Club calls for IMG to consider 2-up, 2-down relegation proposal

James Gordon
Simon Johnson RFL chairman

Picture by Simon Wilkinson/

A proposal for a 2-up, 2-down relegation model from Super League has been put forward by one of the dissenters towards IMG’s latest plans to “reimagine rugby league”.

The RFL met with Keighley Cougars owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia earlier this week to discuss their feedback from last week’s announcement.

The Cougars were the only club to vote against the initial IMG proposals late last year, and following the latest release of information, they provided an 18-page dossier to press in opposition.

That prompted RFL chairman Simon Johnson to meet with the two owners in central London, where they had four hours of discussions.

Johnson agreed to feedback their concerns and proposals to IMG.

O’Neill said: “The meeting was largely positive. Simon listened to our scepticism and wants to reach a unified position where all clubs can agree to a restructure.

Our key points are that promotion and relegation should be on a 2 up, 2 down model. We tentatively agree that only category A and category B clubs should be in Super League, but that there should not be sub-grading within the A and B categories. We will continue to express our stance on the situation and of course update our fans in due course.”

“It’s going to be a closed shop”

Last week’s meeting with IMG revealed the five areas that the grading criteria will centre around. That included attendances, catchment area, financials, stadium and facilities and on-field performance.

Clubs will be rated by category A, B and C, with an A guaranteeing Super League status. However, the category B clubs will be ranked in order within that category, which has also caused some controversy.

Keighley’s negative stance towards the proposals centres around the removal of automatic promotion and relegation. While in the early years there is potential for some movement, if eventually 12 category A clubs exist, then it could in theory become a closed shop.

Some Championship clubs have also raised concerns that the grading criteria is weighted heavily in favour of those clubs already in the top flight.

In a statement after last week’s announcement, Cougars co-owner and managing director Garcia said: “It’s going to be a closed shop. What they are being clever about is portraying this whole new structure and avoiding the words promotion and relegation. Quite wisely, as they don’t get a backlash from fans.

“But fundamentally if you see the system, it’s designed for Super League clubs to remain at the top.

“If this gets approved it will cement our future there because year in, year out you’ll be playing the same teams.

“It should be competitive so fans come and see the thrill you might go up, or support the team if you’re in danger of going down.

“They don’t seem to grasp those fundamentals.

“I was vocal against them, saying they seem data-focussed but they don’t seem to understand how important the sport is to communities and towns. You will kill that if you do this.”

Garcia and O’Neill have previously compared the proposals to a “cartel” akin to the European Super League proposals in football.

O’Neill added: “The whole thing is elitist and it’s protecting the few. They want to get to 12 category A’s and once they get there, that’s it. That’s what I understood it to be.”

While Keighley were the only club to vote against the initial proposals, with a handful abstaining, it is thought there will be at least some more opposition now the finer details have been revealed.

Previously, there had been plans to introduce a two leagues of 10 format for Super League, that could have seen two-up, two-down promotion and relegation between the two divisions.

That was all but shelved in November 2021 amidst the latest broadcast deal discussions

It caused some frustration among Championship clubs in particular, as they had already recruited for 2022 on the basis that they needed to finish in the top 20 to secure a place in the new format.

Only twice in Super League history have two clubs been relegated at the end of a season – in 2005 when Widnes and Leigh went down to accommodate the inclusion of Catalans from 2006; and in 2014, when London and Bradford dropped as Super League decreased in size from 14 to 12 following the end of the last licensing era.

MORE: Only club to vote against IMG proposals compares to ‘cartel’ European Super League