Looking at the latest re-structure rumours – the final throw of the dice?

Ralf Rimmer CEO of the RFL (L)

There’s every chance another re-structure of the professional game is on the cards – and this could be the last chance rugby league gets to get it right.

As reported by our esteemed media colleague, the well-sourced Matt Shaw, a proposal is on the table to turn Super League in to two divisions of 10.

It would involve no relegation from Super League this year, with two from the Championship going up to create a 14-team competition in 2022.

The four bottom teams would then go down to (let’s call it) “Super League 2”, and be joined by the top six Championship teams.

This was tabled at a meeting between clubs, the RFL and Super League, as discussions continue about re-aligning the sport.

Based on current league positions, this is an example of how Super League in 2023 could look:

Super League 1 Super League 2
Castleford Batley
Catalans Bradford
Huddersfield Featherstone
Hull FC Halifax
Hull KR Leigh
Leeds London
Salford Newcastle
St Helens Toulouse
Warrington Wakefield
Wigan Widnes

Naturally there may well be some movement in that by 2023, with York and Sheffield in particular likely to strive to finish in the top six of the Championship, while League 1 favourites Barrow will also be well-resourced to make a challenge.

Maintaining promotion and relegation between the two divisions would be a key consideration, and the reports are that the funding would also be more equally shared, which would hopefully provide a sustainable platform for growth.

For all the attempts to expand, Super League still has the same number of teams as it did in 1996.

This structure at least gives it an opportunity to grow to 20 full-time teams, while not detracting from the elite sides.

While the finer details are as yet unknown, a minimum salary cap spend or a guarantee of being full-time must surely be made for teams to join the party.

Toulouse and London are already full-time, while both Bradford and Widnes have been full-time in recent years and would presumably have no trouble making that transition again with the appropriate central funding distribution.

Featherstone have made no secret of their ambitions, and the same applies to Newcastle and York.

Whatever is decided upon must be future proofed.

The constant changing and re-structuring has done rugby league no good in terms of its respect from outsiders, or indeed the ability for casual fans to engage with and understand the sport.

Therefore, my idea would be to incorporate some sort of application process for teams who want to be added to the 20 team selection – as an “expansion” of that number, rather than replacing existing clubs.

One of the biggest problems with rugby league’s strategy in recent years, is any attempt at growing the game always seems to be at the expense of existing clubs; and vice-versa too, where existing clubs stop the growth of the game as they feel threatened.

That shouldn’t be the case. If it’s about money, then make any interested teams put up a bond fee to join the competition – so that no club’s central funding is reduced by having to split the pie in to more pieces.

If Ottawa, Red Star Belgrade or Carcassonne want to join Super League 2, then make sure there are windows of opportunity and criteria for them to meet.

The same could apply to British clubs too.

The elephant in the room, of course, is what happens to the remaining 16 teams currently in the professional structure.

The constant restructuring at the top of the game has done no good to the pathway and structure of rugby league from grassroots up.

The most organised and sensible league set up appears to be the National Conference League, which rarely changes, and is the pinnacle of the community game. Oh for a bit more of that.

While there’s a harsh reality that central funding needs to be cut, maybe completely, for these 16 teams – that’s not to say there shouldn’t be somewhere for them to go.

It would be counterproductive for rugby league to lose Coventry, London Skolars and North Wales, for example, as they add much needed geographic footprint.

The biggest challenge is how to accommodate them in a proper pyramid structure.

Could enough teams to be found to create a League 1 North and South, that sits between the professional and community game?

If not, an option could be to incorporate the reserve teams from Super League 1 clubs (like Leeds, St Helens, Wigan, Warrington and Hull) in to that structure to provide enough additional teams to create a competitive league and interest for the likes of Coventry, as well as the appropriate standard of competition they require to go.

Non-league football’s structure works tremendously because it’s regionalised. Rugby league will always struggle to replicate that, because there are clear differences between player pool size and quality.

Dropping in the reserve teams would at least give Coventry and London (and others) a decent competition; while enabling the northern based League 1 teams to play in a more regionalised competition, which would be more cost effective and sustainable without the central funding.

Again, based on current league positions, here’s an example of how a regionalised League 1 might work (a north/west and south/east split might work better, but these suggestions are just for illustrative purposes).

League 1 North League 1 South
Barrow Coventry
Dewsbury Doncaster
City of Hull Reserves(?!) Leeds Reserves
Hunslet London Sk
Keighley North Wales
Oldham Sheffield
Rochdale St Helens Reserves
Swinton Warrington Reserves
Whitehaven West Wales
Workington Wigan Reserves
York

With this set-up, you could then introduce the election system that the Football League used to use to promote teams from non-league.

The winners of League 1 North and South each year, if they so wished, could make a pitch to join Super League – if they ticked the right boxes.

That would then at least give the likes of Coventry a clear pathway in a sustainable manner. It is important to enable organic growth, and not just shut off progress to anyone who has got a lump of cash now. What Coventry are doing for the game in the Midlands is far more important long-term.

The same goes for everyone else outside the chosen 20 – Barrow are riding on a crest of a wave right now and will likely be a contender for the Championship top six next season; but if they don’t make it, then they should still have opportunities to progress; otherwise, what’s the point?

What always seems to be lost in all of these discussions is that it’s sport – we just want as many people and teams as possible playing rugby league.

It needs to be done right, it needs to be done for the good of the game as a whole, and it needs to be future-proofed.

Rugby league can no longer keep sleep-walking in to the abyss.

This really is the last throw of the dice.

25 Comments

  1. Let the super league be 14 teams play home and away then have the play off one up one down stop messing around There are to many super league clubs with their own interest not for the good off the game

  2. Interested to hear your thoughts on how the season calendar would be beefed up with only 18 regular season rounds mooted. Also it would be good to see every club required to field an Under 18’s Academy team and Woman’s team and as part of acceptance into the 2023 professional pyramid.

  3. What ever format they go with, there must be clear promotion and relegation from each league, other wise it can not be classed as a competition.
    Also once the decision is made then it should not be altered tweaked or messed around with for a decade, this should give some stability to the game and stop us being the laughing stock that we have now seem to become.

  4. Why on earth would Wakefield Trinity be in Super league 2?
    We have never been relegated since joining SL? Whats up with one of the other teams Wigan, Cas or Salford be in SL2???? And to have reserve teams in the lower leagues ie; again SL reserve teams???? Its a mess. Rugby league has manage for over 100yrs without any problems and the odd rugby rule so what are all these worrys all of a sudden? I just want to go see rugby with my family and friends as we’ve always done, if we get relegated in the normal course of things, then fine but to be dropped like this is not, no other team would like it. Stop messing with RL. We need promotiom and relegation to keep teams and their effort interested. Enough waffling.

  5. So this is it… The greatest minds looking after our wonderful game. What a dogs breakfast. I wouldn’t pay them in washers.

  6. Full-time professional RL in the UK is at the last roll of the dice stage. But we know that there are not enough players or enough TV money to support 20 full-time teams.

    Rugby League needs to produce a saleable product. To make things more glamorous and interesting to the new fans that we need to attract, including an international TV audience, several things need to be done.

    The top flight should be 12 teams with both Catalans and Toulouse having ring fenced positions exempt from relegation. The game in the south of France could be a huge benefit to RL but it is not being properly exploited at present.

    To improve the integrity of the competition, get rid of the loop fixtures and the ridiculous Magic fixtures. Teams playing each other too many times devalues the currency and reduces interest. The British public are wary of lop-sided fixture lists but people instinctively understand the concept of everyone playing each other home and away.

    Why not remove the salary cap whilst keeping automatic promotion and relegation? The British sporting public will not accept licensing and this is the best way to relegate the clubs that are not viable full-time outfits. Clubs could be protected from bankruptcy by the use of bonds and escrow accounts. The clubs that have continually blocked expansion and long-term planning in favour of short-term self interest, need to be removed from the sports governance decision making.

    Expansion to 14 teams by including 2 North American teams could then be planned for if the investment and revenue is there.

  7. Another year another set of changes.l have been watching RL for over 60 year’s mainly as a season ticket holder. I think I may have done with it, they are on a self distrust mission because they can’t make their minds up – except that they they just want to panda to 4 or 5 clubs.

  8. Sadly the proposed system won’t work well either, only 10 teams in a league would be really boring for existing and potential new viewers.

    I would rather increase superleague to 20 teams and scrap relegation for a few years. Sure there would be some blow out scores, but it’s better than 2 teams of 10 surely

  9. Almost immediately your second super league tier would be underfunded, attendances drop, zero interest from broadcasters, and you’ve successfully reduced the Super League to 10 clubs, now the power is concentrated there, the money too, the gulf between would explode, and you’ve fatally undermined the sport. Those clubs would demand special treatment, no relegation, guaranteed income from TV deals, and mote. What they need to do is set guidelines for promotion from the Championship, with a view to growing Super League up above 14 teams. A five year plan. No relegation, but promotion of one team iif they can meet the standards on full-time status, revenue, youth development plans, community involvement, financial stability. You then have to break the stranglehold of certain three Super League clubs constantly demanding, and getting, their way.

    If you contract it will be permanent.

  10. I have been supporting Rugby League since 1963 and for as long as I can remember the talk has been about how the game is struggling and yet here we still are. I’m surprised there are still variations left to try which haven’t yet been thought of, but here are some more, all with fairly obvious drawbacks.
    How do you get enough games to generate enough income through the turnstiles with only a ten team division – play each other three times — so which teams get the extra home game. Splitting the TV money more evenly between 20 teams will inevitably leave the current 12 SL teams with a smaller slice of the pie, so do we reduce the amount the teams can spend and maybe say goodbye to more UK born players to Australasia, not to mention how few (below the age of 35) would be enticed in the opposite direction.
    As to some of the other suggestions here – never understood how having a Canadian team in a Northern European league made any sense, particularly when the weather in Canada means they cannot guarantee home games until the end of April and so play home games in England until then. 2 French (or ANY nationality) ringfenced teams – no. Scrap promotion/ relegation – no.
    What I would say is – either we should be giving more than two or three seasons to test the many changes we have gone through, or if those ideas have been so rubbish that we don’t need any longer than that to test them, don’t keep asking the same groups of people to come up with more ideas.

  11. The idea of two leagues of 10 shows a real lack of imagination. The best idea is the conference system used by American football in the USA. It has proven to be a successful system that allows new franchises to be added

  12. Southern fan and been following RL since 2000. Great game but for me it was greatest in 2000 (apart from the daft 8 panel ball). But since then it has been change, change, change. Leave it alone, or better still take it back to what it was. All the changes since 2000 have been detrimental IMO. Too many seats in the grounds, trying to gentrify the game, that’s anathema to league, it’s a people’s game. The Lion’s have gone, my grandmother recognised that shirt and she knew very little about any sport. Teams rarely wear their proper colours, more heritage discarded. And the silly sub-names. I thought Halifax were standing on principle when they binned the Bluesox, what have they done now? And we should leave the French to promote and play their own leagues, no wonder the French team cannot compete when the best players in SW France are poached by the English competition. The game itself has got softer but I suppose that only reflects the same thing in every walk of life. I don’t think a game like RL can get safer and more friendly without losing its passion. Each club in the top teir gets the same money from central sources, and likewise in the lower tiers, less each time. Where they get additional funding from is up to each club. End of season, top goes up, bottom goes down, live with it, live within your means. And get teh Challenge Cup sorted out. Why summer rugby anyway – there’s loads of other distractions in the summer. But the main thing is stop changing stuff. Next you’ll want 4 quarters, and a five minute break every time the ball goes dead. Scrums are vital to the spectacle, I know that’s covid, but other sports didn’t drop their scrums. RL hasn’t been built up in the last 20 years, it has been taken down. I think it’s a great shame. And don’t put Australians in the England squad, it’s better to lose proud.

  13. Nice to see it so lively on here.

    The “last throw of the dice” theme is a bit overly dramatic for a league restructure that’s been proposed about 14000 times over the years.

    The last throw of the die may be unnecessary as the economic tidal wave hits the sport. When enough clubs go under there may only be 10 left, if we’re lucky.

    Mind you at least it’s an issue that has excited every Mr Angryaboutrl into making an appearance.

  14. Ralph Rimmer running Rugby league 60 years of playing and watching rugby league that’s me done season ticket ripped up and sky subscription finished the man is an absolute joke 2 tiers the future don’t make me laugh get a grip there is no future.

  15. What an absolute pile of crap. Sounds like the most boring waffle ever. Love league but detest the clowns intent on ruining it.

  16. The game itself is a brilliant sport. But its ran by clowns. A franchise or closed shop kills the game & smaller clubs more & isn’t fair competition. 10 teams in a league with repeat games isn’t a proper competition. There should be promotion & relegation & Promotion based on sporting merit not your potential/stadium & finances. 36 teams pro/semi pro is not enough. 12 teams in super league is not enough. When I was a kid the stones bitter championship had 16 teams at one point. What about 16 teams in the top division, 16 in the second division, leaving 4 in a 3rd Division & bring in another 8,10,teams or more into the so called 3rd pro division. Get more teams in the so called pro pyramid to make a better league structure. All the emphasis seems to be getting teams from Ottawa Toronto France or big glamour cities into our game. Cant they get a credible league going in their own respective countries to help expand the game? What’s next super league pushing teams from Paris New York Barcelona & Milan into the British game & wanting them fast tracked to super league ? This is a laughing stock.They forget about all the Cumbrian, Lancashire, Yorkshire smaller teams outside of super league that make up the rugby league. It’s a shambles. It’s a laughing stock. Even a 16 team super league & 20 team second division with fair principles based in sporting merit of promotion relegation would be a better move in my opinion than these proposals building the league up with reserve teams. What about some of the very best amateur teams getting a crack in a 3rd Division. Or just 2 Pro leagues 16 super league 20 in the championship. Atleast that would be a credible challenge in terms of league games played per season. The whole running if this sports a joke. So if Workington or Doncaster for example don’t get in the top 20 clubs under these plans is that it? They are locked outside of ever getting into the top 20 in super league 1,& 2. Killing the game off more and killing clubs more in my opinion.

  17. a 10 team league would be a disaster the league should be 14 or even 16 people should stop bleating about some teams getting hammered every week, thats just the way it it is. it hasn’t stopped the aussies having a 16 team league.

  18. Raising in SL, 1 (or even) 2 championship teams to have an even number of teams (if no descent) is a heresy.
    To date, no English team has made the trip to Toulouse, there are 2 home games for TO (Batley 5° and York 8°)Whatever the team (or both teams if TO did not qualify). one would not understand by what miracle this or these cxlubs which were unable to finance a single displacement in France could with the only one (obol “of Sky, have the necessary resources to present a team which can finish in 10 first out of 14 in 2022. So doomed to the descent with probably heavy losses So the smart solution, if no descent, is to bring up a single team: The TO who assumed all the travel, including exported home games. In addition Toulouse dominated all oppositions largely and should be quualfier. Moreover this club has the structures, the players and probably the financial surface for the highest level!

  19. Since the French decided to take RL seriously after being totally banned in their own country for many years , they have shown ,in Toulouse ,Perpignon,and many others, how to organise successful RL clubs ,why not hand the whole organisation over to them??Not as daft as it sounds ,we might , at last find someone fit to organise the greatest game on Earth.

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