We shouldn’t be too disappointed that neither Saints, Warrington, Wigan or even Leeds aren’t as good as they were five or so years ago.
Some might say that it’s a sign that Super League is stagnating, and that the decrease in quality is bad for the game.
We’re always beaten with the same stick that the NRL is good because any of the 16 teams can, from one year to the next, climb from bottom to top (or vice versa, of course).
What Super League needs for the long-term is to have a fully competitive league, fewer blow out scores, and then the entire league can grow together.
It’s no use having four or five clubs that are significantly bigger and better than the rest. Due to geography, we are never going to have a regular competition against the NRL, and as such, Super League is as good as the club game is going to get over here.
Castleford have shown what can be done with good coaching and stability over recent years, while Widnes have been the bright light from the licensing era, taking a sensible and steady approach to growth which has seen them go from also-rans, to play-off contenders and now, albeit maybe briefly, top of the league.
While you might say that what’s happened is Saints etc have been dragged down to their level, it’s what Super League needed for long term gain.
Wakefield were the only team really who didn’t compete last term, and they now seem to have got their act together.
With the added jeopardy in the competition, which currently sees Leeds and Huddersfield in the danger zone at this early stage, there is now the motivation and incentive for all clubs not only to improve, but to not be complacent too.
We’ve seen clubs like Warrington join the party near the top, before learning that actually going out to finish first in the competition is detrimental to your Grand Final chances.
Saints have since, of course, proven that that need not be the case, but it meant Warrington have been complacent in recent years, apparently trying to save themselves for the business end.
The new era format means that you cannot afford to drop off if you want a place in the top four.
With all the faffing around with the structure now hopefully something of a past, the focus should be on how quality can be increased league wise.
It would appear to me that the reserves set-up should be a big part of that, despite the opposition of Leeds. The Rhinos are one of the few beneficiaries of the dual-registration set-up which has effectively made Hunslet their reserve side, and it would be nice if they could admit defeat and accept the bigger picture that seems to being embraced by Saints, Wigan and Warrington.
The reserves set up may put strain on the resources of clubs such as Castleford and Widnes, but that is why the whole game must work together for the best solution.
The priority must be to increase the quality of Super League as a whole – not just for the benefit of your club or a clutch of clubs.