The 2019 structure: Why it’s improved the game and what to expect from the play-offs

Feature writer Jonny Carr gives his thoughts on whether the new structure introduced ahead of the 2019 season has been a success and explains how the play-off system will work.

The Super 8’s – Why it didn’t work

The Super 8’s was great in principle but poor in execution! It quickly became a stale, predictable and often boring to watch – sentiment to everything that rugby league does not subscribe to. It was a confusing system that saw attendances dip below what was expected – especially at the business end of the season. Although the Championship teams toppled their Super League opponents on a handful of occasions, there were far too many thrashings and barring the Million Pound Game, I feel the Super 8’s did nothing for spectator entertainment.  The extra workload on top of the regular season also went against player welfare, something the sport is so keen to promote!

The New Structure – Is it better?

Well, my immediate reaction is yes! This year’s Super League and Championship have been the closest fought contests that I myself can remember for years. As I write this, places 8-12 in the Super League are split by 2 points with any one of the clubs included in this dog fight facing a real chance of being relegated to the Championship. The Championship, by the way, is more alive than ever. 14 teams have battled it out throughout the season for one of the 5 highly sought after playoff spots. The new structure offers an entire season that is jam-packed with twists and turns along the way. Who could have predicted London would take 4 points from league leaders St Helens and still remain in the fight for Super League Survival? But they have, and very well done to them!

London will avoid relegation with a win on the final day.

With this new league structure, more opportunity is offered up to clubs as 5 play-off positions are up for grabs. I see the ‘new’ structure as a throwback to a time when Rugby League was in its heyday, before its now more questionable popularity. If it worked to build excitement and showcase our great sport back then, why won’t it work now?

The 2019 Play-off System – How it works

This system pits all 12 teams in the Super League against one another for 29 brutal games. The top 5 teams at the end of this very long season will qualify to play in the 2019 Super League play-offs to decide which two teams make it to the Grand Final. If you’re confused by the new structure – then you’re not alone! The new structure will look something similar to this, if this were to be the top 5.

1. St Helens, 2. Wigan, 3. Salford, 4. Warrington, 5. Castleford

If the table were to finish as above then St Helens would miss the first week of the play-offs getting an instant bye to the second round of fixtures. In this case, Wigan Warriors (2nd) would come up against Salford Red Devils (3rd) and Warrington Wolves (4th) would entertain the Castleford Tigers (5th) in the first eliminator game of the play-off series. In this I believe Warrington would come out on top, eliminating Castleford.

In the second week of fixtures, St Helens would play the winner of Wigan-Salford in the first semi-final.  In my opinion, this would be Wigan. Here Saints may stumble again, meaning Wigan would get an automatic pass to the Grand Final in 2 weeks time. Saints would receive a second chance next week to get to the illusive Grand Final. They would face the winner of Salford-Warrington in the second eliminator play-off, with the loser eliminated.

I would have to tip Warrington with their greater experience meaning they would advance to face Saints, with the winners playing Wigan at Old Trafford. Saints would look to redeem themselves for their Challenge Cup upset and a James Roby inspired performance may just see them squeeze into the Grand Final for a showdown with the Warriors. So as you can see, the system really favours the highest-ranked teams with home advantage and second chances.

Saints and Wigan are favourites to meet at Old Trafford.

I’ll end by saying that the new structure is proving a huge success. The Super League relegation battle is arguably the best ever and one of the top five spots is still up for grabs going into the last round. Then we have the Super League and Championship play-offs still to look forward to, culminating in the Grand Final and Million Pound Game. It feels like we have everything we had last season and much more. There is no longer the confusion of the Super 8’s format and the play-offs help reward those higher up the league. So for all the negativity around our sport and as much as it will annoy those who were dead set against scrapping the Super 8’s, the new structure has worked and I think it’s here to stay!