What Super League would look like if the NRL had bought it in 2020

In 2020, there was talk that the NRL was preparing to buy Super League in a bid to expand their reach and improve the game in the Northern Hemisphere.

The proposed move caused quite a stir and divided opinion much like the IMG proposals.

So, as IMG prepare to reimagine Super League, what would Super League look like today if the NRL did buy our great competition?

Name change

It’s possible the name Super League would’ve been left to gather dust if the NRL had taken charge of our game. They’d have likely chosen a new name one that reflected Super League’s new relationship with the NRL. Perhaps they’d have anointed the league NRL Europe as the competition slowly transitioned into an offshoot of the NRL proper.

New trophy

A new name would’ve likely seen a new trophy replace the existing Super League trophy. The old Championship trophy or Premiership could’ve made a return or alternatively a new piece of silverware could’ve been commissioned, one that represented the same themes as the NRL trophy.

The return of licences

The basis of the NRL success over the years has been licensing. The system has allowed teams the breathing space to improve without the fear of relegation culminating in a constant changing of the guard at the summit of the league. It’s a system which yielded success in Super League from 2009-14 with 13 different teams making the play-offs in that five-year spell with Catalans and Crusaders both going from bottom to the play-offs in the span of a year. Thus, it stands to reason that if the NRL had taken over, licensing would return and with it a few new teams could have been added to the league. Speaking of which…

New teams

As we’ve seen recently in the NRL, they use licensing to expand the league both in terms of numbers and in terms of moving the game into new regions. They have used it recently to bring the Dolphins into the league for 2023 and they’d have likely used it to bring new teams into Super League – or its equivalent if it was to be renamed – helping expansion into new regions. There were rumours that the NRL was desperate to exploit the success of Toronto if they were to take over Super League so it seems a safe bet to suggest that the Wolfpack would soon have become a mainstay in the league alongside others like Ottawa Aces and the proposed New York outfit which was once rumoured. Toulouse could’ve also been allowed into the league helping the game grow outside of England.

The introduction of a new structure

More teams means a bigger league meaning we could’ve seen 16, or maybe more, teams in the competition prompting a change in the format of the league. It’s possible the league could’ve used the two-division system which was once discussed in Australia designed to get teams from outside Sydney – or in this case the north of England – to the Grand Final with greater ease. Alternatively, we could’ve seen the return of the top eight system which is now used in the NRL.

Dual registration’s return

One of the things the NRL does well is use local clubs as feeder teams for the top sides in the competition. Thus, it’s likely the same would’ve happened here with the return of dual registration with Super League clubs paired with Championship sides so they could oversee the development of future stars.

Australian-English partnerships

The same could also happen overseas with English, French and American clubs securing partners in Australia to exchange players. It’s possible that England could become a breeding ground for Australia’s next stars which could add extra flavour to the competition. Of course, an arrangement would have to be made to ensure that English youngsters are nurtured as well especially if the NRL wanted to help the future of international rugby.