Looking to bridge the gap to Super League

As Super League prepares to vote on how best to reintroduce promotion and relegation, what does it mean for Championship clubs? Dave Craven looks at the implications and possibilities.

Huddersfield celebrate winning the League Leaders' Shield.

IT remains more like an episode of Countdown. The equation is 2 x 12 divided into 3 x 8 after 23 plus seven.

Unfortunately, there is no delectable Rachel Riley to explain it all and make the eventual solution sound so simple. Instead, this is the Super League format conundrum.

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In essence, though, it is not really so vexing after all.

There has been much brouhaha and debate, most markedly when six Super League clubs walked out of an extraordinary general meeting in October arranged to sanction it, but in all likelihood it will finally be confirmed next Friday regardless.

For 2015, boiled down we are talking about two divisions of 12 – Super League and Championship – that split into three divisions of eight at the end of the regular season of 23 rounds.

For example, the bottom four of the elite will combine with the Championship’s top quartet.

Seven play-off games will then decide who finishes where in each of those mini-divisions.

In that middle tier, the resultant top four will then play in Super League in 2016 with the remaining starting in the Championship. Simple?

The RFL has always liked its “innovation” and this certainly is different. The big question is – barring another bout of civil war breaking out next week – will it actually work?

Will there be more competitive games, bigger gates and greater interest in the sport? 
Moreover, will Championship clubs actually have a realistic chance of earning that elevation that had eluded them for three years at a time during the licensing experiment?

The majority of Super League are ready to accept the proposals. Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves, Hull FC, Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants are keeping their cards close to their chest but that may be irrelevant as they could be outvoted regardless.

In theory, the 3x8s system has the potential to really liven up a competition that has grown staid.

It has been clear for sometime there is not enough quality – or finance – to sustain a 14-club Super League and there will be arguments from some clubs that 12 is too many also.

With the threat of relegation added, the lower echelons of the top division playing against the Championship’s best could create some fascinating contests compared to the meaningless end-of-season fixtures too often witnessed in recent years.

Taking last season’s bottom four, for instance, Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers would both meet Championship high-fliers Featherstone Rovers which would instantly bring three highly-anticipated and, no doubt, competitive derbies.

Furthermore, Castleford chief executive Steve Gill has said before that games against Featherstone and other West Yorkshire second-tier sides such as Halifax or even Batley Bulldogs would easily generate bigger attendances and more income for his club than fixtures with, say, London Broncos and Salford.

But could the likes of Featherstone, Sheffield Eagles – who have won the Championship title in each of the last two seasons – and Halifax really achieve promotion?

In 2015 there would be two relegated Super League teams, with all the added resources that brings at their disposal, added into the equation fighting for the top four Championship slots.

The current second-tier contenders would have plenty to navigate. Sheffield chief executive Mark Aston argues it will be difficult for any Championship club – especially given they are predominantly part-time – to realistically achieve promotion in that manner though Featherstone and Halifax remain confident they can.

There is the age-old problem of having few top-flight players to recruit given the late timing of discovering which division they will actually be in. Boom and bust memories spring to mind?

But Featherstone, who have finished top every year since 2010, will have six full-time players by the end of this season and aim to double that in 2015 ready to solve that issue and have a real tilt.

Allied to their policy of bringing young players through their own pathway, as they gain experience playing against Super League opponents in the end-of-season play-offs, they visualise being able to compete consistently.

Of course, Championship clubs will also receive a greater slice of the financial pie as part of this proposal – something which clearly left some Super League clubs disgruntled – and that will help.

Featherstone received £25,000 for finishing first last season; whoever wins the Championship in 2014 is reported to be in line for a £650,000 windfall.

Admittedly, there will certainly be teething problems ahead and there are many other issues from the RFL’s Policy Review which need further discussion.

However, as a way of reintroducing promotion and relegation while, at the same time, breathing new life into Super League, it remains arguably the best option. The famous Countdown clock is ticking, though.