Dave Hadfield: Return of promotion and relegation set alarm bells ringing in Super League


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The Independent Online

Super League clubs may look back on this week as the time when the turkeys voted for Christmas.

For anyone who missed the latest re-arrangement of the deck chairs, the clubs voted at their annual meeting to reduce the size of the top division from 14 to 12 teams for the 2015 season.

By doing so, the game is in effect rejecting the licensing system, in which it has placed such trust since 2009.

Licensing has lost all credibility because too many clubs have failed – not always through their own fault – to deliver what was required of them in return for their places at the top table.

Wakefield and Castleford, for instance, were both supposed to have moved into new stadia by now, but, following a deep recession, of that there is no convincing sign.

There was a general realisation on behalf of Super League clubs that sticking with a 14-team licensed competition was not an option. For one thing, in the absence of much talent from Australasia, there isn’t the quality in the game to sustain it. For another, it was little better than a slow death sentence for clubs which aspire to Super League, but which, under the present arrangements, have no realistic chance of getting there.

There is good rugby league played in the semi-professional Championship, but it is played, for the most part, in front of derisory crowds and amid a general feeling of pointlessness. This reform will give new hope to the likes of Featherstone, Halifax and Leigh.

Are any of them a good swap for what Super League stands to lose? That is where alarm bells start to ring. If the cull took place now, the two clubs to lose their places would be London and Salford; one of them with obvious strategic significance and the other club one of the few cashed-up operations in the division. 

The other question is over the mechanics of a 12-team competition. It could revert to a 23-match regular season – home and away plus the Magic Weekend – with the top six going into the play-offs and the bottom one or two going down.

More radical would be the suggestion of two divisions of 12, splitting in mid-season to form three eights. It is vaguely reminiscent of the system in Scottish football a few years ago and, like that, runs the risk of baffling the wider public. After all, one of the reasons licensing has to go is that floating fans could not get their heads around a game without promotion and relegation.