As his side prepare for their third Super League clash this year against Hull KR, Leigh Leopards boss Adrian Lam has expressed his concern surrounding the ‘loop fixtures’, which will remain in place next season despite IMG’s suggestion to scrap them.
First brought into the game ahead of the 2019 season, loop fixtures were meant to fill the void left by the dismantling of the Super 8s and Qualifiers system which had gone before it.
At first, the loop fixtures took Super League to a 29-game format. Everyone played each other home and away once, along with a game at Magic Weekend, and then played a further six ‘loop’ games which were decided based on where you had finished the season prior.
Four years on, we’re now down to a 27-game format, with five ‘loop’ matches thrown into the schedule for each team including the one they play up at Magic Weekend. Those who ended 2022 in an ‘even’ position all play one another for a third time, as do the ones to finish last season in an ‘odd position’.
Newly-promoted Leigh were assigned 12th spot, meaning their loop fixtures came against Wigan Warriors (2nd), Catalans Dragons (4th), Salford Red Devils (6th), and Hull KR (8th) as well as Wakefield Trinity (10th) who they took on at St James’ Park to account for a ‘loop’ clash.
Adrian Lam unhappy with Super League loop fixtures
Unfortunately for Leigh, the way their away loop fixtures fell meant two expensive trips across the channel to Perpignan to take on Catalans, and two trips to East Hull to take on KR, the second of which coming tomorrow night live on Sky Sports.
To add insult to injury, Leigh and KR were the two teams to go all the way to the Challenge Cup final. The Leopards were triumphant, but now face the same Robins side less than a fortnight after their last meeting.
Boss Lam said to Love Rugby League: “I presume we’re the only club that’s had to travel as far away for [loop] away games.
“We’ve had Catalans away twice and Hull KR away twice. I’m not really sure about the loop fixtures and whether that suits the competition. I understand it and I get it, but there’s got to be a better option.
“What we do have to deal with is the travel to go to Hull KR and deal with a team that were emotionally hurt a couple of weeks ago and want to strike back.
“They’re also just outside of the six at the moment, and they’re desperately close to making it in, so they need a good performance.
“On the flip side of things, we’re at the other end. We want to make sure that we get a win so it keeps us in that top four, and top three and top two if we can.
“That’s the challenge for both clubs, I think it’s going to be a great game for TV. They’re going home to a big crowd, and I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere.”
Having scoured the fixture lists, KR are the only other team to have travelled to Catalans twice this year for a Super League fixture. They went to Perpignan in March and June, losing both times. Leigh were also beaten twice at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.
Warrington Wolves are the only other to have been there on more than one occasion in 2023, though one of their two visits came in the Challenge Cup.
Leigh Leopards chief wants re-assurances before change is implemented
May 2022 saw the RFL strike a 12-year strategic deal with IMG, a global leader in sports, event, media and fashion. The promise was that the consultants would help t0 ‘re-imagine’ rugby league and its competitions in the UK.
We already know that from next season, promotion and relegation will no longer be solely decided by how a club fares on the pitch, but off it too with grading criteria in place and a throwback to the licensing era.
IMG had suggested that loop fixtures were scrapped from 2024, but it’s believed that clubs voted against that plan due to the financial implications of missing out on two extra home games.
Leigh played Salford in their first home loop game, and will face Wigan in the last match of the regular season in the second. Head coach Lam didn’t express whether the club were one of those to vote against scrapping those kind of games, but did suggest that if they had, it was through the fear of the unknown.
The Papua New Guinea native continued: “I’m not too sure on what the levels of voting were at that top section. I would presume that you don’t want too much change without an answer, or without a better solution moving forward.
“I presume that would be the same in the immediate future, and then we can look at maybe how to grow the competition so there’s 14 or 15 clubs in Super League.
“I’m sure IMG have their eye on that, and tie that in with the TV deal home and away, then we’re on track to where we need to be.
“I just deal with what’s in front of me at the minute which is the rugby, and we’ve got a tough game coming up [against KR].”