Is the new league structure losing its integrity already?

When the sport was basking in the glory of Ryan Hall’s dramatic late try at Leeds and the plus points of the new league structure were being rightfully shouted from the rooftops, who would have thought that, less than 12 months later, the structure looks set to fail in 2016?

There is good and bad in every league structure, no matter what course of action you implement. But in this contrived and elongated structure where the big issues like promotion and relegation are decided by a myriad of issues lasting months and months.

This weekend could be the most fatal yet for the league structure, starting with Widnes’ win last night at Castleford. It means that the sides between fifth and eighth are becoming increasingly distant from those above and below them – essentially the spots on the league table that matters.

Should we get more results that increase that philosophy this weekend – such as Wakefield winning at Huddersfield and St Helens losing to Catalans – then we’re essentially going through the motions for the last five weeks of the regular season. We’ll have a fair idea (barring Salford overturning their points deduction) of the sides heading to the Qualifiers, and we’ll already be pretty confident in working out who the four semi-finalists are going to be in September, a full THREE MONTHS away from it actually happening. Hardly every minute matters, is it?

Hull and Catalans found out first hand last year that if you make the top eight but are distant from the top four when the Super 8s begins, you’re playing for nothing in the last seven weeks of the season. That is an absolute shambles, without sugar-coating it. Similarly clubs like Widnes and Wakefield could find themselves in the same boat this year – although given where they were last year, you’d suspect Trinity may not be too bothered by that.

Hopefully the Qualifiers will go some way towards correcting the issue, but from the outside looking in, the Super League sides look stronger than last year, which means that the chance of a Championship team getting promoted already looks pretty slim, given how nobody managed to get up and through the structure last year.

With Championship teams going full-time – there is talk someone like Halifax may if they finish in the top four again this year – there needs to be a clear and attainable prize for them at the end of the season.

The solution? Keep it simple! Maybe two years of this structure will serve a purpose in that it will narrow the gap between Super League and the Championship – but if we get more dead rubbers amongst the top eight and no side promoted once again, the structure begins to seriously fall apart and lose all of its integrity.

It surely wouldn’t be just this writer leading the call for the basic one-up, one-down which works so well in other sports to be implemented. Where is the harm in having Super League’s worst side relegated and the Championship’s best promoted? If you wanted more drama you could have the next four Championship sides play off for the right to play Super League’s second-bottom side in a ‘Million Pound Game’ – but there has to be basic promotion and relegation to give the sport’s lower-tier sides a fighting chance.

At the top, a shorter league season would make an already-competitive Super League more congested, with fewer games reducing the chance for major chasms to open up on the league table. There’s an argument for first past the post, but the sport needs its Grand Final, as it’s a huge showpiece of the calendar.

These are all major changes and ones which require far more thought than this column, but if it’s the same again this year and nobody gets promoted with meaningless games in the Super 8s, surely it’s time for change?