Fourteen is reduced to eight as the Super League XVII weekly rounds came to an end this weekend to make way for this year’s play-off series.
For the 6 sides who failed to make the cut preparation can now start for 2013, but it has undoubtedly been an eventful year for many that finished in the bottom six. Off-field difficulty has been a common theme amongst the bottom clubs in what has been a fairly turbulent season for rugby league in this country in which off-field matters have featured in the headlines as prominently as the on field action.
Widnes Vikings‘ return to the top-flight has seen a roller-coaster ride of peaks and
troughs. Predictably, the Vikings found Super League life difficult, early on. However, with some mid-season loan signings and as Widnes became more accustomed, a considerable improvement in performance and results in the latter half of the year ended the year more positively. Highlights of the year incude a narrow win over Wigan, a dramatic last-minute win against Huddersfield as well as a comprehensive display which saw them dispose of Hull FC 42-16. Sunday’s 52-14 to derby rivals Warrington did condemn the Vikings to a bottom place finish but new signings and this year under their belt the club’s long-term plans to be a top-flight force once more can continue.
- A hugely underwhelming season for Castleford Tigers saw Ian Millward’s side end up in 13th in his first season back as a Super League coach.
- London Broncos‘ season saw a story of disappointment as big name signings failed to spark improvement leading to a 12thplace finish, with the arrival of ex-coach Tony Rea late in the year providing a mini-resurgence. It has also been another year of instability away from the field with dwindling attendances at the Stoop leading to suggestions of another relocation in the future, with the club trialling matches at Gillingham and Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road during the season which could be potential future bases. It is understood however the club will stay at the Twickenham Stoop for 2013.
- 11th placed Salford City Reds’ first season at their new stadium was another story of ups and downs. Posting great results and impressive attacking displays early in the year, results took a nosedive in the latter part especially following the mid-season selling of Matty Smith to Wigan. More significant departures at the end of the season along with chairman John Wilkinson OBE asking for new investment after 30 years at the helm indicate the difficult financial times that the club is enduring.
- Hull KR came in 10th for Craig Sandercock’s first season as the predicted decline from recent play-off appearance seasons came to fruition.
9th place eventually belonged to Bradford Bulls who can emphatically claim to have had the biggest roller-coaster season of any club. Dominated by off-field events which saw the ex-Old Trafford regulars enter administration and threatened with extinction, along with receiving a 6-point deduction before a buyer in the Omar Khan Consortium took over the club last month. The Bulls’ Super League future is still uncertain.
On the field there were some incredible playing performances against the backdrop of the uncertainty. With coach Mick Potter even working for free for the back end of the season, the Bulls looked a like making an unlikely play-off appearance as they at in the top 8 a fortnight ago, until losses in the final two games put paid their chances of 8th as their point deduction for their off-field troubles eventually cost them.
It has undoubtedly been a difficult year for some clubs who have dwindled in the bottom half of the table through the year. With many of these unable to fill up the salary cap and financial difficulties a common theme, serious questions over the size of the Super League competition are being asked by leading figures in the game, with increasing calls for a a reduction to a 12 or even 10-team top-flight.
Also a return to automatic promotion and relegation to increase the importance of matches involving clubs at the bottom end of the ladder is another big talking point. This will no doubt be another issue to be debated at Red Hall especially in light of the Watkins Report, produced by sports lawyer Maurice Watkins in July which called for the RFL to implement such changes. How influential this document turns out to be to the RFL in shaping the future of Super League will be revealed over the course of the off-season.
With Bradford’s Super League future to be decided, with up to potentially three Championship clubs hoping to replace them, an interesting and eventful off-season behind the scenes could await.
LSMedia’s preview of the upcoming play-off series is next, as we bring the focus back to onfield matters to look at the title credentials of the eight clubs remaining in the competition and predict the outcome of next weekend’s 4 fascinating ties.
Super League XVII Table
- Wigan Warriors – 42
- Warrington Wolves – 41
- St Helens – 36
- Catalans Dragons – 36
- Leeds Rhinos – 32
- Hull FC – 32
- Huddersfield Giants – 28
- Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – 26
- Bradford Bulls – 23
- Hull KR – 21
- Salford City Reds – 17
- London Broncos – 14
- Castleford Tigers – 12
- Widnes Vikings – 12