Mailbox: Scrap relegation to promote parity

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Dear Editor,

The fuss about which team to promote to Super League to fill the Toronto vacancy–and the ultimate decision to elevate Leigh–seems a bit overblown. After all, odds are very good that Leigh will only be at the top level for one year anyway. (Not that I do not wish them well; I’d be glad to see them lift the League Leader Shield if they could.) The decision would have been much more important if promotion and relegation were finally abolished. I appreciate that promotion and relegation are essential from the RFL’s point of view, but I think there is a good case to be made that the practice is holding Super League back. And the NRL shows us how:
Super League has had only 4 different champions in 25 years (and only 3 in the past 15 years). Only an additional 4 clubs have even made it to Old Trafford even once. Since the NRL formed–two years after Super League–the NRL has had 12 different clubs lift the trophy. Of the 4 clubs that have not won the competition, all clubs but one(!) have made it to the grand final at least once. The NRL has a great deal of parity; Super League not so much. The cause, I suspect, is promotion and relegation. If the NRL had promotion and relegation, Sydney Roosters would have been relegated in 2010; instead they went to the grand final that year. Paramatta Eels would have been relegated in 2019; instead they narrowly missed out on a top-four finish and had a 58-point win in the first round of playoffs. In fact, the last place NRL team is often back in the playoff picture within a season or two. Compare again to the Super League. Promotion and relegation is basically a revolving door, with Championship-quality sides unable to achieve any sustained success because of the financial insecurity that comes with not knowing year-on-year whether you will be fielding a full-time professional squad.
The test case for my hypothesis is the brief licensing period from 2009-2014. During that experiment, Castleford, Crusaders, and Catalans all followed up last-place finishes one year with playoff appearances the next, a literal impossibility under promotion and relegation. And, although no club was able to break the Leeds-Saints-Wigan triopoly on the Super League Trophy, that period saw the first league leaders other than one of those clubs (Wire and Giants).
Perhaps there are more systemic reasons that the Super League table is so consistently lopsided. Maybe nothing can prevent certain teams from thriving while others barely cling to top-level status. But whatever the root cause is, promotion and relegation don’t seem to help.
Parity Proponent in the Presidential Mountain Range

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Want to be featured? Email the editor:


  1. Shorted sighted idiot where do you think a lot or around 50% of the players for sùperleague come from?
    No promotion no investment in championship league one and amateur clubs junior clubs Player pool shrinks super league becomes weaker due to lack of talent pool to choose from. As a spectacle the already suffering game will get worse.
    Self interesting again .
    If leigh London fev Bradford Toulouse york all had to meet the criteria set out by super league how on earth have castleford and wakefield been allowed to stay in super league for the passed 25 years it just shows how much of a mockery the pwers that be are its embarrassing

    • Not many Super League Clubs have not signed a London Broncos produced & developed player, most signed after their contract finished!! how many clubs have Really Benefited from London?? Rugby League & Super League want and need to be more than an M62 corridor sport to survive and get true strong sponsorship! But we turned down the opportunity to have a Super League Club in Our Capital London? how short sighted are we, when London had a newly built ground to move into! But instead years back The RFL invested good money into a ground which is little more than a hole in the ground, which needs to be filled in! We do not have those in charge who have Vision, nor do some club chairmen, no wonder they were afraid of getting Hearn involved!!

      • Sounds good in theory but this year and next the Super League is on survival mode rather than growth mode. They had London Broncos just last year so it’s not like they weren’t given a chance.

        RFL and SL need to go after sponsorships on its own merit. They also need their own in-house camera and production crews. The way non-televised RFL games are shot is amateur hour. If they shot their own footage in a good way they could have easily offered it for sale to the likes of Amazon or DAZN as a full package for international broadcasting outside the UK & Ireland territory. Amazon is airing rugby union tourneys nowadays and paying well for it.

  2. If there was no promotion or relegation what is the point of playing for the teams trying to get promotion..without these lower teams super league would also suffer..all teams have a right to promotion .just becouse they are less fortunate than the likes of Wigan st Helens and Leeds…leigh didnt finish bottom in 2017 but they still went down ..but if a team cant go up what else is there to play for ..leigh are a bigger supporter team than half the super league with great manager and owner .and also a fantastic stadium. and what is the point in having teams from France and Canada in this league who dont bring any fans ..they should set up there own leagues in there own countries ruins this league ..

    • Furthermore, comparing NRL with Super League is fallacious to begin with. Rugby League is one of the largest sports in Australia. They have plenty of money to go around for each club to build some form of parity. If pro-rel was gotten away with in the UK, it still won’t help the clubs in the bottom half of the table.

      I don’t understand people’s obsession against pro-rel. The RFL only has three tiers, it’s a nice balance between the closed-fence leagues that we see in USA/CAN/AUS and the dozen tiers that we see in soccer and rugby union in the UK.

      AUS and CAN will always need fewer teams in their sports leagues because they have a low population-density that is spread out. Things like Conferences and limited teams saves on travel costs, time on the road, and television scheduling (wide timezone differences). UK is densely packed, and is also very community driven. Soccer in almost every part of the world has pro-rel. If MLS had pro-rel people would actually take it more seriously.

  3. It’s a difficult one – here in the US there is no concept of promotion and relegation. However, for example in NFL (American Football) that does not mean that most seasons are not lopsided (this season with Covid a bit of an exception) for example, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington & the NY Jets typically get trashed by everyone. A fixed set of teams does not guarantee a competitive league. What it does do though is share the cash out a bit more evenly – there are no poor teams in NFL. To my mind, the biggest challenge to SL is the lack of cash and investment. Leigh coming up this year is going to struggle to pay for not just good players, but back-office and training staff/facilities to match Wigan, Leeds, etc. There is a huge gap between the finances of the top clubs and the bottom and it almost guarantees the poorer clubs will struggle to survive. SL itself can’t fix that alone, the sport needs more sponsors and investors, not just some wealthy people who love the sport and prepared to lose money. Investors want a return on their investment and are prepared to spend big to earn big. I’m from Yorkshire myself but until the game gets some traction nationally it will never look like a good investment. Long-winded reply to your post. I don’t fundamentally disagree with you but I do think the problems are not particularly rooted in relegation and promotion – rather in poor strategic planning and lack of investment. FWIW I would like to see SL expanded to a minimum of 14 teams and see a teams like Toulouse in there 🙂

  4. Whichever solution the RFL go with you can almost invariably out it on being the worst possible option for all parties. My option, have 16 clubs, no relegation, minimum standards and a financial guarantee of stability. Then a five year period of stability. At the end of that periods clubs can choose to give up their position, or those clubs with the worst record face the prospect of being replaced. Maybe a view to expand to 18 clubs through expansion is offered at that point. 30 matches a year, should be enough for the owners, but not too strenuous on the players. Set minimum gaps between games so nobody faces short turnarounds, and abandon the Easter double fixtures. Have the same set of rules for International, Super League, and NRL. Hand over control of marketing to the NRL, unlike the RFL the NRL are far more media savvy.

    But no doubt some dog’s breakfast, of which my solution may well be one, will emerge that satisfies nobody.

    • The RFL picked Toronto and gave them a route to super league (small letters intentional) “the super league” pissed on their parade as soon as they could.They never wanted them and killed them off as soon as they could, why would anybody fron New York or Ottawa continue to fund expansion there? The RFl would welcome them and the super league would kill them off as quickly as they could. One part of the game trying to go in one direction whilst the other trying to kill any expansion. The super league board needs to decide what its trying to do, where is the future plan for the game? Must be the best kept secret in sport.

      • The RFL and SL should require a $10 million USD expansion fee to shut people up. It does two things. 1. It acts as a litmus test that people actually have funding to continue a sustainable club. 2. They can now take a cut of the *UK TV deal* since they so failed to get a Canada or North America TV deal which they had the exclusive rights to which they negotiated for in the first place.

        The Wolfpack spent $15 million USD across three years with multiple title wins along the way. In North America they would spend that much just to get into a league or in their first year alone. McDermott spent all last year bashing the other clubs and now his ass has been left out in the cold to dry.

  5. Much as I would like to see an expanded league the unfortunate truth is that there are not enough domestic players of superleague standard at this time. If the league was expanded then eventually that would change to meet demand but for quite some time we would need a lot of antipodean players to make up the numbers

  6. As a Leigh fan I think promotion and relegation is a must.
    A 16 team competition will allow each team to play each other once, then split into two based on the previous seasons top and bottom 8 teams giving a 23 match season by adding the magic weekend.
    At the end of the season the bottom SL TEAM plays the winner of the Championship competition for a place in SL.

  7. Why not start the season with a competition that includes all SL and Championship sides. Play 10 rounds. Then the top 12 are the SL for the remainder of that season and the other teams the Championship. So there’s pro-rel without pro-rel

  8. A ring fenced top tier with 10 clubs and the rest in two divisions underneath. A top 4 play off would give all 10 clubs a chance to succeed. And if the 10th place club get a lot less money than 9th place, 10th would feel like relegation. If you offer the top clubs in the second tier qualification for a cup competition in which they play in groups against the top tier clubs, that would give them incentive to play up (thqt could even be a group stage for the Challenge Cup). Let’s face it, there just aren’t enough quality clubs. The top clubs need to be separated from the others to help grow the sport.

  9. Superleague needs at least 16 clubs so we do not have the ludicrous situation of some clubs playing each other 3 times which unbalances the league unfairly. The NRL has no promotion and relegation and this can only be justified if clubs have a support base and are strong enough to make a sustained effort in SL.

  10. I can see you point about scrapping relegation, but then you have a closed-shop which will be unfair for championship clubs. Adding Leigh was a safe bet this year, as it’s a heartland club which will add a fair amount of home and away fan revenue.

    Next year or the year after I’d like to see Superleague expanded to 17 teams, with York, Newcastle, London,Bradford and Tolouse added, and relegation scrapped for 3 years

  11. Like a few people on here, I don’t see promotion/relegation as a key issue. RL’s fundamental problem is too many clubs chasing too few supporters, and RFL doesn’t seem to have the strategic nous to tackle that, and the Super League clubs quite frankly don’t even seem to want to.

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