sport

SL clubs agree to changes

The Rugby Football League's planned re-structure will mean the return of the million-pound sudden-death match, it has emerged.

Super League clubs have give the go-ahead for a convoluted new format in which two 12-team divisions will be split into three of eight after 23 rounds to play off for the rest of the season.

While the top eight jostle for positions ahead of a top-four play-off culminating in the Grand Final, the bottom four will join the top four teams from the Championship in a middle tier which will determine the make-up of Super League for the following season.

Three teams will qualify automatically for the elite division, with the fourth and fifth clubs set to play off in a winner-takes-all clash for the 12th spot in Super League in 2016.

It will evoke memories of the 2006 derby between Wakefield and Castleford, the last match of the season which determined the relegation spot.

A capacity crowd of 11,000 crammed into Belle Vue to witness the outcome of a match worth in excess of 1million in central funding.

Shortly afterwards, clubs voted to suspend automatic promotion and relegation in favour of a licensing system but last Friday they gave the go-ahead for a new structure.

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood and chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer shed more light on the proposals, which will be ratified by the board of directors before the end of the week, at an informal media briefing at Red Hall on Monday.

Officials have not ruled out a two-legged tie for the fourth v fifth match but Wood believes it could become a major attraction.

"It will be big enough to stand alone," Wood said. "It will be like the million-pound match."

Wood confirmed that the two teams who finish bottom of Super League this year will be relegated, ruling out any preferential treatment for outpost clubs London Broncos or Catalan Dragons.

The Dragons were spared from relegation in 2006, when Castleford experienced the drop, because they had special exemption.

The 14 Super League clubs were thought to have voted 7-6 in favour of the new format at their meeting in St Helens last Friday, with the Catalans abstaining, but will still need to give their backing to the planned changes in central funding.

In the RFL's policy review proposals, the Championship clubs were in line to receive as much as 650,000 a year, compared to around 90,000 at present, to enable them to compete on a more level playing field with the existing Super League clubs, who receive in excess of 1m.

"At the moment there is a funding ratio of 12 to one and, if that can be changed to a two-one ratio, we will have a more competitive structure," Rimmer said.

Wood says the new structure will provide a halfway house between the devalued licensing system and automatic promotion and relegation.

"We had an obligation to provide a structure for well-run clubs to succeed while at the same time providing a safe and sensible way for clubs to come out of the top division which doesn't lead to insolvency," Wood said.

It has emerged that teams in the first and third tiers of the eight-club format will carry their points over from the first 23 rounds but the middle-tier teams will start from scratch.

The new structure has been criticised for its convoluted nature but, having won over the "rebel" Super League officials, Wood is confident fans will eventually accept it.

"Once people have had a chance to understand the structure, it is not that complicated," Wood said.

Meanwhile, the RFL will on Tuesday unveil a new sponsorship deal for Super League, thought to be with a utilities company.

The top flight has been without a title sponsor since clubs pulled the plug on the controversial, cash-less deal with Stobart two years ago.