Rugby League – do the playoffs devalue our great game?

That time of the year has come round again oh-so quickly. The Super League Playoffs. The drama. The excitement. And the sound of Stevo wetting his pants with excitement at the thought of Wigan retaining the trophy. But despite all this, does the system of the playoffs actually undermine our game? Does the possibility of having the best team in our competition not actually win the trophy devalue the Super League and our wonderful game as a whole? The RFL have changed the playoff system a number of times to try to introduce a structure that benefits the competition further, developing exciting new concepts to capture the imagination of the rugby loving public. The new Club-Call idea was introduced in 2009, to try to assist the side who finished first in the regular season in the playoffs, as during the 2nd round of games, the highest ranked side from the Super League Table gets to pick their opponent. Critics have drawn on the fact that this immediately hands the chosen team a strong motivational tool, but in my opinion, this can only be a bonus, as it makes for one-hell-of-a game. This revamped arrangement also includes 8 teams as opposed to previous years, where just 6 were involved, providing a pulsating climax to a season, generally producing a series of matches that are of the highest quality. Yet people are still uneasy with it. How, they question, can Rugby League hope be taken seriously as say, football’s Premiership or cricket’s County Championship, when the side who finishes 8th in the regular season can win the title. Shouldn’t Warrington, the side who lifted the League Leaders Shield be crowned Super League Champions? No, not in my opinion. After all, no-one has ever actually won it from 8th, with Bradford, who finished 3rd in 2005, the only side to win from outside the top 2.

The showpiece event, the Grand Final

I’m a great defender of the playoff system, believing it to be a unique concept that can attract new supporters to the game, whilst giving Rugby League an edge on other sports. After all, the game is struggling to tear away from its Northern roots, with its attempted expansion not proving overly successful, the Crusaders have failed in Wales and Harlequins are struggling badly down in London. Therefore, a showpiece event can only be good for the game, as the well-publicised Grand Final is played at a standard higher than Great Britain often achieve. I’d wager good money many non-Rugby League fans tune in for this event, if only to see what all the fuss is about, but nonetheless raising the profile of our beloved sport. Who can argue against the drama of those balmy October nights at Old Trafford? You can’t beat the tension as the two teams walk out side by side like caged up Gladiators, and then the of wall of noise as 70,000 spectators roar their troops on, hoping for eternal glory at the end of the 80 minutes. I love it. Give me the excitement of the playoffs over a dreary League system any day. Manchester United have practically sown up the title in the Premier League. And it’s only September. Where’s the fun in that?

I’d make just a couple of changes to make it even greater. Firstly, I’d let the league winners immediately qualify for a Grand Final eliminator, there needs to be greater reward for finishing first at the end of the day, whilst also appeasing the critics. And secondly, I’d consider moving the showpiece around the country every year or playing playoff games in different cities, like Bristol, Birmingham or Southampton, with free transport for the fans of the participating clubs. This would help spread Rugby League without ridiculous experiments like the Crusaders farce. That way, our sport can live up to its tag as ‘the greatest game on earth.’ And if the playoff system was so bad, then why did Rugby Union copy it…

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