League Express editor MARTYN SADLER proposes a solution to the dilemma of how the Championship clubs can still enjoy promotion to the Super League this year.
Today the non-Super League clubs are holding a meeting at which they expect to thrash out whether their season will continue, or whether it will be abandoned, starting up again in 2021.
There is a strong divergence of opinion, apparently, with some clubs, such as Leigh and Featherstone, desperate to get the season underway again, even if it means playing behind closed doors. Leigh owner Derek Beaumont invested heavily in a squad that could gain promotion, and naturally he wants to gain the benefit of his investment. But some clubs point out that they would lose a lot of money by playing behind closed doors, because income from attendances is vital to them.
The RFL is the piggy in the middle of this particular argument and it looks very difficult for it to come up with a solution that will satisfy both sides.
On the other side of the ledger, I think we all have to accept that there will be no relegation from Super League this year. I simply can’t see how that could happen. Any club threatened with relegation after a truncated season could quite easily resort to legal action to contest its demotion, and it would almost certainly succeed.
So the question then is, could the RFL create any situation in which it could actually promote a club from the Championship?
Of course to promote one team from the Championship would then result in there being 13 teams in the Super League, which inevitably creates its own problems. It would probably kill any prospect of a Magic Weekend next season and it would create problems in deciding how to share up the broadcasting income from the Sky contract. The twelve teams currently in Super League wouldn’t want to share their income with a newcomer.
It reminds me of the situation when Wakefield were promoted to Super League at the end of 1998 and they were prevented from having a full share of the Sky money then, as the Super League expanded from twelve to 14 clubs, while the newly formed Gateshead Thunder also didn’t receive its full quotient of broadcasting money.
That shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.
But if there is still going to be promotion this year, maybe the RFL should organise a mini-league made up just of those clubs who would like to carry on playing, even if it’s behind closed doors. The clubs that would want to go down this route would obviously be those with a realistic chance of gaining promotion. That would probably include Toulouse, Leigh, Featherstone, London Broncos and, perhaps, Bradford Bulls and Widnes.
The clubs that don’t rate their own chances of gaining promotion wouldn’t have to take part.
In a truncated league of six clubs, the results from earlier in the season would be allowed to stand and the winner, and promoted club, would be the one that finishes on top of the table. There would be no need for play-offs to decide the Champions.
The teams could play three games each week at a single venue. And they wouldn’t have to play more than one game per week, so they could play at weekends and that wouldn’t be a problem for part-time players.
The beauty of this is that it would only involve the clubs that really want to battle for promotion and are prepared to go the extra mile in order to be able to do so.
With six clubs involved it would be an exciting competition.
Of course the promotion of one club from the Championship into Super League would leave one place open in the Championship for a club to be promoted from League 1.
So how about something similar in that competition for its most ambitious clubs.
This article was adapted from Martyn Sadler’s column in this week’s League Express. Read his ‘Talking Rugby League’ column every Monday morning.