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Rugby League

Promotion set to return in Super League revamp

Two leagues may be split into three in mid-season in RFL restructuring proposals

The Rugby Football League has revealed details of a proposed radical shake-up of the game, including the return of automatic promotion and relegation.

The most eye-catching of a series of proposals to reorganise the structure of the Super League and the Championships is a plan for two leagues of 12 teams, which would be divided into three divisions of eight halfway through the season.

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood put the proposals to Super League club representatives 10 days ago as part of a consultation process and made a presentation to the Championship clubs in Coventry on Wednesday.

A vote on the shake-up will take place later this year but no change can be introduced until the end of the current licensing period, in time for the start of the 2015 season.

Wood has been reacting to a growing clamour for the scrapping of the licensing system, which was introduced in 2009 to guarantee clubs the stability of three years’ membership of Super League. Clubs have also been pushing for a return of regular promotion and relegation in order to reduce the number of meaningless matches and provide incentives for ambitious clubs outside Super League.

Clubs rejected a proposal to maintain the status quo and will instead vote on three alternatives as follows:

Option 1 – Super League reverts to a 12-team competition (from 14) and a 10 or 12-team Championship, with one club promoted and relegated each year;

Option 2 – A two-division Super League with each division comprising 10 teams;

Option 3 – Two divisions of 12 in Super League, with teams playing each other once to provide 11 fixtures before splitting into three groups of eight in mid-season and then playing each other home and away to provide 14 more matches.

Under the third option, each of the three groups would conclude with a play-off series and climax in a Grand Final or play-off final with final standings at the end of the regular season determining the make-up of the two 12-team divisions for the following season.

The third option, which would mean two teams being relegated from Super League at the end of next season, would facilitate a return of promotion and relegation but in a more managed way.

Wood said: “The interest already shown in these ideas has been very encouraging and I believe these new proposals will produce positive change and innovation across the whole sport. I do believe that we need to create a pathway into Super League but it is essential that we are mindful of the challenges that a straight re-introduction of promotion and relegation between part-time and full-time leagues would create.”

The RFL, which tapped into research carried out by sports industry financial experts KPMG before coming up with its proposals, says it will now undertake further consultation before agreeing the way forward.

Wood added: “I look forward to further detailed discussions with people across the game as we finalise our proposals in the weeks ahead.”