FORMER England captain Jamie Peacock says the Rugby Football League’s bold new Super League format has defied its critics and feels the intensity of the competition is greater than ever.
The Leeds prop, who retires at the end of this season, is one of the sport’s most experienced and respected campaigners.
He debuted with Bradford Bulls in 1999 and won three Grand Finals with them before adding another five in Leeds colours.
For the first time, though, the competition, allied with the Championship, has split after 23 rounds to form three mini-groups of eight in order to help decide the new champions.
Leeds finished top with Sunday’s final-round win over Catalans Dragons and now the leading eight sides play each other over a further seven fixtures to form a top-four play-off ahead of Old Trafford.
Rhinos are clear favourites to book their spot in those semi-finals, but Peacock says the new system is an improvement on the old format of 27 league rounds and then play-offs as everyone has had reason to challenge.
“I tweeted on Friday night that the games on TV (Hull KR’s 52-12 loss at St Helens after Wigan won 48-12 at Hull on Thursday) were probably the first I’ve seen all year that lacked any real intensity,” he said.
“I think that’s down to the structure. It’s brought through games all year that have had intensity. Games have had intensity because there’s been plenty to play for, every point has counted and every two points you win has been massive.
“You saw that with a dip in intensity at the weekend, because the positions were already settled. I believe the structure has worked.”
Leeds aim to go on and win the title for the first time since 2012, but also hope to complete a double.
The Challenge Cup holders face second-placed St Helens at Warrington in the first semi-final in the competition’s history to be held on a Friday.
Peacock, 37, said: “I think it’ll be a great occasion.
“It’s going to be a different type of game. Challenge Cup games normally are and this one’s on a Friday night. There’s a different feel and a different way to win a night game.
“We’ve played well against St Helens previously this year, but that counts for nothing.
“But the team really want to get to Wembley and, for me personally, I’d love to get there one last time.”
Wembley looms for new Hull KR recruit: Page 19.