Super League can be ruthless.
Some sides experience unbridled joy, but for some of those with less facilities, less expenditure – or sometimes too much – and less quality in their playing ranks, the top-flight can be a nightmare.
In 1996, 12 Super League clubs changed the sport of rugby league forever, but seven of them are no longer part of the elite tier.
The first side in this list enjoyed by far the most Super League success. Bradford topped the league four times, won three Grand Finals and became the first Super League era treble winners in 2003. Under Brian Noble, Bradford enjoyed a decade of dominance, a time during which it would have been impossible to imagine the club outside of Super League. It was financial difficulties that emerged in 2012 that would result in the club’s relegation. They would go into administration in the same year, and after continued instability it was a points deduction that saw Bradford relegated from Super League in 2014. They have spent a season in League 1, but have since finished mid-table in the Championship twice.
Halifax were named as one of the 12 clubs to be a part of Super League in 1996, and they would remain there until their relegation in 2003. In 1998 they finished an impressive 3rd place, but would go on to lose in the play-off semi-finals. Their final season in Super League, five seasons later, was a very different story. They finished rock bottom of Super League, with just one win out of 28 games. The West Yorkshire side has remained in the second tier ever since their relegation from Super League, but they have been extremely unfortunate to never reappear in Super League, with multiple top three finishes, as well as two play-off final losses.
London are the only team on this list to have returned to Super League after being relegated. They managed multiple top half finishes in the early years of Super League, reaching both a playoff semi-final and a Challenge Cup Final. However, after the mid-2000s and a failed rebrand to become Harlequins RL, the club never finished above 11th. The club would be relegated in the same season as Bradford, with one win from 27. After a shock victory in the Million Pound Game over Toronto Wolfpack, London were part of the 2019 Super League season. Although the club would be relegated, they managed wins over St. Helens, Wigan, and Leeds, leaving it until the last game of the season for their relegation to be confirmed.
Oldham were included in Super League after fighting off a proposed merger with Salford ahead of the first Super League season. The club spent two years in Super League, finishing 8th and 12th before relegation and resulting financial difficulties forced them into liquidation. They formed as a new club in time for the 1998 season. The club has jumped between the second and third tier of English Rugby League ever since. After earning promotion back to the Championship in 2019, they will be looking to establish themselves as a Championship club and maintain their place in the league.
PSG were a controversial addition to Super League upon its foundation, and understandably so given their short and turbulent spell as a club. The club was involved in the first ever Super League game against Sheffield Eagles, in a home fixture at Stade Charlety in front of 18,000 spectators. The French side would edge out Sheffield 30-24, in what would be their first of just nine competitive league wins in the club’s history. As well as a poor on-field showing, the club would become embroiled in a scandal over undeclared contracts once it emerged that many of the club’s Australian players had been playing on tourist visas to avoid paying certain taxes. After finishing 11th two seasons in a row, as well as facing high levels of criticism, the club dissolved in late 1997.
Sheffield have experienced a series of peaks and troughs during the Super League era, as well as a rebirth after a failed merger with Huddersfield. The South Yorkshire club finished a respectable 7th place in the first Super League season, winning 10 games. They would finish 8th in 1997 and 1998, despite a shock Challenge Cup Final win in ‘98. In 1999 they finished a disappointing 10th, and later that year accepted an offer to merge to form Huddersfield-Sheffield in a desperate attempt to keep their club alive. Many Sheffield fans rejected the merger and, led by former player Mark Aston, created a ‘new’ Sheffield RL club to get back to the top tier. The club has become an established Championship club since their rebirth, and have been in and around the top half for the last 12 seasons.
Workington are the only League 1 side on this list and they hold the unfortunate record of being the first ever team relegated from Super League, with the club winning just twice before being relegated. The club would eventually be relegated again to National League Two in 2002. The Cumbrian side enjoyed a brief spell in the Championship in the mid-2010s, and still have ambitions of returning. With recent top half finishes in League 1, fans will be dreaming of a return back to the higher tiers in the coming years.