There’s plenty of advocates for the current six team play-off system. After all, it gives a suitable advantage to the top two, gives us three brilliant weeks of Super League action and also makes it incredibly hard for fifth and sixth to make it to Old Trafford which is the way it should be.
In fact, there’s a lot of positives to every play-off system proposed with limited teams. The other iteration of a top six play-off system we’ve seen in this country gave the top two a second bite at the cherry if they lost and included six scintillating play-off encounters. The top five system used in the very early days of the league and brought back in 2019 offered a very similar set of positives and is arguably the most sensible play-off system. After all, in order to win the Grand Final in this system you have to beat every team who finished above you.
However, I’ve always had a problem with these play-off systems. For me they don’t include enough teams. Now, I know there’s a philosophy that says allowing teams who finished too far down the league in the play-offs is ridiculous because what if a side who finished in the bottom half wins the Grand Final? I understand this notion but there seems to be too much space between the play-offs and relegation to me.
If you’re a side like Salford or Wakefield, although the play-offs remain possible, they’re at this moment unlikely. However, relegation is equally unlikely. So, what are they playing for? Perhaps a more apt example would be Huddersfield. The plight of Leigh at the bottom has left a seismic gap between them and the rest meaning that an injury ravaged Giants side at this moment will see little risk of relegation whilst their play-off hopes are virtually gone owing to their poor form and pile of injuries. So, I’ll ask again – what are the Giants playing for?
I recently suggested that now is the time for the Giants to look towards 2022 which could potentially be a fruitful year for the club. But that’s no good for paying supporters. They want to see competitive rugby, they want stakes.
Now, imagine if instead of a six-team play-off system we used the old eight-team system which we still see in the NRL. Salford’s, Wakefield’s and Huddersfield’s seasons would be far from other. Moreover, there’d be excitement right through the league with fans knowing they stand a better chance of Grand Final glory in fifth rather than eighth for instance conjuring up a need for the teams to keep pushing for the highest possible position.
There’d be more to play for, more important games and, perhaps most significantly, more intrigue. Furthermore, the play-offs – one of the best times to be a rugby supporter and a real chance to grab a new audience – would be longer and more action packed which can only be a good thing.
Ultimately, some of my favourite ever play-off series involved the eight-team system from 2009-14. There were so many twists and turns and so much to play for throughout the entire season. Yes, I can understand the reasoning for shorter forms of play-offs but the old saying is the more the merrier.