How Leeds get to pick their own opponents

Rhinos will make sporting history when they choose who to play in the play-off semi-finals. Dave Hadfield on a peculiar revolution
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The Independent Online

What is rugby league up to this weekend that it has never tried before?

ClubCall – also known as Coach's Choice – allows Leeds, as the highest-placed team in the play-off semi-finals, to pick their next opponents.

Can they choose anyone?

No, they can't pick second-placed St Helens – not that they would want to, anyway. So they must make a choice between the winners of last night's game between Huddersfield and the Catalan Dragons and today's between Hull KR and Wigan.

What are supposed to be the advantages of this scheme?

It gives an extra reward to the team that finishes top of the table after the regular season. Plus, it is supposed to give a publicity boost to the play-offs.

Do the play-offs need help?

Yes, they do. The new eight-team format hasn't caught fire yet, with poor crowds and a hint of apathy.

As a cure for that, is ClubCall having any effect?

Well, you're reading this. Plus there will be terrestrial and satellite TV coverage of the decision tomorrow. If there's no such thing as bad publicity, that has to be a good thing.

OK – but is it a good idea?

Probably not. It smacks too much of short-term gimmickry for that. But rugby league does have a long history of successful innovation – right from abolishing line-outs and cutting teams to 13. Timekeepers, substitutes, Sunday games and video referees were pioneered by rugby league and later adopted by other sports, so you can't just dismiss everything that comes out of left field.

Whose idea is it?

Step forward Nigel Wood, chief exec of the RFL and Mr Left-field incarnate when it comes to these matters. Bonus points for losing teams in the Championship was one of his babies and at one time he wanted to award points for winning halves of games.

What do coaches and players think of this latest brainwave?

If Leeds' head coach, Brian McClennan, is any guide, they are cagey in the extreme, wary of saying anything that could fire up the chosen opposition.

So who will make the decision?

Gary Hetherington, chief executive of Leeds and long-time ally of Wood. If anyone has to take the flak, he will be more than willing.

What would be the most entertaining outcome?

Leeds to pick their victims and get beaten, while the other possible opponents succumb to flu.