Gareth Ellis: Friday offers chance to deliver a way forward for English game

What new format will we have for next season?
What new format will we have for next season?
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GIVEN how crucial it is, it will be interesting to see what comes out of Friday’s Rugby Football League Extraordinary General Meeting when the likes of Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs all get to vote on a new competition format.

We’re hearing it’s been proposed for a one-up, one-down in terms of promotion and relegation and a top-five play-offs in Super League which probably gives a bit more stability to that competition than what we currently have.

I see both sides of the argument. That’s something I’ve come to learn over the last 12 months working in the back office at Hull FC as football manager. But it draws me back to ultimately how I want the best decision for the game, not the best decision for certain clubs.

Gareth Ellis

In theory, the present Super 8s works a treat if all top-eight teams are challenging for the top four, but when they’re not it clearly creates some empty games.

The motto around Super 8s when it was introduced in 2015 was ‘Every Minute Matters’ but it really hasn’t, has it?

The interesting one is how they will work the proposed extra ‘loop’ games if this proposal does get the go-ahead on Friday – and we do know there is a lot of opposition to the plan from clubs outside of Super League.

If it is just a draw and you’re battling for the top of the table or, even worse, battling at the other end to avoid relegation and you end up drawing a lot of top teams while your counterparts get some of the bottom ones, it is going to be tough for them.

My opinion is we could do with having fewer games and making more of those we do have but I understand why some Super League clubs are really pro’ having at least 14 home matches to make the numbers work.

It’s funny as I went to a Reserve Grade meeting a couple of weeks ago and saw a lot of performance people – like coaches and heads of youth – were really pro Reserves, like I am. But then obviously the big question from the chief executives and the owners was: ‘How much will it all cost?’

I see both sides of the argument. That’s something I’ve come to learn over the last 12 months working in the back office at Hull FC as football manager. But it draws me back to ultimately how I want the best decision for the game, not the best decision for certain clubs.

Hopefully that will be what comes out of the meeting this week. I’ve seen some of the Championship clubs have said they want to keep the Qualifiers.

But, then again, how keen are a Batley Bulldogs, for instance, in getting to Super League?

I’m sure there are plenty of teams in the Championship who are probably quite happy to play there – in the Championship.

If you’re a part-time club you’d think they’d turn professional or full-time if promoted and then you have to have players ready.

But one of the arguments for Reserve Grade is that there isn’t enough players actually ready to do that. Hopefully Reserves will improve that area but it won’t happen overnight.

We have a strong tradition with all clubs and I do see a place for all of them.

But ultimately, here, I see Super League as the pinnacle of rugby league although, admittedly, it doesn’t quite seem like it at the minute.

People are more interested in the Qualifiers – there’s more drama surrounding it – but I’d like to get back to where Super League is the blue-chip competition.

The pinnacle overall for me is the sort of game we saw with Melbourne Storm versus South Sydney in the NRL play-offs last Friday.

I watched that game. Now, I know even some of the Aussies moan about Australian rugby league and how it can be a bit one-dimensional and low-risk at times. But in terms of intensity and the competition all the players were having out on that field, it was just unbelievable.

I was on the edge of my seat watching it. Their competition – the NRL – was split by just two points from first to eighth this year. That’s what a salary cap sport should be and I’m sure that’s what we intended when we first started Super League more than 20 years ago.

Yet our comp’ this year, from St Helens in first to Catalans in eighth, was split by fully 21 points after the regular rounds.

Hopefully we can get there and that all comes back to these decisions made this week; the competition format will have a big part to say in it all.

I spent my time in Australia and that was the difference; the intensity of the comp’ week in, week out when you always have to be on the top of your game to be a success. That Storm v Souths game epitomised it.

Granted, it does seem strange that, with just a few weeks of the season left, people still don’t know what they’re playing for next year as the format is still up in the air for 2019.

But I do really feel it does need to change and it has to happen sooner rather than later; we can’t afford to have another Super 8s where it just fizzles out with five or six games to go.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Qualifiers either but surely the pinnacle of the sport should be all geared towards the teams at the top and I don’t think it is at the minute.

Hopefully the deal will get done for certain and finally on Friday.

And we’ll see the benefits for years to come without delaying it for another 12 months.

And another thing ...

I got overtaken by Scooby Doo in the Great North Run yesterday.

I think a deep sea diver was coming next so when the finishing line came I have never been so happy.

It’s the first time I’ve done a half-marathon and longest I’ve ever run by a long, long way.

It was tough. It was awful, in fact. I’d not really trained for it due to all the cycling I’ve been doing. A couple of weeks ago I did 10K on a treadmill and wasn’t too bad and I thought I’d get into some training but never actually got around to it.

I thought I could wing it in the end but it was hard work.

Just after the 12K mark my legs were absolutely killing, pounding away on the roads, and I just kept thinking, ‘Put one foot in front of the other’.

It is a great event, though. I was running in aid of Selby Hands of Hope. I’m a patron for them and growing up in Selby I know all the founders of it.

It’s a local charity that does a lot of good things and my mum actually also works in their charity shop.

I wasn’t thanking anyone for that yesterday, mind…