Every Super League season is special. I can’t think of a bad one. At least one fantastic story is told per year and we get lost in the narrative every time without fail.
That said, we all have our individual favourites. There are better seasons and there are worse. Some are blessed with four or five brilliant stories whilst others struggle to tell even one captivating tale.
So, today we’re ranking every Super League season from worst to best.
The second instalment of Super League was hurt by a lack of play-offs. Due to the fact there were no end of season finals, the title was decided in record time as Bradford cruised to the trophy winning the league by seven points. That said there was a decent battle at the bottom as Oldham pushed for survival to no avail.
If you thought a seven point gap between first and second was a lot, the 10 point gap between Castleford and Leeds in 2017 will shock you. Furthermore, the battle for survival wasn’t as engaging as in previous years. The one thing going the way of this season was the battle for play-off spots as every team inside the top seven spent an extended period in the top four. The season did conclude with a pair of brilliant semi-finals. However, the Grand Final failed to live up to the hype as Leeds kicked Castleford to death.
A year later the league table was again dominated by one team as St Helens marched to 52 points and the League Leaders Shield. However, this time round they at least had close competition in the shape of second place Wigan. An exciting story unfurled in the Middle 8s resulting in London’s shock win over Toronto in the Million Pound Game. Meanwhile, the play-offs saw Warrington and St Helens serve up a classic before Wigan and Warrington battled in an enticing Grand Final.
Another season dominated by one team. This time the Leeds Rhinos stormed to 50 points losing just twice and claiming top spot for the first time in 32 years. At least they played some brilliant rugby league whilst they ripped up the league scoring over a thousand points. Yes, the battle for play-off spots wasn’t too exhilarating however the battle for survival was separated by just one win as Castleford sunk to the Championship. The play-offs that concluded the season were a real battle and finished with a tight Grand Final christened by the tale of Leeds’ first triumph in decades.
Guess what – this is another season dominated by one team. The Saints claimed top spot by an eight point margin and weren’t ever really challenged. However, the battle at the bottom was one of the best we’ve ever seen even ending in what Sky Sports dubbed the ‘Relegation Grand Final’ between Castleford and Wakefield. The play-off push was close as Harlequins and Warrington fought for the final spot before the Wolves began the finals series with a shock win over Leeds setting the tone for a captivating play-off campaign. However, there was only ever going to be one winner and that was St Helens.
This was 2006 2.0. Another season dominated by St Helens who won the League Leaders Shield by 18 points which may lead you to believe this should be lower in the list. However, the relegation battle was one of the greatest ever with four teams capable of going down on the final day. The battle for play-off spots was as tight as you’ll ever see with Castleford taking the final spot from Hull on the last day by points difference alone. Moreover, we’ve seen few stories few better than Salford’s journey to the Grand Final.
2013 marks the first proper race for top spot in this list. It was lovely to see Huddersfield claim the League Leaders Shield with a game to spare concluding an intriguing tussle for top spot that saw the top four separated by just seven points. The play-offs that followed saw some classic battles and ended in the biggest Grand Final comeback ever as Wigan claimed the title.
A decade earlier two West Yorkshire rivals did battle for the League Leaders Shield. Leeds started the season nice and fast leading the early league table. However, slowly but surely the Bulls pegged them back to claim top spot. Let’s not forget third place Wigan who also pushed for the shield serving up some classic matches against the Rhinos including in the Grand Final eliminator as the Warriors became the first team from outside the top two to claim a place at Old Trafford. Adding to this campaign was the fact Bradford claimed the first ever treble.
This season would’ve been higher but for the pandemic. The start of the season was captivating as the reigning Champions struggled and teams jostled for top spot. A similar story continued after lockdown only with St Helens now pushing for the League Leaders Shield after their slow start. A classic encounter between them and Wigan saw the Warriors claim the win and push on to win the shield. There was a real battle for the play-off spots too and a magnificent Grand Final. However, there was no relegation battle after the collapse of Toronto and of course the ever-changing structure and lack of fans damaged this season.
2010 saw Wigan end the Leeds and St Helens duopoly of the Super League title and League Leaders Shield. They were involved in an engaging battle for top spot whilst three teams tussled for a coveted spot in the top four with Leeds’ final day victory finally ending the battle. Moreover, the race for spots in the eight was as tight as can be with just two points separating eighth and ninth. The play-offs that followed were also some of the best we’ve seen.
The one thing dragging this season down is the absence of a relegation battle as Super League looked to expand from a 12 team competition to 14. However, what makes this season stand out from the rest was the continuing rivalry between Leeds and St Helens which continually got more heated as the two gunned for top spot. The play-offs saw them meet again in a brilliant Grand Final as Leeds claimed back-to-back titles.
This season was adorned by one of the best and closest Grand Finals ever as St Helens edged Bradford 8-6 in the decider. They were two of three brilliant teams battling at the top. That said Bradford eventually pulled clear to end the race for top spot fairly swiftly. The play-offs were once again rather special as Castleford came up with two shock wins over the previous season’s Grand Finalists. Stifling this season was the lack of a relegation battle.
‘It’s wide to West!’ That moment no doubt ensures this season will be forever remembered. That added to the play-offs series which concluded in a rather good Grand Final between rivals Wigan and St Helens as the Saints claimed back-to-back titles. That was after a wonderful three-way battle for top spot as the three previous winners of Super League pushed for another title.
1998 saw the first ever play-off series and certainly benefited from it. It ensured the season concluded in a tense and tight Grand Final between the competition’s best two teams. The Warriors and Rhinos push each other brilliantly with Leeds finishing just behind Wigan in the league table despite beating them twice. There was a magnificent battle for play-off spots as the reigning Champions Bradford only just scrapped into them ahead of Castleford.
This season may have lacked a relegation battle however it didn’t lack drama. Once again Leeds and Saints produced a magnificent title race as arguably Super League’s two greatest teams pushed each other to new heights whilst growing to hate each other even more. The penultimate round of fixtures saw the two face off with the winner almost guaranteed top spot in what felt like a Grand Final. It got so heated James Graham refused to shake a hand at the end. The play-off battle was scintillating with just two points separating eighth and tenth. The finals series that followed was bigger than ever as eight teams participated for the first time and it ended in another brilliant Grand Final as Leeds won a third title in a row.
Like 2009, 2005 saw two great teams battle for top spot. A St Helens team one year away from winning the treble took on a Leeds team fresh off the back of their dominant 2004 campaign. Leeds scored a record 1152 points. Despite that the Saints just pipped them to top spot. The pair were set for a magnificent Grand Final foreshadowed by a brilliant tussle earlier in the play-offs. However, Bradford snuck up on the pair becoming the first team from outside the top two to win the title.
Talking of teams sneaking up on those who dominated the league campaign, Leeds Rhinos – for the second consecutive season – claimed the title from fifth in 2012. For the entire season Wigan and Warrington battled for the League Leaders Shield whilst St Helens and Catalans pushed for third spot. However, the real drama was between the teams pushing for the final play-off spot as Wakefield, Hull KR and Bradford looked to sneak into the eight. The play-offs were brilliant and the season concluded with an underappreciated Grand Final between Leeds and Warrington.
Many remember this season as one of the ones dominated by Leeds and St Helens. However, they forget how close Bradford pushed the pair although they never truly recovered from that infamous Magic Weekend defeat at the hands of a controversial Jordan Tansey try. The lack of points Leeds and Saints accumulated over the season pointed to how competitive the league was. League leaders St Helens amassed just 38 points which is the lowest ever to claim top spot. Meanwhile, the play-off race went to the very last game of the regular season, there was an eye-catching relegation battle and who could forget the play-offs? Wigan pulled off the greatest ever Super League comeback whilst Leeds and Saints served up one of the greatest games ever in the Grand Final qualifier.
This season was all about Wigan and Warrington until it wasn’t. The pair looked like the new big rivalry. It was the Grand Final in waiting and the pair produced one of the best races for top spot ever. Just behind them was an intriguing battle as teams jostled for the other play-off spots whilst Hull KR’s final day win over Castleford was the only thing separating the two when it came to the final play-off spot. One side who spent some time just outside the top eight was Leeds. They’d managed to scrape to fifth and then produced one of the most shocking stories in Super League history as they claimed the Super League title thanks to some amazing rugby from Rob Burrow. Add to that the all-time great game between Leeds and Warrington in the semi-final and you have one the greatest Super League campaigns ever.
The inaugural Super League campaign is underappreciated. Saints and Wigan produced one of the tightest and most exciting races for top spot ever. The pair were separated by just one point in the final table and of course this was in the days when the title was decided by the league alone. At the other end of the table there was a decent scrap for survival adding more narrative to the season.
In truth I think any of the top five could be classified as number one but why should 2014 be in that conversation? Simply speaking it was one of the most competitive leagues we’ve ever seen. Six teams could have finished top. In the final game of the regular season had fourth place Castleford beaten Catalans they’d have finished top.
First and second in the 2001 league table were separated by points difference alone showing the amazing battle Wigan and Bradford endured for top spot. Interestingly, Hull – who finished third – were only three points off top spot in the final league table. Beneath the very competitive top three were a bunch of teams pushing each other for the other play-off spots. Disappointingly, this season was somewhat sullied by a less than competitive Grand Final.
2016 saw a three-way battle for the League Leaders Shield end on the final day as two of the top three did battle with the winner guaranteed the silverware. In the end Warrington’s 23-6 victory over Hull FC saw them claim the trophy leaving Hull in third with the duo separated by eventual Grand Final winners Wigan. The subsequent semi-finals were brilliant as were the Middle 8s which of course ended in the amazing Million Pound Game when a brilliant comeback and a bewildering drop goal secured Salford’s status as a Super League club relegating Hull KR in the process.
This season is home to arguably the greatest Super League Grand Final we’ve ever seen. St Helens edged a brilliant game against Bradford 19-18 in certainly the closest decider to grace the competition. If you thought the Grand Final was close the race for top spot was even closer with the two teams separated by points difference alone. The pursuit of play-off spots was as tight as ever with three points separating fifth and seventh. Even eighth wasn’t a million miles away from a place in the play-offs. There was even a relegation battle to excite viewers with the bottom three split by just three points. Salford were sadly the team who slipped down a league.
Another season where the top two were split by points difference alone. Going into the final round any of the top four could have claimed the League Leaders Shield. In the end it was Leeds who claimed the silverware with the most dramatic last minute try you’re ever likely to see as fans enjoyed the most exciting final day of a season ever. At the other end of the table the Middle 8s gave us a captivating relegation battle culminating in a tussle between Wakefield and Bradford for a place in Super League. Concluding the season was a magnificent Grand Final adorned by one of the greatest narratives in Super League history as Leeds completed the treble to send off two of Super League’s all-time greats in Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield.