Bring back the Premiership

The new play-off format has received it’s fair share of criticism in the past few weeks.

Sunday’s Club call announcement brings an element of unknown and excitement to the format, which is being dismissed by many – mainly because it results in too many unimportant and possibly repeated games.

If results go a certain way this weekend, and Leeds choose to play Hull KR, we could have an exact repeat of last weekend’s qualifying play-offs – which were disappointingly attended, mainly down to the fact it wasn’t majorly important whether you won or not.

St Helens journalist Mike Critchley sums up what many people are thinking quite well. He wrote: “The new fangled, unnecessarily complicated, over-blown top eight play offs received a resounding vote of no confidence from the absent fans at the weekend – not just at Saints, but also at Wakefield, Wigan and Leeds where crowds were substantially down on those posted during the regular season.

“In these cash-strapped times folk are clearly reluctant to shell-out for a game that, although important, did not progress the winners that much further to the final nor eliminate the losers.

“If this year’s Grand Final is not played out between the league’s top two then there are more than a few hoping that eighth placed Catalans make it all the way to Old Tafford simply to watch Super League’s spin machine talk about this ‘everyone must win prizes’ new system against the backdrop of a half empty Theatre of Dreams.

“Hopefully the powers that be will heed a simple lesson in future – if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!”

However, the inclusion of the top eight in the play-offs at least adds longetivity to the season. If it was top six, the last third of the season will have been virtually pointless for 8 of the 14 clubs (as it was, it was just pointless for Salford and Celtic).

Instead, the Premiership should be re-introduced. The Super League champions should be the team that tops the league ladder at the end of the regular season. The play-offs and Grand Final have been a great success, and this needs to be maintained, but the play-off games simply aren’t drawing in the fans. Plus there are those that are disgruntled at the fact Catalans – who lost more games than they won this season – could come out as Super League champions, despite finishing eighth.

One player not happy was Saints back rower Jon Wilkin, who said: “I’m not sure teams who finish below halfway should be given an opportunity to win the competition and be deemed champions for the next year.”

The Leeds and Saints game in round 26 which all but decided the minor premiers, could have been a superb title decider. It was a good game, but Saints weren’t that bothered to have lost, knowing that it had little bearing on their quest to end Leeds’ two year spell of mini-dominance.

So, award the Championship to the first placed team in Super League, and then let the top eight teams battle it out for the Premiership. 1st plays 8th, 2nd plays 7th, 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th in a straight knock-out format, adding an exciting finish for fans after a long season.

It’s a system that has been in place before of course, so I’m told, and while I personally can’t recall the Championship/Premiership days, it’s the system that makes most sense to me.

With the abolition of relegation, and thus the demise of exciting relegation battles and intriguing promotion chases from the Championship, something needs to be done to ensure Super League doesn’t turn in to a damp squib.

Either way, hopefully this weekend’s do or die games return the element of excitement to the Super League play-offs, and we can enjoy a great fortnight of action ahead of the big day at Old Trafford on October 10th. See you there.

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