Tonight sees the start of engage Super League’s playoffs. Since its introduction the system has produced an array of intense match-ups, building the Grand Final into a truly national sporting event. It has become the shining jewel in the rugby league crown and something the RFL ought to be commended for embracing.
Yet the playoffs are not immune to mindless meddling and this season’s format is a joke. Even if you disregard the ‘club call’ option, whereby the top seed gets to choose its opponents, you still have to contend with the fact that eight of the fourteen Super League clubs have qualified. Yes, in an absurd hurrah for mediocrity, over half of the competition is still in with a chance of claiming the trophy.
The cow-towing to mediocrity is bordering on bringing the game into disrepute and the laughable penchant for gimmickry edges it ever closer. Indeed I have to cringe when I explain to people that in round 3 teams get a choice of opponents. It’s just ludicrous that a professional sport should introduce so contrived and flawed a process.
When the wider UK sporting media gets wind of the playoff formula it I have no doubt the RFL will be a laughing stock. It’ll be manna from heaven for the RFU crowd seeking light relief from their off-season of woe.
None of the top-4 seeds will be eliminated from the competition in this round, which begs the question why they are playing at all.
The consequent and increased risk of injury to a star player in a meaningless fixture is doubly significant when one considers the impending Four Nations tournament. The weak argument that these games decide the seeding for the subsequent round is another absurdity; haven’t we just gone 28 rounds of Super League to determine that?
Make no mistake the Round 1 qualifying playoffs are about one thing and one thing only: fleecing spectators. Well if it costs a key player a place in the England line-up then maybe it’ll hit them where it hurts. Unfortunately it’ll also hit the fans and of course the players worse.
It all comes back to the basic flaw in rugby league’s development; foresight, planning and the lack of quality, intelligent leadership. Flawed decisions have dogged the game throughout its history and it’s to be hoped that the playoffs revert to a more sensible top-4 or top-5 format before the damage becomes to great.
Now. Who’s playing their joker tonight?