23rd June 2018, 14:23
MAD SCRAMBLE SEES COMPETITION AT BOTH ENDS OF THE TABLE
After all the kerfuffle about rugby leagues competition structure, let’s analyse whether or not the Super 8’s are delivering what was intended.
With only six rounds to go before the end of the regular season there is everything to play for nearly every club.
In the Super League, it’s a mad scramble to make the top 8’s or avoid the Qualifiers. Hull KR and Widnes have almost certainly booked a spot in the Qualifiers and in reality there are another five clubs Wakefield, Leeds, Huddersfield, Catalans and Salford shooting for three play off spots. As with previous years, it promises to go down to the wire.
Clearly this is what the system was designed to produce. With St Helens running away with the League Leaders shield, the struggle for the 8 is providing major talking points in what would otherwise be a foregone conclusion. Like the Manchester City title win or Celtic’s stranglehold of the Scottish Premier League title.
If the scramble for the Super 8’s is providing great intrigue, the race to qualify in the Championship is as hot as ever. Leigh has recovered from their early season stumble to press for late inclusion in the Qualifiers. The Toronto Wolfpack have “howled” into first place in the Championship, meaning 5 Championship clubs are vying for three Qualifier spots.
Featherstone Chairman Mark Campbell said that the Super 8’s had re-invigorated the Championship and stimulated investment into the sport, by him and by other owners. Critics of the Qualifiers have said the playoff format was designed to keep clubs out of Super League, but clearly this is untrue. Both Leigh and Hull KR have proved the point spectacularly well. Promotion under the Qualifiers format simply requires challenging clubs to prove that they are superior to the clubs they seek to replace.
And that clearly highlights the weakness with adopting an “uncontested” straight promotion and relegation system. You can end up with inferior clubs replacing stronger clubs and both get damaged in the process. Over time you would create weaker leagues. Blind Freddy can see this.
Look what happened in Rugby Union. It is obvious that there are 13 Premiership standard clubs, 12 of whom, play in the top division and one canters through the Championship for a season, before re-joining the top division. And in the meantime the Championship competition has been utterly undermined, with the other clubs fighting for the “privilege” of finishing second. Is that really what we want in Rugby League? I don’t think so. It is a closed shop by any other name.
Universally most rugby league fans think in this year, the Qualifiers will be the best ever. I genuinely believe that many of the Championship clubs are capable of knocking over the lower ranked Super League clubs. Quite simply the Qualifiers format has encouraged significant investment in the Championship clubs to the point where any gap between the two competitions has effectively disappeared in the Qualifiers. It will be fascinating and I think the attendances achieved will be the highest they have ever been.
Don’t be surprised if two or more Championship clubs get promoted this year. I hope it’s four. I’m equally sure the TV audience will be glued to the broadcast. Sport is about winners and losers, meaningful prizes and high drama. The million pound game is amongst the highest watched rugby league broadcasts. And why wouldn’t that be the case? It has all the ingredients needed to make compelling viewing. Failure, despair, euphoria and celebration. And a bloke waiving around a giant cheque for a million pounds!! And we know more “eyeballs” on our sport will equal greater media rights value to all the stakeholders.
So why do some Super Leagues want to bin it. Well I’ve read a lot about the uncertainty of fixture lists harming attendances. Well show us that evidence, because a casual analysis suggests this bunkum. The plain and obvious truth is of course that it is about self-protection, and the fear of relegation. There has been much spoken about a strong Super League being vital for the rugby league so the sports revenues can trickle down the divisions. Well if that is true, Super League would have no problem committing to protecting at least existing revenue allocations going forward. Let’s see how that pans out.
I am relatively new to the UK and in reality the whole concept of promotion and relegation is quite new, as leagues are a closed shop in Australia and New Zealand as they are in the United States, but I fundamentally recognise, understand and support the ability of clubs such as ours being able to promote themselves up the ladder based on investment and performance.
The Championship and League 1 clubs will meet at the end of June to discuss the way forward. Let me state that from my experience at these meetings the members are categorically not against reviewing the current structure. Of course we would happily participate in a professional and objective review to establish if the current system is the best, or if it can be improved upon. We want the very best competition that the sport can deliver, which will benefit all of the games stakeholders.
What the Championship and League 1 clubs are not prepared to tolerate, is the arrogance of not being consulted or our position and rights being subjugated to the views of a small group of self-interested Super League Chairmen. The Bradford Bulls and everyone I speak to is absolutely united in this view. Enough said!!!
At this half way mark in the calendar, we welcome Doncaster to Odsal stadium on Sunday. The Dons are currently in 7th place but have a side that can trouble anyone. It will be their first visit to Odsal for many years. I’d like to welcome Carl Hall (another Kiwi doing an extended OE) their former owner and now Chief Executive. It’s probably true to say that without Carl, the Dons wouldn’t be with us at all. More than that he has an uncanny ability to spot right from wrong and to call it out. The sport needs more people with his passion and honesty.
The next few weeks are vital in our quest to return to Championship with important games coming think and fast, culminating with the “League 1 Game of the Year” against our biggest rivals York. With all the political nonsense flying around at the moment, the best response is for us to go about our business professionally and respectfully.
This Sunday will be a ‘Super Sunday’ of sport at Odsal Stadium with the MEGA screen up again, and broadcasting the big days line up commencing at 11am for the huge second State of Origin clash between New South Wales and Queensland. Following this, England will take on Panama in the second game of their World Cup contest again being shown live on the MEGA screen from 1pm. This will be followed by the Bulls kicking off against Doncaster at the re-arranged time of 4pm. Prices will still be reduced to £10 for entry before 1pm on Sunday for adult and concession tickets, whilst children will still go free before 1pm. Gates will open at 10:30am.
Come and support your team, and don’t forget a hat and the sunscreen! Fingers crossed for the England/Bradford Bulls double. #jointhestampede.