There is a train of thought that Super League cannot deem itself to be a prosperous form of sporting competition without having relegation. By association, it therefore has to have promotion from the Championship in order to keep the game fresh season after season. Without relegation there is nothing for the lower ranked clubs to play for other than their place in the league which can make any place below the play-off spots slightly irrelevant.
Of course, sometimes it becomes very clear very quickly with some newly promoted teams that, when they enter Super League at the foot of the table, they will stay there and suffer relegation back into the Championship. However, there are some instances where this hasn’t happened and some promoted teams have had a very successful run in the top flight.
Below are the 16 occasions to date when a team has been promoted from the Championship (formerly National League One) into the first tier. This list is ranked on the amount of points a team received at the end of the regular season rather than how long they spent in Super League. As a sidenote, Toronto Wolfpack are not in this list; criteria states that in order to be in this ranking, a team must have completed a full season.
16. Huddersfield Giants, 4 points in 1998
At a time when Hull were known as the Hull Sharks, Sheffield Eagles surprised everyone with winning the Challenge Cup, and Halifax Blue Sox finished third in the table, the 1998 season was a complete disaster for the Giants. Promoted in 1997, they suffered the curse of being bottom for the whole year. Fortunately for the men from Huddersfield, there was no relegation at the end of the season, saving them from going back to the Championship with their tail between their legs.
15. Leigh Centurions, 5 points in 2005
I was nine when I first went to Leigh. It was cold, dark, and Hilton Park made The Jungle look like the KCOM. Also, referee Ronnie Laughton supposedly had a pint of beer poured over his head after the game due to his rather contentious refereeing efforts. As a boy, it was pretty scary. In other words, it didn’t make a good impression which is exactly what Leigh failed to do in 2005. Being one of two teams to be relegated at the end of the year – the other being Widnes – the fact that the Vikings were able to score 13 points and Leigh only five, shows how woeful their efforts were.
14. Hull Sharks- 10 points in 1999
As with another team that is coming up on this list, it is strange to think of the team that is now known as Hull FC, were not Super League regulars right from the get-go. Hull Sharks, as they were then known, wouldn’t make that big of an impression on Super League in their first outing as they would in later years. Registering only ten points, they found themselves separated from 14th-placed Huddersfield by a mere 47-point difference. As 1999 turned out to be a season that the Sharks would rather forget, they more than made up for it in the coming season, finishing seventh and scoring a much improved 25 points. Despite there being no relegation in 1999, if there had been, it would be the closest instance that the black-and-whites would come to relegation from Super League.
13. Celtic Crusaders, 6 points in 2009
Although the Crusaders would actually spend three years in Super League before withdrawing, their first season definitely set the precedent for the club from Wales. The important point to make here is that thanks to there being no relegation at the end of this season, the Crusaders were actually able to spend three years in Super League. Another failed notch on the bed post of rugby league and Super League expansion.
12. Widnes Vikings, 12 points in 2012 (with a -550 points difference)
Widnes appear twice in this list but the effort of this season is definitely inferior. Despite the fact that both Widnes and Leigh (in 2017) scored twelve points, the appalling points difference that Widnes suffered in 2012 truly shows how bad they were. To put it into some perspective, Castleford Tigers finished above Widnes in 2012 with twelve points as well, but they had a points difference of over 150 points less.
11. Leigh Centurions, 12 points in 2017 (with a -190 points difference)
Leigh found themselves second from bottom at the end of the regular 2017 season. Due to the Super 8s format that was in operation at this time – where the bottom four teams of Super League and the top four of the Championship competed for four top flight places – Leigh found themselves battling for the fourth spot against Catalans Dragons. Unfortunately, they lost this game and were relegated. But at least their points difference was not as appalling as the Vikings in 2012.
10. Salford City Reds, 14 points in 2009
In the second of six years where relegation did not exist in Super League, promotion from the Championship did. Hence why Salford were back and looking to build on their success. However, come the end of the season, they were second to last above the Crusaders. Winning seven Super League games isn’t a bad effort as many teams have won less, but their place on the table spoke for itself in 2009.
9. Castleford Tigers, 15 points in 2008
It is strange to think back to a time when the Castleford Tigers were quite literally the worst team in Super League. A League Leaders’ Shield, plus Challenge Cup and Grand Final appearances later, the days of battling relegation have long since disappeared. After being relegated in 2004 and 2006, the Tigers had been the definition of a team that was somewhere in the middle of the two leagues: too good for one, nowhere near good enough for the other. As this was the first year that there would be no relegation since 2000, it was the only thing that saved the Tigers from three relegations in five years.
8. Salford City Reds, 16 points in 2004
Salford finished ninth out of twelve teams in 2004 and therefore managed to avoid relegation. But there was only four points between them and Castleford so they didn’t avoid relegation by what could be classified as a large margin. Even so, they would enjoy three more years in the Super League before being relegated at the end of the 2007 season.
7. Hull Kingston Rovers, 17 points in 2018
This season’s relegation battle was notable as at one point Leeds Rhinos stood a very real chance of being a Championship side in 2019. But neither Leeds, nor Hull KR, were relegated. With a total of eight victories out of a possible 23, Rovers showed that a team from the Championship can survive in Super League and it was good to see them back.
6. Castleford Tigers, 19 points in 2006
Better than their efforts in 2008, Castleford won a total of nine games and drew one. But this season will stick in the mind of Tigers fans because they actually didn’t finish at the bottom of the table. No, that spot was filled by a certain Catalans Dragons side who, under the terms in their Super League license, were exempt from relegation. This is a shame because Castleford had proved that they were getting better, but this period was definitely the doldrums for the Tigers, despite the fact that 19 points was very respectable.
5. London Broncos, 20 points in 2019 (with a -282 points difference)
The game that decided which team would be relegated in 2019 was of the same calibre as any Grand Final. Without sounding disrespectful, it wasn’t in terms of the quality, but it was in terms of seeing how much each player truly wanted the end prize. Equal amounts of towering adulation and catastrophic defeat were readily appropriated to the winning and losing sides after this game. Many fans were sad to see London go as in some other seasons, they would not have finished anywhere near bottom. They had some very good and surprising performances and many fans had developed a soft spot for Danny Ward (coach) and his Broncos. But unfortunately, the Championship beckoned for them in the 2020 season.
4. Hull Kingston Rovers, 20 points in 2007 (with a -232 points difference)
Despite the fact that Hull KR still found themselves somewhat in the relegation battle at the end of this season, they started very well and in their first run of games, they managed to beat Wigan 26-16. Their biggest success this season undoubtedly came with the complete annihilation of their cross town rivals Hull FC when they beat them 42-6. This win not only secured the bragging rights in the city of Hull for a time, but also secured their place in Super League in the following season.
3. Salford Reds, 22 points in 1997
Salford Reds as they were known back then finished the season in sixth position, smack bang in the middle of the table. What was maybe more surprising this season however was that London Broncos would finish second with 33 points. The Reds started to fall away after this though. They would never exceed this total tallied in their first stint in Super League and would be relegated in 2002.
2. Huddersfield Giants, 23 points in 2003
In a season where Bradford dominated in everything, Huddersfield definitely did not disgrace themselves with their efforts, finishing tenth with 23 points. To put this into some perspective, Leeds Rhinos scored one more point in 2019 and finished eighth. A vast improvement on their abysmal 1997 season, it marked the start of Huddersfield being a constant variable within Super League and they have never been back in the Championship since.
1. Widnes Vikings, 29 points in 2002
A stunning campaign for a former Championship side, Widnes would eventually finish seventh, one spot away from the play-offs. In fact, they only missed out on this feat by one point which is hugely impressive. Unfortunately, they would suffer relegation at the end of 2005, but their points total in this season remained their best before this happened as they scored 25, 14, and 13 in 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively. More remarkably, this 29 point-haul of 2002 still remains the highest points tally that the Vikings have ever secured in Super League.