Can promoted teams survive?

One of the major reasons for the move towards a licence system is to stop the scenario where the promoted club struggles to provide a competitive side. It seems that many players from the team unfortunate enough to be relegated end up being signed by the new member of the top tier. This is mainly due to the fact that most players have secured contracts with Super League clubs before the identity of the promoted side is known. This makes recruitment extremely difficult. But is it impossible for the promoted side to compete at the top level? I had a look at how the promoted teams have faired during the Super League Era.nnIn 1996 Salford City Reds became the first team to be promoted when they replaced the bottom club, Workington Town, who finished bottom with just two victories out of a possible twenty-two. Salford faired much better in 1997. They secured a top six finish winning half of their games. Oldham Bears were demoted to the lower tier after finishing with just nine points. The games first romance with a French team also ended when Paris disappeared after their second successive bottom two finish.nnHull Sharks and Huddersfield Giants were the fortunate beneficiaries to the French failure although the Giants didn’t fair much better as they finished rock bottom winning just two games. Hull finished a respectable ninth in the 1998 seasonnnHuddersfield escaped relegation as Gateshead Thunder and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats were added to make a new fourteen team division in 1999. Thunder, bolstered by a wide selection of Australian imports, only lost ten matches in their thirty game season, finishing a creditable sixth place. Wakefield, with twenty points, finished eleventh. Once again Huddersfield finished in last place; though this time they were level on points with struggling Hull Sharks.nnThe new millennium saw the division again reduced to twelve clubs with Hull forced to merge with Gateshead, and Huddersfield and Sheffield forming another unlikely alliance. Hull managed a seventh place finish thanks to their bigger budget. Huddersfield, however, completed a hat-trick of bottom finishes. nnNo changes to the line up of the teams for the 2001 season as Dewsbury Rams followed Hunslet Hawks the year before as the teams rejected as not being suitable for promotion despite winning the Northern Ford Premiership. The Giants’ fourth successive bottom this year was finally punished as Neil Kelly’s Widnes Vikings beat Oldham Bears to secure a return to the top flight.nnWidnes were favourites to return to the second tier but the unfancied Vikings proved critics wrong and gained many new supporters as they narrowly missed out on a play-off berth. Salford City Reds finished bottom in 2002 ending their stay in the divison with just five victories. Huddersfield Giants, aided by the huge parachute payment, bounced straight back into Super League. They won twenty-six out of twenty-seven games, remaining unbeaten.nnHuddersfield managed something many thought was impossible during the 2003 season as they managed to finish with two teams below them. Halifax, plagued by financial problems, only won one game. To make matters worse they were deducted those points thanks to a salary cap breach. They finished on zero points. As expected, Salford City Reds, gained promotion, using the parachute payment, the last ever, to its full advantage.nn2004 saw an epic relegation battle as London Broncos, Salford City Reds, Widnes Vikings, and Castleford Tigers tussled bravely against the drop. Castleford losing out on the last day of the season against arch rivals Wakefield. Leigh Centurions returned to the top flight but they knew they had a long struggle ahead if they were to stay in Super League.nnTwo teams would lose their place in 2005 to make way for Catalan Dragons. Leigh, with only two victories, finished a clear bottom. Widnes Vikings, who only escaped on the last day of the season last year, joined them in relegation. Castleford returned by beating Whitehaven in the Grand Final. A huge disappointment for the Cumbrian outfit that beat the odds to finish top of the National League Ladder.nn2006 saw Castleford Tigers make way for Hull Kingston Rovers. A controversial season saw Wigan breach the salary cap in order to ensure their safety, knowing the punishment would only come during the next year. The Tigers, like Widnes the season before, were relegated despite not finishing bottom. Catalan were given a three year escape from relegation.nnThe Tigers stay in the National League was short lived as they defeated Widnes to return to this year’s competition. Salford City became, possibly, the last team to be relegated due to their position in the final league ladder.nnFor next year, as you are already aware, Salford, Widnes, Celtic, Halifax, Leigh and Featherstone will be battling for promotion off-the-field rather than on it. As history shows promoted teams can survive. So do we really need to get rid of promotion and relegation?nnkevin.finney@lasttackle.com

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