England’s humiliating exit from the Four Nations tournament has put most of the rugby league fan medley into meltdown mode.
The Up the Cream fanzine is no different. We want a more intruiging and less congested season for the benefit of the sport, so we’ve put our frustration on hold, and given it a go, along with some key pointers to maximise entertainment.
JANUARY/FEBRUARY: Make pre-season interesting
There’s nothing worse than pre-season games – except when Hull hammer Rovers of course. Why not brighten January up with the return of the County Cups?
Give players a trophy to play for – a trophy that takes no more than 3-4 games to win, (the average a side forks out on meaningless friendlies), and ends up on your major honours list.
JANUARY: England camp
Isn’t that what May is for?
ONGOING: Let players express themselves – we don’t want statical robots
TalkSport’s Adrian Durham did a superb piece in his column last week. He spoke of rugby league mavericks. The sort of player that could take the game by the scruff of its neck and win it with individual brilliance. Tommy Martyn. Lee Briers. Paul Cooke. They never played to set patterns. They played what was in front of them.
In the modern game that style of rugby league is a dying breed. There’s too much structure and it makes for some tedious affairs. We just hope blokes like George Williams and Jordan Lilley can spark it up again before their talents are coached out of them.
ONGOING: Get rid of the salary cap
All it does it hold back teams like Wigan, St Helens and Hull from making major signings, at the expense of keeping small insignificant clubs afloat.
FEBRUARY/MARCH: Start of 22 regular rounds and a top four play-off
The fixture congestion built up for the 2017 season is ridiculous. All competitions considered, there’s a potential of 36+ games for some players, including two “Easter” style weekends, a Magic Weekend, and a proposed England game in Brisbane. What happened to Player Welfare? There’s a World Cup next year – most of our players will be burnt out by August.
The Super League schuedule is draining. We’d cut it to 22 rounds with a simple top six play-off system and leave it at that. No Magic Weekend bonanza.
ONGOING: Get rid of Thursday night rugby
Have you ever had a 5pm finish and then tried to make your way across the Pennines on the M62 carpark on a Thursday night? Enough said.
ONGOING: Put expansion on halt
Catalans aside, the only time in recent memory an expansion project worked, our governing body binned it off to save a dying West Yorkshire outfit.
Crusaders had a strong set up at Wrexham with respectable 6,000 crowds. Unfortunately though they had their problems finicinally and ended up dropping down to League One.
It’s a shame they were sacrificed for a club who have gone into administration for a third time, and with certain clubs in trouble, it shows the need to build a strong network in the heartlands first. For expansionism make a strict criteria and freeze promotion until they meet said criteria.
MARCH: Easter Weekend
Bin Easter Monday for good. You’re asking for injuries.
MARCH TO MAY: Return the Challenge Cup to an early season tournament
Imagine you’re a sporadic fan who watches rugby league on television. You’ve bought into the competition and can’t wait for the next round, only to find out it’s six weeks away. How does that engage a viewer to return?
That, and with the business end of Super League currently mixed in with the Challenge Cup semi-final and final makes a mockery of clubs fighting for both major competitions. Play the Cup in the opening weeks with the final on May’s Bank Holiday weekend, and give sides a chance of competing for both trophies.
Furthermore, Super League clubs need to enter the competition two rounds earlier. There’s a fairytale when top flight teams visit lower league clubs. We enjoy it. We want that brought back.
A second “Easter” Weekend? Are you daft? We’ll pass on that one. Wouldn’t mind a mid-season England game though – on the condition it’s played in England, at Wigan, Huddersfield, or Hull, and not Australia.
AUGUST: Scrap the Super 8s
Those going through dead rubbers, Hull FC fans know how you feel. We had to go through that tedious Super 8s campaign with nothing to play for back in 2015. It was a complete waste of time.
Sure, whatever the format you will get stale ends to the season for certain clubs, but it’s a nightmare scenario to be in and one that does the competition no favours what-so-ever, especially when you don’t know your fixtures until the end of July.
SEPTEMBER: Play-Offs begin
Rather than tedious Super 8s fixtures, you go straight to a full blooded top six play-off series between the best sides in the competition. That sounds much better.
As for relegation one up and one down. Simple.
OCTOBER: Grand Final
Have your showpiece final in the first week of October. Maximise break before international period.
Shrimps on the barbie, or wolly hats out the closest, depending on location, for a full-blooded international series.
Current regime: Minimum of 31 games – 30 league and 1 cup. Maximum of 36 competitive games – 30 league, 4 cup and 2 play-off.
Our proposed regime: Minimum of 23 games – 22 league and 1 cup. Maximum of 31 competitive games – 22 league, 6 cup, and 3 play-off.
*numbers don’t include current friendlies or proposed County Cup replacement, and the proposed mid-season England international.