THERE’S NO doubt 14 teams is too many for Super League.
Last weekend’s round 14 matches proved as much. Of the seven games played, six were poor quality, one-sided, or both.
The exception was Castleford Tigers’ 34-22 win over Widnes Vikings, the only game which finished with just a two-score gap between the sides.
Only two of the seven fixtures attracted a five-figure gate and there were a couple of crowds below 4,000, which is very poor.
Fans want to see their team win, but they also demand close games and an uncertainty of outcome and too often matches in Super League lack both. The RFL have addressed that to an extent, by reducing the competition to 12 clubs from next season, but that probably doesn’t go far enough.
There is currently a four-point gap between Wakefield Trinity Wildcats who are 12th and 10th-placed Hull, who are another four adrift of the team above them, Catalan Dragons.
A 10-team competition – with promotion and relegation – would make for tighter and more meaningful matches every week, but the powers that be have decided to try another approach.
Next year Super League will split after 23 rounds, with the top-eight going into the Grand Finals play-offs and the bottom four joining the Kingstone Press Championship’s leading quartet to fight it out for places in the elite competition for the following season.
That should have a similar effect, though it increases the number of games in the domestic season, which isn’t ideal.
On a positive note, with 14 rounds played this year, there is still no clear favourite in the race for the league leaders’ shield or the big prize of victory at Old Trafford in October.
The top-five or possibly six in Super League is highly competitive and all those sides will fancy their chances this term, including shock contenders Castleford.
The real excitement this year was expected to be provided by the battle against relegation, but that could be done and dusted in three weeks’ time. London are improving, but need to win at least five of their final 12 matches which, considering they have lost 14 from 14 so far, won’t happen.
Bradford are also eight points behind Wakefield, who they play this weekend. Should the appeal against their six-point deduction, for entering administration, succeed, they would be right back in the hunt, especially were they to win on Sunday.
Nobody knows for sure what the result of the appeal will be, but the clever money is on a good, old-fashioned rugby league compromise, with Bulls getting a couple of points back. That would leave them six points behind Wakefield and four if they can complete a league double over their nearest rivals. On the other hand, if the appeal is rejected or they lose to Wildcats, the game will be almost up. Wildcats play London in their following match so two victories would virtually make them safe. If Wildcats do survive, it will be because they have been less bad than Bradford, rather than better. It has been tough for Wakefield, who suffered all sorts of pre-season disruption and have a lengthy injury list. The frustrating thing is they have shown in patches – big wins over London and Catalan and comeback victories at Hull and Widnes – what they can do, but consistency has been lacking.
The fact of the matter is, like the top teams, Wakefield know their season will come down to the result of just four or five matches and what happens in the rest doesn’t really matter.
REFEREE GEORGE Stokes twice placed players on report for alleged dangerous throws in the game between Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Warrington Wolves on Sunday. Warrington’s Ben Westwood was subsequently banned for three games and Wakefield’s Chris Annakin, above, will miss five.
That begs the question, what does a player have to do to be dismissed in Super League now? Referees increasingly seem to be opting out of making decisions – see also Phil Bentham’s frequent use of the video referee in last Thursday’s clash between Salford and Wigan. Maybe if Westwood had been sent-off the Annakin incident would not have occurred. Wakefield fans are upset and understandably so, as both Annakin and Westwood faced a Grade D charge – and the former admitted the offence. The RFL are now stressing that an “independent tribunal” makes these decisions, but suspicion lingers that the so-called bigger teams get lighter treatment. The fact there were no charges arising from a showdown between Leeds and Wigan the previous weekend – despite a fight and dangerous throw – underlines that perception, considering Castleford’s Justin Carney and Widnes’ Paddy Flynn received bans for punching in last Sunday’s game.