First IMG gradings revealed as clubs learn fate; Leeds Rhinos lead the way, Super League outfit appeal verdict

Ben Olawumi
Super League rugby league ball SWpix

Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

Seven Super League clubs have been awarded Grade A status as IMG’s first grades are revealed, with Leeds Rhinos leading the way as the pathway for 2025 becomes a little bit clearer.

May 2022 saw the Rugby Football League and Super League strike a 12-year strategic deal with IMG to help reimagine rugby league and its competitions in the UK.

In April this year, clubs overwhelmingly voted in favour of proposals from the global management company to scrap promotion and relegation from the 2025 season, and have leagues determined by gradings.

This morning, in what is described as the ‘indicative phase’ of that grading process, the first letters and points have been placed next to clubs, following analysis of each outfit’s performance under five pillars – On-Field Performance, Fandom, Finances, Stadium and Community.

First IMG gradings revealed as clubs learn fate; Seven Grade A organisations

As noted above, the Grade A Rhinos lead the way with a score of 17.49 out of a maximum available 20. They have not been crowned Super League champions since 2017, though had the highest average attendance in 2023 and were shown live on TV the most times this term, so their ranking at the top really comes as no surprise.

Six other Super League clubs also have Grade A status, separated by the minute margin of 0.14 points. Wigan Warriors’ Grand Final triumph earlier this month has propelled them into second place with 16.87 points.

The team that they beat, Catalans Dragons, take fourth with 16.73 points, while St Helens – who had won all four of the previous Super League titles before this year – edge just ahead on 16.78.

Warrington Wolves (15.75), Hull KR (15.52) and Hull FC (15.05) make up the remainder of the Grade A clubs. To be in that category, clubs needed to achieve a score of 15 or higher.

Super League outfit launch appeal against grading as Championship club get good news

The gradings of the other five clubs in Super League in 2024 – Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, Leigh Leopards, Lond0n Broncos, Salford Red Devils – were not included in the initial press release, with further details expected to be revealed shortly.

What was on there though was the fact that Castleford’s grade is not cemented yet, because the Tigers decided to appeal the marking given to them as late as last night.

The RFL will consider that appeal later this week, and decide whether any changes need to be made following that process.

Elsewhere, it’s been revealed that the highest-performing organisation outside of Super League are Toulouse Olympique, who lost the play-off final to London, denied an immediate return back to the top flight.

With a score of 12.97, Olympique are the 10th-highest club in the rankings overall and the third-strongest of 17 clubs graded at B-level.

Accordingly, if that stayed the same way come the end of the 2024 season, the French outfit would likely be promoted to Super League for 2025 regardless of what happened on the pitch.

‘A highly significant step’: RFL chief delivers verdict as IMG grades are revealed

Now that clubs know their ‘indicative’ grading, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie, there is scope for them to strengthen throughout 2024. The scores will be updated at the end of next season, with those gradings then deciding who will go where in 2025.

The press release published this morning reads: “Grading was one of seven recommendations which were presented to Rugby League in the autumn of 2022 as part of IMG’s Reimagining of the sport, and which were supported by a substantial majority of clubs at all levels.

“Grading has been designed to incentivise clubs to grow their fanbase and top-line non-centralised revenue, to better engage with fans, to be run in a best-in-class way, to invest in their club and the sport in a sustainable way, and to ensure strong governance.”

Meanwhile, there was comment from Tony Sutton, the chief executive of the Rugby Football League.

He said: “Rugby League embarked on a bold journey with the launch of the strategic partnership with IMG in May 2022, and 18 months into that journey, the publication of these indicative club gradings is a highly significant step.

“The sport has had to examine itself more closely than ever, at all levels – whether in terms of our central governance, or for our clubs in assessing all areas of their off-field performance.

“The results are heartening, as seven of our clubs already reach the A Grade by reaching the score IMG set as the benchmark, and which we believe should be the level clubs need to achieve in order to confirm their place in our elite competition – and another 17 have earned a B Grade and now know exactly what they need to do to reach the higher level.

“Congratulations are due to the A Grade clubs, although I know they will not be resting on their laurels as the key to the grading process is that it is dynamic and requires clubs to maintain standards.

“All clubs also deserve recognition for the positive way in which they have engaged in this process, all with the aim of raising the standards of Rugby League – and of reimagining the sport.”