Super 8s could remain in 2019

The ongoing uncertainty over changes to the league structure could result in the Super 8s remaining for 2019.

Clubs and the RFL are still in discussions over changes and the governing body has set an internal deadline for those changes to be decided.

When asked what would happen if stalemate remained, RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer replied “status quo”.

Last month it was apparently prematurely announced that the Super 8s would be ditched in 2019 in a Super League arranged press conference to present their new chief executive Robert Elstone.

That prompted a number of statements in response, including from Leeds and several Championship clubs, revealing that nothing had been agreed.

It would appear that once again, as was the case 12 months ago, the likelihood of having a definitive long-term answer to the future shape of rugby league remains as unlikely as ever.

Rimmer was keen to point out that the league structure was merely one part of a number of critical considerations for the sport moving forward.

He said: “Clearly there are pressures to find a new structure, having spoken at length with all of the stakeholders, and it is up to us to try and find the answer that fits the majority and takes the sport forward.

“It’s a complicated equation. It isn’t just about the league structure, that is the most visible part of it and that’s the one everyone is most focused on and I totally get the fact that there are frustrations in that it’s not quite sorted.

“However, we’ve got this position currently that needs resolving and I think it’s really important that we find the right solution, and I think if people have to wait a bit longer for that, that’s better for us in the long run.

“We’ve got a critical period in rugby league history at this moment in time, the opportunities in 2021 of the new broadcast cycle, the World Cup which we may not see again for another three or four cycles (12-16 years) after that and the Sport England funding cycle.

“It will cause some anxiety but we want to get everything right.”

Rimmer conceded that the public squabbles between clubs and owners hasn’t been a great look for rugby league, but that everyone has their own business to look after.

The RFL board has a veto to any change in the competition structure, meaning they would need to be convinced enough to make a decision in the best interests of the entire sport.

Rimmer added: “The structure is just one element. There’s also the central distribution going forward, the way we work together, governance, the international game, Challenge Cup format – there are many parts to the equation.

“If we get to a place of consensus, the RFL board representing the whole game and Super League representing Super League and all those pieces of the jigsaw slot together, the RFL board will make a decision.”

The Super 8s were first introduced in 2015 to replace the licensing system, with Super League reducing to 12 teams to accommodate, resulting in the relegation of London Broncos and Bradford.

In its first season, Wakefield beat Bradford in the Million Pound Game meaning there was no team promoted or relegated.

In 2016, Leigh became the first team to be promoted via the format, finishing in the top three of The Qualifiers, while Hull KR were relegated after losing a dramatic Million Pound Game to Salford.

Last season, Leigh were relegated via the Million Pound Game, losing to Catalans as once again a Championship club earned straight promotion, this time Hull KR securing an immediate return to the top flight.

It is the “Middle 8s” that have attracted most attention in the format, however concerns have been raised about either side – the Super League Super 8s and the Championship Shield, due to the number of dead rubbers.

Since the Super 8s were introduced, the Super League play-offs have been reduced to the top four teams, with a straight semi-final knock-out to the Grand Final.

Eight of the current 12 Super League teams have featured in The Qualifiers (Castleford, Hull St Helens, Wigan the exceptions), while eight of the current 12 Championship clubs have also featured (Barrow, Dewsbury, Rochdale and Swinton the exceptions), as well as League One side Bradford.

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