Could a 14-Team Super League Finally Become a Reality?

It’s an idea that has been floated around for a number of years. But is now finally the time to expand the Super League to 14 teams?

There is a balancing act between maintaining the integrity and the quality of what is the pinnacle of rugby league in Europe, but also in expanding the competition, introducing new fans to the sport and even opening up the tournament to new teams from overseas.

The feeling among many in the game – including, notably, the Bradford Bulls coach John Kear – is that the present fixture format isn’t working. The introduction of the six ‘loop’ fixtures has been met with a mooted response, with some turned off by the prospect of playing the same teams as many as five times per season.

As Kear said: “you get sick of watching Wigan versus Warrington when you get around to what is game five or game six between the clubs that season.”

The Magic round of games is universally popular, and that would likely stay in some format, but increasing the number of teams in the Super League from 12 to 14 would enable 26 games to be played – 13 home and away – with a Magic Weekend too.

A straightforward system of promotion/relegation, with the top four teams in the regular season battling it out in the play-offs for a chance to play in the Grand Final, simplifies matters while maintaining competitiveness and ensuring that all teams have something to play for each campaign.

The reality is that the likes of Leeds Rhinos, St. Helens and Wigan Warriors will continue to dominate the bookmakers’ Super League rugby league odds because they are the strongest teams, but long term the hope is that by expanding the competition the quality gap will soon close.

The Championship could easily be reshuffled within a couple of seasons via promotion and relegation, and promoting teams up the ladder should, in theory, help to eventually improve the quality and competitiveness of the second tier.

One potential spanner in the works could be the various broadcasting deals that the Super League have in place. Right now, revenue from Sky Sports in the UK is separated between 12 teams, and so an increase to 14 sides would mean each makes less money from such a crucial commercial partnership.

Growing the Game

When Paris Saint-Germain were among the founding teams in the Super League, it opened the door for outfits from outside of the UK to be part of rugby league’s premier competition in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Catalans Giants soon followed suit, and they were later joined by the Toronto Wolfpack – proof positive that rugby league is a global concern.

Expanding the Super League to 14 teams offers an opportunity for more international teams to compete at the highest level, thus enhancing the visibility of the sport around the world.

Of course, they will need to achieve this ascension through the appropriate channel, e.g. by being promoted from the Championship, but Toulouse are already knocking on that particular door.

In 2021, the Ottawa Aces will join the pyramid in League 1, while there is a proposal for New York City to enter at the same level – they would be the first professional rugby league outfit from America.

Eventually, the hope – not from traditionalists, perhaps – is that New York can ascend to the Super League, introducing a whole new audience to the sport. The switch to a 14-team Super League would certainly aid that quest.

Will St Helens remain on top of the Super League?

St Helens ended their five-year drought without the Super League crown, easing past the Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final by a 23-6 scoreline. The Saints were dominant throughout the campaign and they epitomised their term by storming their way to the championship.

However, the triumph was the end of Justin Holbrook’s time with the club. The Aussie had great success in his two-and-a-half years on Merseyside, reversing the fortunes of the team from mid-table battlers to champions at the end of his tenure.

Kristian Woolf now takes over head coaching duties with the pressure of having to maintain the high standards set by his predecessor. Woolf arrives with a fine reputation, having guided Tonga to the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup, defeating New Zealand and England in the process.

St Helens are still the leading contenders in the rugby league odds to win a second title on the bounce, although it will be a challenge now they are the team to beat. The last side to win successive titles was Leeds Rhinos in 2012, and that is the task at hand for Woolf to keep the Saints at the top of the pile, although he still has an incredibly strong squad of players at his disposal.

The club will be returning almost all of the squad that won the title last season. Outside of Holbrook there have been no major departures from the roster that has been outstanding over the last two seasons. The only question remaining will be whether they are able to maintain their imperious levels of play under a new head coach. Under Holbrook they were relentless in 2019, losing only three of their matches in their run to their ultimate triumph.

Surprisingly two of those defeats came at the hands of the London Broncos, who were relegated to the Championship. Despite those setbacks, the Saints were a model of consistency, producing elite performances on a weekly basis against the best sides in the league.

No display perhaps signalled their dominance more than their victory over Wigan Warriors in the playoff semi-finals, hammering their rivals 40-10 at Totally Wicked Stadium. It banished the demons of their defeat at the same stage in the previous campaign, establishing the mentality that helped them brush aside Salford in the Grand Final. Not only did St Helens produce quality rugby under Holbrook in 2019, they were also a mentally tough unit that was ready to grind out results.

Woolf has the talent at his hands to blow away average teams and the elite sides of league. With Tommy Makinson, Lachlan Coote, Theo Fages, Jonny Lomax, Regan Grace and Kevin Naiqama, there’s too much quality for them to fail. However, the questions will be whether they are able to close out tight games and remain a cohesive unit. That’s the difference between great teams and ones that fall short. Holbrook formed an imperious side that conquered the Super League with their all-round play and it will not be an easy task to replace that level of dominance.

Widnes duo make Super League step up with Warrington

Betfred Super League side Warrington Wolves have snatched two players from Championship club Widnes Vikings as centre Anthony Gelling and Keanan Brand swap second division for first division.

Centre Gelling has signed a two year deal with the Wolves whilst teammate Brand has committed himself to a three year deal at the club.

Gelling who is 28 years old made over a 100 appearances in Super League for the Wigan Warriors between 2012-17 before moving back to the place of his birth New Zealand.

On signing for the club Gelling said: “I’ve always liked playing here; even when I was at Wigan, this was one of my favourite stadiums to come to. To now call this my home ground and to play here every week will be awesome.

“To link up with some of my old Wigan buddies in Jack Hughes and Charners (Josh Charnley) too was one of the key factors in signing here.”

Meanwhile 20 year old Brand started his career at Wigan St Patricks before moving on to the Widnes scholarship programme as a teenager. He made his Super League debut in 2018 and has now moved to the home of Warrington.

On both players joining the club head coach Steve Price said: “Both players will give us depth to our squad. Anthony comes on good recommendations from people that I trust.

“He is a big, athletic, strong centre, who carries the ball well and has a sound knowledge of the game. He is a big personality and it will be great to have him around the team.

“Keanan is a young player with a lot of potential. He is a centre that is also capable of playing on the wing and has the ability to beat people with ball in hand but is also strong in defence. He has a bright future ahead of him and I am looking forward to working with him and developing his game.”


Morris signs on for a further two years with Dewsbury Rams

Dewsbury Rams recently announced the re-signing of Frazer Morris on a two year deal, the prop has committed his future to the club until the end of the 2021 campaign.

Morris arrived at the Rams halfway through last season after he left rivals Halifax to come to Dewsbury.

On signing his new two year deal at the club the 23 year old said: “I’m really excited to have signed with the Rams and develop myself as a player and hopefully make a big impact from the start of the season.

“It’s a chance for me to be a key player for the club and hopefully over these two years I can develop into a better player and individual.”

Morris insisted that he settled into the Tetley’s Stadium side quickly and felt at home right away in the club.

On coming into the club last year, Morris commented: “I settled in quite fast because both players and staff were very welcoming and so were the fans from the get go. I’ve really enjoyed my time at the Rams especially for giving me the chance to prove myself.

“It’s important to develop a bond between the fans and players because you want to be thankful for their support no matter the result.”

Morris believes he can push on this season and make the position in the team his own, he says he wants to push the boundaries and develop as a player.

He said: “My aim at the club is to keep pushing boundaries and developing myself as a player.

“As a team we want to be able to give ourselves a better chance of improving and hopefully finishing in a much better position than we did last season.”


Ward staying put in the south despite relegation

London Broncos have announced that head coach Danny Ward will be staying at the recently relegated club and has signed a new two year deal at the Broncos.

Having being a Broncos stalwart for many years he joined the club back in 2008 as a player and eventually became the club’s head coach. He performed miracles and got the Londoners promoted to Super League when they defeated Canadian side Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound fixture in 2018. He then went on to guide his side through a gruiling Super League campaign and took it to the final day for them only to fall short as they were relegated with a defeat to Wakefield Trinity.

Ward who has been praised by all corners of the Rugby League community has been rewarded with a two year contract.

On signing the new contract Ward said: “I am very happy to extend my contract with Broncos and a big thanks to the gaffer, David Hughes, for putting faith in me again. London is our home and I am truly privileged to coach RL in the greatest city in the world. What a job!

“It has been an incredible journey so far, suffering incredible highs and lows along the way, with a fantastic bunch of players and performance staff and I am really looking forward to next season and the challenges that come our way.”

Broncos chairman Hughes said: “Danny is almost a Londoner now and has done incredible things with the squad here in the capital.

“You can tell by the way the boys play that they have a huge respect for him and he has instilled a togetherness here that is second to none.

“I am delighted that he has decided to stay here for another two years and I have every confidence that he and his backroom team will be working harder than ever to get us back to Super League as soon as possible.”


Catalan Chairman Blasts Players

Bernard Guasch

Catalan Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch has called out some of his players on their poor attitude this season.

The French side have had a poor campaign compared to last year and although it was always going to be hard to replicate it hasn’t been good enough according to the man at the top.

In an interview with Perpignan newspaper L’Independant, Guasch said that some of the players out of contrace have had poor attitudes and that he has had six or seven problems with players this season.

He said: “We’ve had six or seven problems with players who do not accept being told that they will not be with us next season”.

Among the so called trouble causes is Franch international player Tony Gigot who has rejected a new contract at the club and Guasch is adamant that that offer is now off of the table.

He commented: “We gave him all the cards this season. I am very affected by his attitude, Tony Gigot does not listen to the right people, at some point you have to be serious and I am.”

On another note Guasch expressed his confidence in head coach Steve McNamara and says that a new deal will be on the way to him in the coming days and weeks.

He said: “We will extend his contract in the coming weeks of one or two years more, I cannot overstate what Steve McNamara brought to the club, saving us (from relegation) in the Million Pound Game in 2017, winning the Cup in 2018 and this year we were third in June.

“I’m not one of those people who say, ‘When we play a good game, the players are very good and when we lose and we’re bad, the coach is bad, we will learn from the good lessons to make 2020 a big year.”

Agar Wants Leeds Job Full Time

Richard Agard.jpeg

Richard Agar is poised to become the next permanent head coach of Leeds Rhinos, having taken the job on as interim-head coach, Agar has now confirmed that talks are in advanced stages for him to take over on a more permanent basis.

Having worked at both Hull FC and Wakefield before as coach Agar has plenty of experience to know what it takes to get to the top.

Whilst in caretaker charge of the side he was tasked with saving the club from what seemed nailed on relegation from the Super League. However the former player now turned coach has managed to steer the club away from the dreaded drop zone.

He has now said that he would like the job on a full time basis and that talks with the Leeds Rhinos board are in advanced stages.

He told Sky Sports: “I sat down with Gary (Hetherington) on Monday night and subsequently had a couple of meetings with Kevin on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Obviously we’ve a game tomorrow (Friday) so I can’t say anything has been finalised but just that the talks have been really positive. I’ve felt a lot of support from within the club, I’ve felt quite comfortable and relaxed in the job and I think I’ve seen some progress from the guys.”

Will St Helens End Playoff Struggles?

St Helens 2

It has been five years since St Helens reached the summit of rugby league in England, last claiming the Super League crown in the 2014 campaign.

The club have fallen at the semi-final stage for the last four seasons on the bounce, including their failure last term when they were beaten by Warrington Wolves.

Justin Holbrook has endured the same issues as his predecessor Keiron Cunningham had in the playoffs, failing to galvanise his team for the pressure of elimination matches.

However, the Saints are on the charge once more and have been outstanding in the 2019 campaign forging their way back through to the semi-finals.

Holbrook has one final chance to win the Super League to end his three-year tenure with the ultimate prize. The Aussie will be leaving his post at the end of the current term to join the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL.

St Helens have been dominant over the course of the season, winning an incredible 24 out of their 27 matches at the time of writing. Surprisingly, two of their defeats have come at the hands of bottom side London Broncos on the road.

They’ve already secured the League Leaders’ Shield, but have to capitalise on their form to win the ultimate title, with the Saints backed in the latest rugby league betting odds as odds-on 8/11 favourites for the crown. Holbrook and his men are in an eerily similar situation to last season when they were a free-scoring dominant outfit in the regular season, winning 26 of their 30 games.

However, Warrington were playoff ready and two tries from Tom Lineham in the second half took the game away from the Saints on home soil. It was a familiar taste of failure for St Helens, losing in the semi-finals for the fourth year in a row – although not quite as traumatising as their stretch of being defeated five-straight times in the Grand Final between 2007 and 2011.

St Helens have been imperious at both ends of the field in their bid to end their title drought. They lead the league in points scored and fewest allowed, producing a staggering +463 point differential, which highlights their potency and stoic nature of their play this term. Four of their players, Tommy Makinson, Reagan Grace, Kevin Naiqama and Jonny Lomax, are all in the top 10 for the most tries scored this season, while Lomax, Lachlan Coote and Theo Fages are among the leaders in assists.

The statistics make pleasant reading for Holbrook and Saints’ supporters, although they mean very little in a one-off match. Defensive resilience is a vital part of any championship winning side and that could be the driving force behind a surge for the crown. Even though St Helens were off the boil in the attacking third, they still allowed Warrington to score 18 points in their defeat last year.

Wigan showed the way in their triumph, conceding only four points in their two playoff matches. The Warriors held Castleford scoreless before allowing a try against the Wolves on their way to the title. St Helens have all the tools required to win the Super League Grand Final, but they need to prove their mettle to get over the line to reap the rewards.

Feki signs for Cas as of 2020

Cas Tigers

Castleford Tigers have signed winger Sosaia Feki on a three year deal from Cronulla Sharks, he will join the Tigers from 2020 onwards.

Although the 28 year old was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and played for the New Zealand Warriros junior sides and risen through the ranks there, he has played twice for Tonga.

Feki won the 2016 NRL Grand Final, and says he is now ready for a new challenge after being at the sharks for seven seasons. He said on the move to the Super League outfit: “I’ve been at Cronulla for seven years now, I’ve been comfortable here but this is a new chapter in our lives and my partner and I are really excited to come across to Castleford and to Super League.

“It’s going to be a new challenge but Cronulla play an attacking style of rugby as well so hopefully I can bring that over there. I’ve played with Junior Moors at the Sharks and I know Jesse Sene-Lefao already as well. I’ve been messaging him and he’s been tipping me up on the club and what it’s like.

“As a player, I just try to do my job for the team and finish any opportunities that come my way. I’ve played a lot of my games with the Sharks on the left but I’m also really comfortable on the right and I played on that side at the weekend.

“I’m not bothered where the coaches want me to play; wherever they put me I’ll come across and do my best for the club.”

On his new signing Castleford head coach Daryl Powell commented: “Sosaia is a player who has been performing at the top level for a number of years in the NRL,” he said.

“He was a part of the Cronulla team that won the title in Australia which means that our last two recruits from overseas know what it takes to win a championship.

“He is big, strong and aggressive with the ball and an experienced defender. Our back line for next season has a real look of ability about it with strong competition for places in all positions and Sosaia adds hugely to our quality.”

Burrow confident on Broadbent’s ability

Leeds Rhinos academy product Jack Broadbent has moved to Betfred Championship side Batley Bulldogs on loan for a month. Rhinos academy coach Rob Burrow insists that Broadbent has what it takes to play in England’s second tier.

Broadbent who has already had a taste of Championship rugby whilst being on dual registration with Featherstone Rovers, played for Batley Boys as a youngster and also played for Dewsbury Moor. Now though the 17 year old will be coming up against some of the toughest players in the Championship.

On Broadbent, Burrow’s said:  “He has probably been our best performer this season; he has been consistently good for us. I think Jack Broadbent is someone who can handle it in the Championship, this is probably a good time for him to go and play somewhere else and I certainly think he is ready for it.

“His attitude is first-class and it will be good to see where he’s at, it will be good for him to test himself against Championship teams, hopefully regularly over the next four weeks.”