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Super League to scrap Super 8s format

New Super League chief executive Robert Elstone
New Super League chief executive Robert Elstone
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Super League will scrap the current Super 8s format next season and switch to a ‘one-up, one-down’ system, says new chief executive Robert Elstone.

Promotion and relegation is currently decided by fusing the Super League’s bottom four after 23 regular season games with the

Championship top four.

After playing each other once, the top three go up, while a fourth versus fifth play-off completes the quartet.

“The Super 8s was well-intended,” Elstone told BBC Sport. “In the search for a competition format that retained interest right

through is a laudable objective, but what it has created is too much uncertainty and risk.

“Right now 12 Super League clubs, six or seven of them are worried about dropping into the Qualifiers, getting a bad injury run and facing big life changes.

“The Championship clubs looking up are thinking it’s a great opportunity, but in the medium term if you’re promoted then a year later you face the same risk.

“Fans aren’t sure about fixture lists, broadcasters aren’t sure about fixture lists and I think we just have to take the uncertainty out and go back to something we are used to.

“The detail of one-up one down in terms of standards, the automatic nature is something we need to work through.”

That format, introduced in 2015, means all clubs play 30 games before any further play-off activity, six more than their National Rugby League counterparts in the southern hemisphere.

With Challenge Cup ties also added to the schedule, elite players in the northern hemisphere are taking on a greater workload.

Hull Kingston Rovers chairman Neil Hudgell, whose side have been relegated from and subsequently promoted to the Super League under the current format, says the changes have widespread support throughout the top flight.

“The news around the demise of the middle eights is widely accepted as a positive step across the elite competition,” Hudgell told BBC Radio Humberside.

“What sport gets to the showpiece period of the season without knowing who they’re playing and when they’re playing them?”

There has already been one dissenting voice after Elstone revealed the changes - Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.

Hetherington, who has had administrative roles at Sheffield and Leeds as well as coaching and playing positions, and was formerly president of the RFL, was quick to reveal his discontent.

“Today’s announcement regarding plans for next season appear to be an absurd grab for power for the game by a small group of men who think they own the game,” the statement from Leeds said.

“Leeds Rhinos are not party to this and are totally against the creation of a separate Super League executive.

“Super League clubs voted 7 / 5 at our last meeting on some key issues related to promotion and relegation.

“The game is in need of strong leadership from Brian Barwick and his board of directors at the Rugby Football League, the game’s governing body, and this announcement should bring a response from everyone connected with the game.”

In response, Hudgell said: “The game is a democracy and Gary has his view.

“There are a group of 10 or 11 clubs that are fairly behind the proposals we have as an elite competition. If the mechanism for promotion and relegation was debated, four of the five clubs he refers to in a 7-5 vote would vote the other way. It would actually be an 11-1 vote.”