Inside RL: Eights have not really worked for the game – Peter Smith

Ryan Hall touches down during Leeds Rhinos 2016 Super League Qualifier with Batley.
Ryan Hall touches down during Leeds Rhinos 2016 Super League Qualifier with Batley.
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THE EIGHTS format hasn’t worked at the top and bottom level, but it has in the middle.

The system was introduced for the 2015 season and is currently under review with a decision on its future due to be made this summer.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan

Jamie Jones-Buchanan

The feeling in the game is the Super-8s will become yet another in a long list of much-hyped, but short-lived rugby league innovations.

However, promotion is likely to stay on the table in some form, particularly if Leigh Centurions continue to compete the way they have been doing.

That is only right. The closed shop of licensing didn’t have a positive impact on the sport at any level, but some minimum standards need to be enforced.

The way forward is probably a system of promotion – and relegation – based on on-field performance, but with clubs only being allowed up if they meet minimum standards.

Matt Parcell

Matt Parcell

Unfortunately, the Super-8s haven’t really captured the public imagination.

Crowds in the final third of last season were disappointing and playing teams three times in league action isn’t what fans want to see.

But promotion and relegation freshens-up the competition. Leigh have added something to Super League with their performances so far and it is a new ground for supporters of other clubs to visit.

Predictions ahead of last year’s million pound game suggested relegation would mean doom, gloom, job losses, young children being confined to the workhouse and generally the end of civilization as we know it, but that has proved far off the mark as far as Hull KR are concerned.

They kept the bulk of – and arguably improved – last year’s squad and crowds have remained vibrant.

Their most recent home Championship game, against Sheffield Eagles, attracted a gate of 7,116 – only around 500 down of their Super League average last season.

Rovers’ fans are also travelling in good numbers and providing a much-needed boost of income at clubs like Dewsbury Rams. Crowds will no doubt drop off if Hull KR face a long-term stay in the second tier, but at the moment their fans are treating it as an adventure and the positive attitude adopted by the club, after all the concern of last September, has been a credit to them.

For the past two years, the top-four at the end of the regular Super League season have gone on to contest the semi-finals, so the Super-8s fixtures haven’t achieved a great deal, other than deciding home advantage and who faces who in the play-offs.

The bottom-eights – the Championship Shield – is an even more pointless and unwanted competition. Some of the results last season and the fact certain clubs at times struggled to raise a 17-man squad underlined that.

But the middle-eights – the Qualifiers? That actually works.

In 2015 Leigh dominated the Championship, but fell away badly to finish bottom of the Qualifiers table.

That proved they weren’t ready for promotion; they went back to the drawing board, strengthened on and off the field and put the lessons to good use last year.

Featherstone Rovers put a huge effort into securing a top-four spot in the 2016 Championship table and their performances fell away in the middle-eights, but again, lessons were learned and the benefits are being felt now.

After struggling financially last year, Rovers were boosted by prize money and extra income from attractive home games against Leeds Rhinos, Leigh and Hull KR.

Coach Jon Sharp and his players got a taste of facing top-flight opposition and an indication of how much improvement was needed to compete at that level.

With income generated over the final third of last year, Rovers strengthened on and off the field and now have a better team and more professional organisation. A rare highlight last season at Headingley was the reception given to Batley Bulldogs’ part-timers after their battling defeat by Leeds. They earned the opportunity and it would be a shame if a new format denied clubs like them that experience.

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