Gareth Ellis: New league format needs to reward the team who finish on top

Castleford's players celebrate the League Leaders Shield last year.
Castleford's players celebrate the League Leaders Shield last year.
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IT LOOKS like the game’s structure could change yet again but if it does, whichever way the sport goes, it is imperative that it sticks with the next one in place.

Too often we mess around with issues like this in rugby league and it isn’t any good for anyone.

Admittedly, I would like to see changes; I would like to do away with the top-eight Super 8s format, Qualifiers and everything that comes with it.

The system of playing so long and then playing another seven rounds almost drags the pinnacle of the season out too long. Then it all just comes down to one game – the play-off semi – and a final. But the idea of having a play-off system is to bring excitement to the latter stages of the season.

We’ve had some good systems in the past. The original top-five was good and, personally, I’d return to that.

Back then, second played third to go through and fourth versus fifth was an eliminator, the top side rewarded with a bye. They then only had to win one game to get to Old Trafford – against the victors of second v third – and if they lost that they had that second chance.

In the current system, you could finish fourth – and Saints were 17 points behind leaders Cas last year – yet still only need to win one game to get to a Grand Final.

Obviously, Saints did come so close to doing that. The idea was every minute matters as the slogan said but it’s become so abundantly clear that that is not the case. If you’re so far in front as Cas were – 10 clear of second place – or that far behind, like those in seventh and eighth, you do start wondering what is it all for?

That takes me back to the original point about the season dragging on; it does with some of those Super 8 games. On the other side with relegation I’d probably just go one up, one down and even maybe look at the idea of Super League’s bottom side playing-off against the Championship top one in a one-off game.

Then, at least, you know that the team coming up is better than the team going down.

It’s been done in other sports before and there’s a lot to be said for it. That would be a fair enough way of doing it.

The problem with the system at the moment is we’ve played around with it a lot haven’t we?

In previous years, for instance, Leeds twice won it from fifth. But if they did that in the current one would they have been deemed successful? It would have been deemed a failed season, I suppose. It has to be carefully considered. It should reward the best team and the system that comes up with the best way of doing that should rule.