After four years, the maligned Super 8s were dropped yesterday as the Rugby Football League/Super League proposal was passed in a secret ballot at an extraordinary general meeting in Salford.
Many Championship and League 1 clubs – along with reigning Super League champions Leeds Rhinos – were thought to be against the return of a traditional one-up, one-down form of promotion and relegation in 2019.
However, the proposal, which also detailed how central funding would be distributed after the current deal ends in 2021, was eventually passed with a significant 68 per cent majority.
It means there will be a return to a five-club play-off next season to decide the Super League Grand Finalists and, after each club plays each other home and away, there will be six further ‘loop’ fixtures as well as Magic Weekend.
On an eventful day, Championship and League 1 clubs immediately convened with the Rugby Football League to decide their own competition make-up.
They agreed the Championship would increase from 12 to 14 teams in 2019 while the club then promoted to Super League for 2020 would be gleaned from a top-five play-off system.
After months of public mud-slinging and bickering between rival factions about which way the sport should go, Elstone called for unity as rugby league now prepares for its latest structure change.
After Super League sought to take control of their own destiny when appointing Elstone as their chief executive earlier this year, he brokered the deal with RFL counterpart Ralph Rimmer.
The former Everton Football Club CEO has ambitious plans to make Super League more attractive both commercially and in terms of gaining new fans, but he now realises he must make them come to fruition.
“The pressure is now on rather than off,” said Elstone.
“But it’s a good pressure and a pressure I want. This now is the start of the job and it’s about me backing up what I’m saying about where the game can go and how we need to present it.
“It shifts the accountability onto my team and I think everyone in the game will see a sharper focus on Super League – and I think from tomorrow we’ll now see a leaner and more effective governing body. It’s good news on all levels. Now is the time for some action, and let’s see what we can do with our game.”
Elstone added: “There’s clearly an element of relief as there’s a phenomenal amount of work gone into this the last three months.
“That uncertainty hasn’t been good for the game and we need unity. The job starts now for the RFL and me as now we know where we’re going and where we are – it’s about delivering on these lofty visions we have.
“Super League is the game’s elite competition and the whole sport benefits from a strong, attractive, well-resourced and exciting Super League. The game faces a pivotal moment in two years’ time when Super League negotiates a new broadcast deal.”
Rimmer added: “It is vital that we now draw a line under the last period and focus our collective energies on promoting the sport and the fantastic players on the pitch who should be the ones making the headlines.”
Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell, who voted in favour, told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s been a long, torturous process.
“It needed to be put to bed and we now need a period of stability ahead of the new TV deal.
“We have to improve our commercial performance and that starts now. The fact we have a strong mandate will hopefully deliver that as, if you recall in 2014, Super League clubs only voted seven-six in favour; they’re very much together now.
“I’d like to think there’ll be no more snidey comments, playing games or opportunism; it should be everyone pushing together in the interests of the sport.
“We need the collective goodwill to grow the brand of Super League and re-position the sport to what it used to be as at the minute it is pretty staid; on a lot of occasions, dull, boring meaningless, which is not what we normally equate with rugby league.”
As planned, the League 1 leaders will be promoted this season along with the winners of play-offs involving second to fifth.
But another Championship spot is now available as the play-off final losers then face the bottom Championship Shield side.