Six Again: Our hopes for rugby league in 2024

A new year always brings with it new hopes and expectations, and a new season in rugby league is no different. With a new era for the game on the horizon with IMG’s gradings coming into force, new TV deals opening the game up to new audiences and major rule changes being introduced, Rugby League World has picked out six things we’d love to see happen in the game in 2024.


This probably tops most supporters’ wish list every year. Despite Super League entering into its 29th season and a 27th for the Old Trafford Grand Final, we have still only ever had four different champions – St Helens, Bradford Bulls, Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos. Could 2024 finally be the year a new name is etched onto the Super League trophy? With Wigan and Saints again looking strong it might be difficult for anyone to break that barrier, but by reaching the Grand Final in recent years Catalans and Salford in particular, have shown that the tide could finally be starting to turn and the big guns aren’t always going to have it their own way. Leigh Leopards showed in their Challenge Cup Final victory that a big day for the underdogs is always possible, and one day soon, surely an unfancied side can really turn Old Trafford into the Theatre of Dreams.


With IMG’s new grading system deciding the composition of next year’s Super League, 2024 will be the first Championship season since 2014, the final year of the previous licensing system, where there will be no promotion to play for. Last season’s play-off series was thrilling to watch and it will be hard to replicate the drama of London Broncos’ against-the-odds wins over Featherstone and Toulouse to gain a spot in Super League when that biggest of prizes is off the table. The fact that on-field performances do still count for something under the new system doesn’t completely devalue the competition as the bonus points available for competition wins will offer extra motivation to the likes of Wakefield, Toulouse, Featherstone and Bradford, who all have Super League aspirations, even if they can’t get there the traditional way.


Domestically we could well see this with the expansion to an eight-team Super League from two six-team divisions. The promotion of Featherstone and Barrow will give teams such as Huddersfield and Warrington more competitive games at the bottom end of the table, while Wigan continue to get stronger each year, and the appointment of Denis Betts as coach could see them finally upset the monopoly of York, St Helens and Leeds. It will be more difficult at international level though. In 2023 England beat France and Wales 64-0 and 60-0 respectively but will realistically need to face a tougher challenge before the 2025 Ashes tour against Australia. But short of persuading the Kiwi Ferns to make the trip over, it’s difficult to see where a more meaningful test could come from.


England’s men enjoyed a 3-0 whitewash over Tonga in November with many members of England’s next generation standing up and making themselves count for Shaun Wane’s squad. As the series wrapped with a 26-4 victory at Headingley, thoughts quickly turned to the hope of repeating the success against Samoa 12-months later. Although that series initially looked to have been scrapped when the South Sea Island nation turned down the invitation to tour, it was later revealed that talks had resumed to try and revive it. Nothing has been confirmed yet about the World Cup finalists’ visit to the UK, but whatever happens, England need to face tough opposition at the end of the year if they are to have the best preparation possible for the 2025 Ashes series in Australia and then the World Cup the following year.


St Helens kicked the 2023 season off in perfect fashion, putting in a superb performance down under to beat Penrith Panthers in Golden Point to claim the World Club Challenge. Now it’s the turn of Wigan Warriors to emulate their closest rivals and ensure that trophy remains in British hands. With the stadium sold out for the heavyweight clash between the two best club sides in the world, the Warriors will certainly have a vocal crowd behind them, which could be just what they need in the tougher moments to push through and get the job done. As NRL champions for three consecutive years, the Panthers are now approaching legendary status – but despite their NRL success they are yet to win a World Club Challenge in three attempts, losing in 1991, 2004 and 2023. Will Wigan ensure that losing run continues?


Since its inception in 2007, Super League’s Magic Weekend has been one of the highlights of the rugby league calendar, bringing fans of all 12 clubs together for two days of non-stop action, entertainment and camaraderie. Despite this though IMG have made it no secret that the event isn’t really in their plans moving forward. The clubs wanted to keep it and in 2024 it has been given a stay of execution, albeit at the smaller than usual venue of Elland Road in Leeds. Many fans have voiced their displeasure at its move from Newcastle, with some even talking about a boycott. If that happens, it really will be the final nail in the coffin for the event. However, if it is a success and the stadium is packed, it might just force IMG into changing their minds and working towards making the Magic Weekend the very best it can be in the future.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 493 (February 2024)

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