WIGAN chair Ian Lenagan warned of serious consequences for rugby league today if clubs fail to back plans to change the Super 8s and Qualifiers fixture format.
The Rugby Football League has called a general meeting of the RL Council tomorrow morning to vote on proposals for a new structure for the domestic game.
Clubs are being asked to consider a new funding deal, but the main focus centres on a proposal backed by the vast majority of Super League clubs to scrap the Super 8s/Qualifiers system which has been in place for the last four years.
The plan, which would be introduced for 2019, is facing opposition from some Championship and League 1 clubs but Lenagan believes change is desperately needed.
“The current fixture format is not good for the game,” he said.
“The audiences for the Qualifiers on television are poor compared with a regular Super League game and they’re played in front of near-empty stadiums for games including Championship clubs.
“The Super 8s are also not a success, with attendances down by around 30 per cent on the regular season games.
“While the Qualifiers are exciting for people in Yorkshire and Lancashire who are passionately interested in rugby league, almost nobody is coming through the gates and watching nationally on television.
“It’s of minimal worth to the broadcaster to film and show games with small viewing figures and tiny attendances in near-empty stadiums and is the wrong image for the whole game of rugby league.”
Instead of the seven-match Qualifiers play-off series to determine any promotion and relegation, it is proposed to have a system of one up, one down.
The Championship clubs have indicated they would drop their opposition in return for a deal where a second club could gain promotion via a play-off with the 11th-placed Super League club and guaranteed funding beyond 2021.
“The RFL Board and the Super League Board, after long negotiations listening to the Championship, have agreed to propose a deal that is satisfactory for both parties, albeit we have both had to compromise,” Lenagan said.
“We wanted a play-off for one place but accepted, in the spirit of compromise, that it’s got to be one up, one down and we initially wanted to reduce the amount of funding to the Championship but accepted in negotiation that the funding will remain the same for at least the next three years and hopefully thereafter.”
Lenagan believes the agreement brokered by RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer with new Super League chief executive Robert Elstone is fair for the whole game.
It will need a straight majority to be passed. Catalans Dragons, who are not full members of the RFL, do not get a vote but the other 11 Super League clubs will get two votes each, with Leeds expected to be the sole dissenters.
Toronto and Toulouse are also ineligible, but the other 22 Championship and League clubs will have one vote apiece and seven votes will go to the community game.
Lenagan added: “I’m moderately confident because I believe that people will see the big picture of what rugby league needs to do.
“I think it would be a desperate position for rugby league if the plans fail to receive a clear majority.
“We have in Robert Elstone the best professional I’ve seen in many years, with a fabulous plan to promote and market Super League properly in conjunction with the new RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer and to make the changes that are necessary to go after it big style with Sky and all the other broadcasters.
“The threat to our game is dramatic if we don’t take it into the modern era and focus on the top tier, with funding from that success guaranteeing the whole of the rugby league game.”
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