Opinion: Bulls have revived Super 8s format

Leigh Centurions have not won a game in the Super 8 qualifiers. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
Leigh Centurions have not won a game in the Super 8 qualifiers. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography

Bradford’s landslide win over Salford breathed new life into the new Super 8s competition.

The success of the game’s radical new structure hinged on the ability of the leading Championship clubs to be competitive when they came up against the stragglers from Super League.

The convoluted system of promotion was designed to provide a long-term and sustainable path to the top flight for the ambitious second-tier clubs and only time will tell whether it can be deemed a success.

The status quo was always the most likely outcome in the first year, with Championship clubs expected to narrow the gap over time, but it would have been embarrassing if the Super League clubs had completed a clean sweep of victories over their lower-division opponents.

After two rounds, that looked the most likely scenario and when Leigh, the top Championship club by some distance this year, failed to beat Super League wooden spoonists Wakefield at home last Saturday, albeit by the narrowest of margins, the critics might have been ready to dismiss the controversial new format.

However, the Bulls’ 41-10 hammering of the Red Devils 24 hours later rescued the competition at a stroke and whetted the appetite for the remaining four rounds.

With only the top three clubs guaranteed a place in Super League for 2016, a Championship club was always guaranteed a place in the play-off between the fourth and fifth-placed clubs, dubbed the Million-Pound Match to reflect the difference in central funding, but Bradford might now fancy their chances of automatic promotion.

Leigh, of course, are not out of it. They had arguably the tougher start, with their first three fixtures against Super League opponents, and they will be expected to finish on six points at least which might yet be enough to secure fifth spot.

Clubs will take a break from the Qualifiers this weekend for the Challenge Cup final, although those players involved in the Championship Shield will be back in action on Bank Holiday Monday with the fourth round of matches.

Because the Championship finals day is once more being held a week before the Super League Grand Final, organisers have been forced to squeeze in an extra set of fixtures and that is disappointing for the players who would normally join the annual pilgrimage to London.

There was a time when everything stopped for Wembley, which would boast the colours of every club in the land, but the number of neutrals attending the annual showpiece continues to decline.

It is especially sad this year as the Rugby Football League prepares to celebrate its 120th birthday with a parade of founder clubs, which include Batley and Hunslet who are playing two days later.