Last Friday saw the extraordinary general meeting for rugby league in the UK and the main result of that is the end of the Super 8s structure as of 2019 as well as the return of one up, one down promotion to and from the top flight and the Betfred Championship. That division will be fourteen teams from next season and, in a move which has frustrated many League One players, an extra match has been scheduled following the planned League One play-off final between the teams finishing second to fifth. The loser of that final will face the team finishing bottom of the Championship Shield the week after the planned final to decide the final place in the second tier, a move which has seen many third tier players speak out about the late notice affecting holiday plans players, fans and staff of clubs who will have planned on their season finishing on the weekend prior to the Super League Grand Final.
Super League, meanwhile, will see loop fixtures form part of the 2019 calendar – something which very few outside of the governing bodies are fans of and, in the future, it must be done away with.
Now, it must be said that this is just opinion, it is the opinion of Get ’em Onside that, in the not-too-distant future, Super League should – and could – grow to fourteen teams giving twenty-six regular season fixtures. Included in that should be a Magic Weekend fixture with each team giving up one of their home fixtures over the course of two seasons to ensure that teams, prior to the play-offs and excluding cup ties, only play each team twice. Not only would that ensure that there are no suggestions of teams gaining an advantage of facing ‘lesser’ teams at Magic Weekend in the odd fixture but would also ensure that fans aren’t over-exposed to seeing their team face the same opponents four, five or even six times over the course of the season.
It is clear from this season’s installment of The Qualifiers that there is strength below Super League. Toronto, Toulouse and London have all either beaten Super League opposition or pushed them very close with only Halifax – a part-time team – yet to record a victory in the competition despite impressing. With the likes of Featherstone Rovers and Leigh Centurions missing out on the top four in the Championship and, with it, The Qualifiers, there are capable teams even outside of the middle section of the much-maligned Super 8s. League One’s York City Knights and Bradford Bulls are likely to feature in the second tier next season and the former have been dubbed as a future Super League team while Bradford will surely be competitive in the second tier and will almost certainly build over the next two years to challenge at the top. Throw in further possible expansion with teams from New York, Dublin and even Belgrade rumoured to be entering the structure in the coming years and there is growing scope to extend Super League and it would likely be more of a success when the top flight last had fourteen teams in 2014 when London were relegated on two points and Bradford entered administration as they dropped out of Super League.
While it is clear that people are just keen to see rugby league move forward with more certainty and clarity, the loop fixtures will continue to draw criticism until they are removed from the calendar. While clubs require a certain number of home fixtures to guarantee revenue and allow for financial projections, the fixtures are a necessary evil of a twelve team competition. Now, though, an increasing number of full-time teams suggest that growth could be possible and, with it, the removal of loop fixtures – possibly also allowing the time to add a mid-season international break in globally.
Food for thought for the powers that be, perhaps.