The future of Europe's elite rugby league competition was finally decided last night, with Super League reduced to 12 clubs from the 2015 season, four of which could lose their places each season to teams from the semi-professional Championship.
The shake-up was agreed at a meeting of the current 14 clubs at St Helens' Langtree Park. With only three weeks to the first match of the new Super League season, there will be a general sense of relief that the game has at least decided on something after weeks of dithering and back-biting.
More controversial than the reduction to 12 teams, at a time when there are at least two clubs clearly not up to it, is the mechanism for moving up and down the new league structure.
Super League's top eight will, as now, go into a play-off series leading to a Grand Final. The bottom four will compete with the top four in the Championship for the other four places in the following year's Super League. The bottom four in the Championship will play off in the same way against the top four from the division below.
The system is essentially the one proposed by the Rugby Football League, to which a number of Super League clubs were strongly opposed. Although they have now come round to it, the faults in it still remain, notably the likelihood of confusing fans, the difficulty in selling season tickets when the full fixture list is not known and the danger of lop-sided scorelines when full-time meet part-time professionals. The great advantage is that virtually every club will have something tangible to play for until the last match of the season.
It recognises that a sealed competition under a licensing regime has not worked and that some form of promotion and relegation is needed. Most of all, there will be relief that the game appears to have settled its structural problems without a suicidal split.
The last formal attempt to sort out the future shape of the competition ended in farce last October, with six Super League clubs walking out before a vote could be taken. Those six, and possibly others besides, wanted any decision to be linked to Super League having more autonomy.
The debate since then has been one of the most bitter in Super League's 18-year history and has obscured, to a damaging extent, the success of the World Cup in Britain in the autumn – something that would in normal circumstances count as a major feather in the RFL's cap.
Some clubs have let it be known privately since then, however, that the tournament has not restored their confidence in the league's chief executive, Nigel Wood. They have, though, accepted what is essentially his blueprint. The changes will be ratified by an RFL meeting next week.
One Super League club was in expansive mood, with Salford set to take over Swinton following the decision of their neighbours' chairman, John Kidd, to stand down. Swinton are set to be as a feeder club for the recently rebranded Red Devils.Reuse content