Since Super League introduced the Grand Final in 1998, we’ve seen the play-offs take on five different formats. It’s safe to say that each format has produced at least one classic encounter and certainly led to deserving Champions. However, it’s also safe to say some made more sense than others whilst others simply offered more rugby than others. So today, as we creep closer to the end of season play-offs, we’re ranking every play-off system used in Super League.
5. Top Four (2015-2018)
In 2015, Super League introduced the Super 8s which promised to make every minute matter. In its first campaign it certainly did just that at the top of the league as Leeds secured the League Leaders’ Shield. However, it often left teams from sixth-eighth with little to play for meaning that the top four teams in the play-offs were usually known well before hand sapping some of the intrigue from the games. Moreover, the play-offs were over in a flash lasting just two weeks featuring just a pair of semi-finals and a Grand Final making the end of season feel somewhat anti-climatic and rushed.
4. Top Six (2020-2022)
The current play-off system is slightly longer than the top four format and last year produced a couple of good games in week one before St Helens and Wigan dominated week two. However, with just three weeks of play-off rugby and five games in total it again means that the end of season finals feel all too brief.
3. Top Six (2002-2008)
This system also featured six teams but lasted a week longer than the current system. Unlike today’s format, these play-offs gave the top two a greater advantage as they were afforded a second bite of the cherry whilst forcing teams in sixth and fifth to work even harder to get within 80 minutes of the play-offs. Today, it’s conceivable that two sides from outside the top four could win their two games and meet at Old Trafford. Back then, only one team from outside the top two could make their way to the Grand Final and had to win a number of brilliant games against quality teams to do so. All of this culminated in exciting rugby over a number of weeks.
2. Top Five (1998-2001 & 2019)
Even better than the top six system was the top five system which made its return in 2019. In this system, to win the trophy you have to beat every team who finished above you meaning it most definitely produced deserving Champions. Again, this system lasted four weeks and featured six games all of which were high-stakes and high quality.
1. Top Eight (2009-2014)
No play-off system since or before included as many games as the top eight system used from 2009-14 which can still be seen in Australia. With the potential for nine brilliant games over four weeks, no play-off system provided us with such a feast of the best rugby we see all season. Add to that the extra drama of the controversial club call and you have an awesome and enthralling end to the season.