Super League has been accused of bullying and the Rugby Football League of using underhand tactics ahead of today’s crucial vote to determine the structure for the game in 2019.
A total of 35 clubs will gather for an extraordinary general meeting in Salford this morning to consider a plan to ditch the Super 8s in favour of a traditional one-up, one-down system of promotion and relegation.
A change in central funding is also a key element of the proposal brokered by RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer and his Super League equivalent Robert Elstone.
Super League clubs, who have double the voting rights of Championship and League 1 clubs, are expected to back the move by 10-1, with Leeds the sole dissenting voice and Catalans Dragons ineligible to vote.
An advisory group representing the Championship and League 1 clubs announced they would be voting overwhelmingly against the resolution.
But Bradford chairman Andrew Chalmers said a handful of his colleagues are still undecided following “attempts to pressure vulnerable clubs into capitulating”.
Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas said: “I’ve been involved in the sport for 21 years and we have hit a low point here.
“The decision should be based on what is best for the sport but a Championship club has been told that, if they don’t vote in favour of the proposal, there will be no dual-registration, they won’t be able to share training facilities and there will be no planned friendly.
“That is bullying and I found it disgusting. To me, that is sinking pretty low.”
The group, which also comprises Mark Sawyer (Dewsbury), Mark Campbell (Featherstone) and Jon Flatman (York), offered to drop their outright opposition to change in return for an opportunity for a second club to be promoted via a play-off.
But the group say they have been effectively ignored during negotiations between Super League and the governing body and Flatman says RFL staff have overstepped the mark in making approaches to clubs while Campbell accused the RFL of failing to govern.
“They need to stand up and be the governing body,” said Campbell. “They’ve sat on the fence and they’ve worked with Super League underhandedly in cajoling clubs to vote one way or the other.
“I think it’s despicable what’s happening with other clubs and what they’re trying in regards to bullying - the rugby league has had a part in that.”
The Super League and RFL declined to comment.
Non-Super League clubs are particularly concerned about funding levels beyond the current Sky television deal which is worth £40million a year and expires at the end of 2021.
Figures released to the advisory group anticipate a fall in revenue and that the RFL and clubs outside Super League will bear the brunt of it.
They reveal that, under the new plans, Super League clubs’ revenue will not drop below their current level of £30m even with a £10m overall reduction.
On the other hand, the RFL will accept a reduction of £2.25m even if it remains unchanged and will lose their entire share if funding drops to £30m.
The group say even a seven per cent cut in broadcast income will force both the Championship and League 1 to go amateur, with an annual income of £143,000 and £36,000 respectively.
Clubs are currently on a sliding scale starting at £750,000.
Chalmers said the proposal is driven by “protectionism and vested self-interest”.
He added: “It is a rotten solution, negative and defensive, lacking in vision and independence.”
The outcome of the proposal is set to be determined by a secret ballot but Nicholas says he will be pressing at the meeting for an open vote to ensure transparency.