Marwan’s proposal should be the way forward

The publication of the fixture list for the Super 8s perhaps didn’t generate as much excitement recently as the RFL might have hoped.

And the reason is obvious.

The battle for the semi-finals in Super League is a three-horse race for places two to four.

The teams currently in fifth to eighth place seem to have very little chance of catching Wigan, Castleford and Warrington. Something extraordinary would have to happen if Huddersfield, Wakefield, Hull FC and the Catalans Dragons were to have any chance of catching the three teams ahead of them.

It means that the next seven weeks will be something of an anti-climax before the semi-finals in October, so inevitably most of the attention will be on the Qualifiers, which promise excitement all the way.

The obvious reason for that is because all the clubs in the Qualifiers start from zero points, so they will be competitive from the start.

On the other hand, it was never difficult to anticipate that the clubs in the top eight would probably have a much less exciting competition, as we have seen every year since this structure was first introduced in 2015.

The individual who recognised the problem but suggested a solution was former Salford Red Devils Chairman Marwan Koukash.

His solution for the top eight was to give the top three sides after 30 rounds the right to contest the semi-finals, while giving the fourth place to the team that gets the best results over the next seven weeks.

If that system had been in place this season we would have had a thrilling race between Wigan, Castleford and Warrington for places two and three in the table, while all the other teams (apart from St Helens) would have been battling for the fourth place.

Huddersfield, Hull FC, Wakefield and the Catalans would all have been chomping at the bit aiming for that fourth play-off spot.

The competition, and its underlying excitement, would have been transformed.

But unfortunately the Super League clubs didn’t accept Marwan’s proposed amendment to the competition rules, and over the remainder of the season they will pay the price with lower attendances and revenues.

It’s a great shame.

During his time in the game Marwan was widely mocked and criticised. But on this issue the RFL and the clubs should have listened to him.

For not doing so, they only have themselves to blame.

But what of the future? In looking ahead to the 2019 season the Super League clubs want a 12-team competition with ‘loop’ fixtures to make 28 home and away games in total. That means that each club will play a third game against six other clubs.

For me, the prospect of a third game is a snoozeroo. But one way to make it less so is to introduce Marwan’s rule for those last six games.

However many teams will take part in the play-offs (and I prefer the old Australian top-five format), I would suggest that the last spot could perhaps be awarded to the team with the best record in those six games, in order to keep interest high right until the end of the season. And doing that might be seen to justify the existence of the loop fixtures.

It could be described as making the best of a bad job.

This article is an expanded version of part of Martyn Sadler’s Talking Rugby League column, which appears every Monday in League Express and is available online from this website and in all good newsagents.