THE MAJOR problem with the Super-8s format is it sounds complicated, even if it isn’t.
Rugby league’s new way of doing things begins tonight, when Wigan Warriors play host to Huddersfield Giants in the opening match of the First Utility Super-8s.
Here’s how the system works.
Rugby league’s top-12 clubs play in First Utility Super League, with the next dozen forming the second tier Kingstone Press Championship.
Now all have played 23 league games – everyone else in their division home and away, plus an extra fixture at the Magic Weekend or Summer Bash – the two leagues of 12 will merge into three new eight-team divisions, the Super-8s, Qualifiers and Championship Shield.
Super League’s top eight after the opening 23 matches go into the Super-8s. They will play seven more games and the leading four at the end of those will contest knockout semi-finals for a place in the title decider at Old Trafford.
The top four in the table going into the Super-8s get four home games and the rest play three at home and four away.
In the semi-finals, the league leaders will be at home to the team finishing fourth and the runners-up will have home advantage against the third-placed team.
Points from the regular rounds carry over into the Super-8s, meaning Leeds begin with a one point advantage over St Helens, two on Wigan and so on.
The bottom four go into the Qualifiers, against the Championship’s leading quartet.
Super League’s ninth and 10th-placed sides get four home games, along with the Championship league leaders and runners-up.
At the end of those seven games the top three in the table will secure a place in Super League next year.
The fourth placed team will be at home to the side finishing fifth in a one-off shootout for the final spot, the so-called million pound match.
The rest will be in the Championship in 2016.
The Championship Shield involves the remaining eight, with points carrying over from the opening 23 rounds.
At the end of that there will be semi-finals, on similar basis to the Super-8s, for a place in the Shield final.
The bottom two in the Shield table will be relegated to League One, which isn’t involved in the new format.
The RFL’s slogan for it’s new era is ‘every minute matters’. That hasn’t quite proved to be the case, but with seven games remaining – before the semi-finals – most of the 24 teams have something to play for.
There are obvious flaws with the system. For example, it will be almost impossible for Catalans and Hull to reach the play-offs.
They finished eighth and seventh in Super League and are eight and six points outside the top-four.
But there has to be some reward for consistent performance over the course of the season and the new system provides that.
Were all teams to begin the Super-8s on zero points, there would be little incentive to play well for the first seven months of the campaign.
Issuing fixtures for the final seven games in July isn’t ideal and having to travel at short notice to Catalans isn’t much of a bonus for St Helens, Castleford or Leeds.
Though promotion has been reintroduced, it will be tough for any of the Championship teams to go up.
Leigh beat two of their future opponents, Salford and Wakefield, in the Challenge Cup this year, but can they perform at that level on a consistent basis?
Wembley may prove a distraction for Hull KR, but they, Widnes and Salford should be okay, with Wakefield looking destined for the million pound game, probably against Leigh.
In the Shield, Featherstone, Dewsbury and London are all-but guaranteed a semi-final spot. Batley should be safe from the drop and could yet reach the play-offs, but Hunslet Hawks have a mountain to climb to avoid relegation.