Chance of Championship winners being denied promotion in new IMG system are ‘very remote’

James Gordon

Picture by Alex Whitehead/

Automatic promotion and relegation could once again be scrapped by Super League, if IMG’s proposals to re-imagine rugby league are passed at a vote of clubs on Wednesday.

There was no relegation for six years between 2008 and 2013 due to the licensing system, while between 2015 and 2018, movement between Super League and the Championship was determined by the Super 8s system.

In the early days of Super League, there was no relegation between 1999 and 2001 as the winners of the second tier were deemed to not meet the standards required of the top flight, reprieving Huddersfield on each occasion.

The latest saga in rugby league’s constant tinkering of its structure is that clubs will be allocated a grade – A, B or C – with Super League made up of Grade A clubs and the top rated Grade B clubs.

Gradings would be based on a range of criteria within five pillars – fandom, community, finance, stadium and on-field performance.

Automatic promotion and relegation set to go

That would replace the current system, whereby the 12th placed Super League team is replaced by the Championship Grand Final winners.

It is this element that has caused most controversy, with critics of the proposals stating that it is anti-sport that promotion wouldn’t be automatically on offer for the second tier champions.

But Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who said he had reservations over the removal of automatic promotion and relegation, has been assured that there’s minimal chance that the Grand Final winners would be denied promotion.

He told PA: “There were one or two areas of concern that I shared with a number of other clubs, but RFL Commercial and IMG have listened and provided clarity, and if any club is still unsure they need to ask themselves why.

“The answer we received on the issue of promotion and relegation was a comprehensive one and it is clear that the chances of that happening (the Championship Grand Final winners being denied promotion) are very remote.”

Clubs will vote whether to pass IMG’s proposals at a meeting at the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield on Wednesday.

Keighley were the only club to vote against the preliminary plans before Christmas, and they have been public in their opposition accusing it of being a ‘cartel’ and ‘sport by spreadsheet’.

Other clubs are believed to have joined them in opposition, including Championship rivals Batley, whose chairman Kevin Nicholas has called for transparency over the voting process.

Wakefield became the first Super League club to express their opposition, stating key issues still need to be resolved, while local press reported that Castleford may also be voting against the plans.

The vote doesn’t impact the 2023 season, with the bottom Super League club still to be relegated and replaced by the Championship winners for the 2024 campaigns.

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