This week it was revealed that the NRL is considering a conference system in the near future and today we’re contemplating whether Super League should adopt something similar.
The NRL plans to introduce this system to help expand the game beyond Sydney whilst giving recently created clubs like Gold Coast and New Zealand Warriors as well as the pair of proposed new franchises the best chance at becoming successful.
All the Sydney clubs are set to make up one of these conferences whilst the likes of Melbourne and Canberra will be joined by the Queensland clubs including a new Brisbane side as well as not one but two New Zealand based teams in the other conference.
Clubs will play every side in their conference twice and the sides in the other conference once. At the end of the season the top four in both conferences will then play each other in a play-off series that will result in a Grand Final where the best of Sydney face the best of the rest.
Is this a system Super League should consider? Its design provides expansion clubs outside of the traditional home of the game the best platform to achieve success as it ensures the play-off spots won’t be overly dominated by the oldest clubs. Naturally, this will allow them to attract better players thanks to their greater chance of finals rugby helping fast-track sides to the top.
Moreover, it also means we don’t miss out on the big games. Despite being from different conferences Melbourne and Sydney would still play each other in a regular league game. Meanwhile, we’d get two guaranteed instalments of local derbies like Souths v Sydney.
This would be ideal for Super League but on one condition. It would be pointless to use a conference system to separate the Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs. The game is strong enough in those areas. Instead, the system should provide a platform to expansion clubs like London, Catalans, Toulouse, Newcastle, Coventry and others. It would be a chance to grow the game beyond the Pennines into the South and beyond – something our game desperately needs.
The problem with this of course is the fact you would no longer see rivals meet in the Grand Final. In Australia the chance of Souths playing Sydney in the Grand Final would no longer exist whilst in England we wouldn’t see any more St Helens v Wigan Grand Finals. Even Saints v Leeds would be a Grand Final consigned to history. You could also make the argument that the Grand Finals would initially be very one sided removing the spectacle from the biggest game of the season. Is that a price worth paying to expand the game in the long run?