THERE ARE serious flaws with the Super-8s format, but for two successive years it has led to a team being promoted from the Kingstone Press Championship and that is a good thing.
Leigh Centurions have had a tough year and might find themselves back in the second tier in less than a month’s time, but on the whole their involvement has been good for Super League.
Unlike their previous spell in the highest division, they have been competitive, beaten some top sides – including Wigan – and have decent support, both at home and away.
Hull KR were unfortunate to be relegated last year and Super League missed them. Despite all the scaremongering of a year ago about how damaging relegation would be, the club and fans kept their nerve.
Rovers retained a Super League squad and the supporters stayed loyal. Their away following provided valuable income for their rivals and Rovers will re-enter Super League in probably a stronger state than when they left.
Rovers will boost the average attendance in Super League, the Magic Weekend will benefit and their rivalry with Hull FC adds extra spice to the competition.
Their promotion also means Danny McGuire, who is joining them on a two-year contract, will play against Leeds Rhinos next season.
There is still a chance a second Championship club, London Broncos, could be promoted, but it is likely the Million Pound Game will be another all-Super League affair.
Hull KR’s promotion isn’t ideal for the Championship, which is losing its best-supported club. With Bradford Bulls being relegated to League One, the crowd at next year’s Summer Bash could look very thin.
The nightmare scenario for the Championship would be Catalans Dragons dropping down. Toronto Wolfpack have already secured promotion from League One and so potentially the second tier next year could include Catalans, Toulouse Olympique, London Broncos and Toronto, plus possibly Barrow Raiders.
For the Yorkshire and Lancashire-based teams that will amount to a lot of travelling, with not a huge number of away fans coming through the turnstiles.
Batley Bulldogs coach Matt Diskin has already raised concerns.
His team have visited Toulouse three times so far this season with possibly another trip yet to come in the Shield final.
For part-time players that is a massive and possible unrealistic commitment. Clubs in League One this year have sometimes struggled to raise a side for the trip to Canada and the amount of foreign travel for semi-professional teams is becoming an issue.
That may eventually be resolved by them all securing a place in Super League, but that is a few years down the track. That said, Toronto have been a breath of fresh air. Their involvement hasn’t been universally welcomed, but they have provided much-needed positive publicity and introduced the sport to a new audience. Last week’s win over Barrow which clinched the League One title was watched by 7,972 fans. In Canada.
They may not have an away support, but their games over here tend to attract neutral fans and that also benefits the teams they are playing against.
They have romped through the third division this term, but will find it tougher in the Championship when they will come up against some full-time sides who will not be intimidated by them.
It will be interesting to see if Canadian fans stay loyal to a team that doesn’t win every week, but Wolfpack are making their home games an event – rather than just a rugby league match – and that is the right approach.
As for the flaws in the format? Castleford Tigers have beaten Leeds Rhinos four times in Super League/Super-8s this year and are 12 points ahead of them on the table, yet the teams have an equal chance – home advantage in a sudden-death semi-final – of reaching Old Trafford.
Tigers are now on an eight-game winning run against Leeds.
There is no indication Rhinos are capable of ending that sequence any time soon, but it’s worth remembering how many times Leeds had beaten Hull before July’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final.