Peter Smith, Inside RL: Three years is too soon to tinker with current Super-8s system

Head coach Brian McDermott and captain Kevin Sinfield lead out Leeds Rhinos for the 2015 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Head coach Brian McDermott and captain Kevin Sinfield lead out Leeds Rhinos for the 2015 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
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A MEETING of clubs has deferred a decision on possible changes to the structure of Super League until the end of this season.

Considering the Grand Final is in October and the 2018 campaign is likely to kick off in February that is leaving it a bit late. But the question should be, why does there need to be a debate? The Super-8s system is in only its third year and already changes for next season – and a completely new format in 2019 – are apparently being considered.

2016 Grand Final captains Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves) and Matty Smith (Wigan Warriors).

2016 Grand Final captains Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves) and Matty Smith (Wigan Warriors).

Rugby league does too much chopping and changing. The sport likes to consider itself as innovative, which is true; play-offs, video refs, blood-bins, the list goes on.

But two years is very early to decide if something has been successful or not. That’s why leaving a vote until the end of the season might be sensible.

But looking at the big picture, a decision was taken to scrap the old Australian-style play-offs and adopt a new format and changing that so soon would only add more confusion and uncertainty to a sport which has enough of that anyway.

The eights format has created extra interest at this point in the season – as well as being positive for teams at the top end of the Kingstone Press Championship.

With five rounds remaining in the regular season, five teams are in contention for Super League’s top-four – and an extra home game in the Super-8s. And the rest – including St Helens, Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves – could yet be dragged into the Qualifiers and a battle against the drop. Games which might otherwise be meaningless at this stage of the year actually have something riding on them. It looks like Widnes Vikings and Leigh Centurions, who meet tonight, are heading for the middle-eights, but the other round-19 games are all four pointers.

One of the amendments apparently being considered is resetting teams’ points to zero at the start of the Super-8s.

At the moment teams in the Qualifiers – which involves sides from Super League and the Championship – begin on zero, but points from the weekly rounds carry over into the Super-8s.

Changing that would be a mistake. The argument is that teams – Wakefield last year, for example – who scrape into the lower ends of the Super-8s effectively have nothing to play for over the final third of the season.

That may be true, though professional players should always have something at stake and Trinity have certainly gained from last year’s Super-8s campaign.

But what about the teams at the top?

Though presumably the league leaders’ shield would have to be awarded after 23 rounds when the competition splits, resetting the points would effectively nullify hard work done during the regular season and mean places in the Grand Final are decided over the course of only eight games.

Thought is also, apparently, being given to the prospect of increasing Super League back to 14 clubs, just three years after it was reduced to 12.

Looking at the table, it is not difficult to work out why. Though only four clubs have won a Super League title, the effects of the salary cap are finally being felt.

Castleford have been the outstanding team so far this season and Salford – who were within moments of relegation last year – are second on the ladder, while 2016 league leaders and double finalists Warrington are in the bottom-four. That sort of uncertainty – and results such as teams at the top losing to those at or near the bottom – is exactly what the sport has been demanding for 21 years.

Previously dominant clubs have to come to terms with the fact they are no longer guaranteed two points when they come up against so-called lesser clubs. That makes the competition much more interesting, but unfortunately fans who might drift away from the likes of Leeds, Wigan, St Helens or Warrington because they aren’t winning every week aren’t necessarily being replaced by ones flocking to Salford or Wakefield.

An expanded competition would mean more security for the supposedly bigger clubs, but it’s doubtful there are enough quality players available to fill 14 top-flight squads.

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