The best way forward?

GARETH WALKER of League Express looks at the dispute that is holding up a resolution of next year’s fixture structure.

AT the time of writing, we were no closer knowing when the structure of the game in 2019 would be decided.
A formal proposal had been put by the RFL to extend the Championship to 14 clubs next year, but still faced opposition from clubs outside the top flight.
If that is pushed through – and that was far from certain at the start of the week – it would have significant implications for the remainder of the current campaign, because only one cub would go down instead of two and three would come up.
At the bottom of the Championship, Swinton and Rochdale are all but relegated under the current format but have now been thrown a potential lifeline – and this Sunday’s match may now have huge implications for both.
There could also be a major impact in how League One plays out.
York and Bradford Bulls have been locked in a two-way battle for the all-important top spot for much of the season, with the Knights winning at the Provident Stadium in July and then seeing Workington do them a major favour by repeating that triumph last weekend.
Previously only top spot was set to be promoted automatically, but under the new proposal that will be top two, which barring a mathematical miracle will be the Knights and Bulls.
It would also see the play-off for the final promotion place extended down to sixth place, giving Hunslet and Whitehaven in particular renewed hope of mounting a late Championship push.
Oldham are in the play-off positions at present, but given that they have to face both Bradford and York before the end of the season, and extra place would almost certainly benefit the Roughyeds as well.
As it would the likes of Workington and Doncaster. Taking out one of the top two from Bradford and York should in theory make those play-offs even more wide open, and provide a home game to the team finishing fourth rather than an away match.
In short, the new plan – whatever you think of it – could make the culmination to the 2018 season a whole lot more exciting on the field for several clubs.
But it’s important to insist that should not be the driving force for pushing this plan through – it has to be seen as part of the best long-term vision for the game.
It was that debate that was unfolding between this article being written and this weekend’s games.

GARETH WALKER is the Championship correspondent for the League Express newspaper, which is in the shops every Monday morning and is online on Sunday evening.