Super League enters its 25th season in 2020 and, since the 1996 season, there have been many changes to the way the league is organised, including the number of teams and how promotion and relegation is decided, including the abomination that was licensing.
We saw the introduction of the Super Eights, which meant not knowing the make-up of the final 10 to 12 weeks of a team’s season until two weeks before the series started.
But it did deliver the exciting finale that was the Million Pound game.
Each structure and re-structure had its pros and cons but, as is usual in our sport, it’s the negatives that dominate the debate and not many of the new concepts have lasted the test of time.
This year there will be 12 teams in the Super League, including ten from England, one from France, providing some European flair, and for the first time a representation from North America in the shape of Toronto.
12 teams should mean 22 fixtures, right?
No, Super League teams play 29 fixtures, including home and away fixtures, the Magic Weekend, which takes Super League on the road, and six ‘loop fixtures’.
In the loop fixtures, the teams play each other again and there seems to be no real reasoning behind who plays who and where.
This system was introduced last year to replace the aforementioned Super Eights, which had only been in place for three years before being scrapped.
As we’ve already discussed, the negatives always seem to outweigh the positives, so it’s time for some constructive thinking.
My proposal is for a new system that would mean an end to loop fixtures, see more teams competing at the top level – but fewer overall matches being played.
This structure combines the NRL and Rugby Union’s Pro 14 and would see Super League increase to 16 teams.
This is the same number as in the NRL, but the radical difference in my concept is the introduction of two Conferences of eight teams.
The Pro 14 utilises this structure as a combined top division of the top clubs from across Europe, excluding England and France, plus the recent addition of two clubs based in South Africa
Teams from each Conference play each other home and away and also face the teams in the other conference once.
With the addition of two derby fixtures, each team plays 21 league fixtures.
I’d propose the following Conferences – and I have labelled the prospective Championship clubs joining the structure ‘Champ 1 to 4’, as it’s not my intention to start a riot!
Conference A Conference B
Hull KR Wakefield
St Helens Warrington
Champ 1 Champ 3
Champ 2 Champ 4
At the end of the season, the top two from each conference meet in play-off semi-finals to decide the Grand Finalists – A1 vs B2 and B1 vs A2.
The Old Trafford Finale would remain a part of the calendar to crown the Super League winners.
Under this concept, the maximum number of the games played by the competition winners in Super League is brought down to 23 before any Challenge Cup fixtures are taken into consideration.
Oh, and one team from each Conference will be relegated at the end of the season to the Championship.
But what effect would this system have on the lower divisions?
A 16-team Super League would leave 21 teams playing professionally, plus the addition of at least one extra team for 2021, likely to be Ottawa or New York, to create a 22-team structure.
Firstly, the Championship, and it’d be a 12-team competition where all teams play one another home and away.
The team at the top of the 22-round season will be automatically promoted to the Super League as Champions, while those finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th will enter the play-offs to decide the second promoted team.
It’d be a simple 2nd vs 5th and 3rd vs 4th format to decide who contests the Championship play-off final.
This would take League 1 down to ten teams and I’d propose a structure that once again sees each team play home and away for 18 rounds.
Their season would start with an 1895 cup competition, featuring three groups that would also include two teams from the Premier Division of the National Conference League.
This would help boost the number of League 1 fixtures, while also providing a feasible route for a third-tier club to contest a major Final.
So, there you have it, a complete restructure of not only Super League, but the entirety of the professional hierarchy in the UK – and it could all be achieved with the addition of just one additional club to the pro ranks.
A lot is being made of the 2021 Television deal and, while you need a lot more to offer than just a solid structure, it is a huge start.
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