons 2020 and 2021

We don’t just need to plan for season 2022. We also need to plan how the intervening seasons will work in order to get there.

I would therefore suggest that we have 14 clubs in Super League in 2021, which would conveniently give 26 home and away fixtures in a World Cup year.

We would achieve this by relegating no clubs in 2020 and promoting the two Championship Grand Finalists in that year to Super League for 2021.

Similarly there would be no relegation from the Championship in 2020 and two teams would be promoted from League 1 at the end of that season.

And at the end of  2021 there would be again no relegation from Super League and two clubs promoted from the Championship.

In that year, in order to reach 16 clubs in the Championship for 2022, there would be four clubs promoted from League 1.

In the final article in this series I will discuss the Challenge Cup and put forward a proposal that I’m convinced would revive its fortunes.