Dave Craven: Worried looks rife as the up-and-down nature of Super League returns

ALL of a sudden, after six years of enjoying the relative safety net that licensing inevitably provides, relegation is back.

Of course, one of the other by-products of this week’s pivotal decision from Super League clubs is a return to annual promotion, too.

However, as much as that will encourage many in the Championship, it is the brutal realisation that the bottom two elite clubs will be demoted next season that will have some panicking already.

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Nobody is safe. Despite speculation otherwise, strategic ‘expansion’ clubs like London Broncos and Catalan Dragons will receive no special measures to help protect their place.

Effectively, if they finish 13th or 14th in a little over a year they will be out.

It is hard to comprehend the French outfit being in such a position; for all their frustrating inconsistencies that prevent them truly challenging for silverware they have been a top-eight side for the last six years save for that one annus horribilis in 2010 when they spluttered in bottom.

London, on the other hand, have barely been out of the wooden spoon reckoning in that time.

They are currently bottom with just three wins, inexplicably considering they have spent the full salary cap.

But who else will be fearing the dreaded drop?

Salford City Reds are hoping Marwan Koukash’s millions can buy them out of trouble and it is no surprise they keep returning to try to snare Castleford’s brilliant half-back Rangi Chase.

It is imperative for their own chances of survival, however, that the Wheldon Road club hold onto their prized asset.

Castleford have suffered relegation before in 2004 and 2006 and, thankfully, bounced back immediately.

The chances of swiftly returning are probably even more favourable now – whichever of the two options for promotion and relegation is decided from 2015 – but in their current delicate financial position it is something they can ill-afford to contemplate.

Widnes Vikings will be obvious contenders while, despite only Warrington Wolves bettering their present rate of five successive wins, Hull KR will be similarly prone unless they secure a high-class replacement for Newcastle Knights-bound talisman Michael Dobson.

However, the ones who may be most twitchy are Bradford Bulls.

Having agreed to take only half their central monies for this year and next as part of the deal brokered to stay in Super League after administration, pleas to their rivals for a change of heart this week understandably fell on deaf ears.

It is everyone for themselves now and gifting back £650,000 would clearly be foolhardy on the part of the other 13 clubs.

Omar Khan will have to dig deep into his own pocket or find extra commercial revenue to ensure they can deliver a competitive team in 2014.

The signs are promising with the capture of England prop Garreth Carvell and Huddersfield’s Dale Ferguson so far but Bradford’s current run of nine defeats in 10 games is indicative of the level of strengthening needed at Odsal.

The ‘big’ names are certainly not immune from danger. Remember when Hull FC finished second bottom as recently as 2008?

Whatever the arguments for and against promotion and relegation or, for that matter, the licensing process, the one thing most people have to agree on is that the status quo was not good enough. So often the sport changes for the sake of changing but, here, adjustments were certainly necessary.

Fourteen Super League clubs simply does not work; there is not enough quality to spread around.

We are six months into the season and the competition still has not got a title sponsor.

Admittedly, the governing body has to be held partly responsible but, at the same time, maybe it says more that potential backers have felt, despite all the hyperbole otherwise, that the product is not always as spectacular as we are led to believe.

There was an argument for reducing the competition further still to 10 sides, but turkeys and Christmas spring to mind there.

There are still many issues to resolve with regards how a 12-team Super League will look with the likelihood being the controversial three splits of eight.

Indeed, it is a veritable minefield, not least the troublesome area of how funding and TV revenue will be divided.

Yet, despite being slightly macabre perhaps, the returning prospect of relegation has already heightened the sense of expectation for next season. And hopefully the quality will follow.