British rugby league system

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The British rugby league system is based on five tier structure administered by the RFL.

There is no system of automatic promotion and relegation between the five tiers although teams have moved between them in the past.

Professional structure[edit]

The league pyramid of rugby league in the United Kingdom is topped and very much dominated by Super League, with the 13 top teams from England and 1 in France. The top eight teams enter the play-offs and the winner is determined by a Grand Final.

Automatic promotion and relegation from Super ended in 2007. Fourteen teams were awarded 2009–11 Super League licences which gave them the right to play in Super League for the next three years. The next round of franchising took place in 2011 for the 2012–14 time frame. Only teams currently in Super League, or those who appeared in at least one Championship grand final or won the Championship Cup, were eligible to apply. Crusaders Rugby League, which had recently exited administration, withdrew their application for a licence, resulting in the end of Welsh presence in Super League for the immediate future. Their place in Super League was taken up by Widnes Vikings. Crusaders folded after the 2011 season.

Below the Super League, there are two competitions collectively known as the Championships—the Kingstone Press Championship and Kingstone Preas League 1. A play-off structure is used to determine the winners of both Championships. Normally, two teams are relegated from the Championship, being replaced by the team finishing top of Championship 1 and the winner of a play-off structure involving the six teams finishing behind the league leaders in Championship 1. The play-offs in each Championship division are a top-six format. For the 2012 season only, there will be no relegation from the Championship, as the RFL will expand the Championship to 14 clubs. The top four clubs from Championship 1 will be promoted, with their places being filled for 2013 by four new clubs.

The reserve teams of the Super League clubs play in the reserve team championship (except Catalans Dragons, whose reserves play in the French Elite League) and the reserve teams of some Championship clubs play in the reserve team first division

Evolution of the professional structure[edit]

The first season of rugby league (1895–96) saw all the clubs play in a single league competition. The addition of new teams and the problems of travelling led to the league being split in two for the following season; into the Yorkshire League and the Lancashire League. In the 1897/98 season Lancashire added professional second and third competitions, but the third competition only lasted one season. Yorkshire added a professional second competition (split west and east to reduce travelling) for the 1898/99 season. The bottom teams from the senior competition played a promotion/relegation test match against the winner of their county's second competition. This arrangement lasted until the 1901–02, when the top clubs from each league formed a single new competition. This saw the Lancashire and Yorkshire Senior Leagues elect numerous clubs from the second competitions (5 from Lancashire and 7 from Yorkshire) with the second competitions subsequently scrapped and teams excluded from the senior competitions joining either the Lancashire Combination (reserve grade) and a new Yorkshire Senior League or reverting to amateur status, either within the Northern Union or in the case of many Yorkshire clubs back to rugby union. However, many clubs folded and some even switched to association football. The following season most of the remaining clubs in the Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues were re-organised to form a Second Division, although four teams from the Yorkshire League and two from the Lancashire league were not elected to the new second division (but South Shields who had played in no league in 1901-02 were).

In 1905-06, the two divisions were re-combined into a single competition. Initially clubs arranged all their own fixtures with the condition that they had to play teams they do play both home and away. After this a new structure was introduced where clubs played all the teams in their own county on a home-and-away basis, results counting towards the re-formed Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues, although due to imbalance in number of teams it was common for a Yorkshire club to have to play in the Lancashire League. They also had home-and-away fixtures scheduled against a small number of teams in the other competition (usually three); all results were collated into a single table for the Championship. In order to even up the competition a top-four play-off series was used to determine the Championship.

Apart from the interventions of the world wars, this system was retained until 1962–63, when the league briefly returned to a two divisional system. This lasted only two years, and in 1964–65 they went back to one large division subdivided into county leagues, but the play-off were expanded to the top 16 teams.

In 1973–74 they again went back to two divisions. The play-off and the Yorkshire and Lancashire League were abandoned, though a new play-off type competition, the Club Championship was introduced to replace the championship play-offs.

The following season saw the title change to Premiership and the format was altered so that only the top eight teams in the First Division would compete. A similar competition was later instituted for clubs in the lower league(s). In the 1991/92 and 1992/93 seasons, a Third Division was played. However, the league reverted to two divisions for the 1993/94 and 1994/95 seasons, controversially demoting three clubs to the National Conference League in the process.

In 1996 the Premiership was replaced by the Super League. The clubs outside of Super League played in the First Division which now came under Super League, and the clubs that previously played in Division Three now played in a retitled the Second Division.

Between 1999 and 2002, rugby league below Super League was re-organised into one large competition, the Northern Ford Premiership. In 2003, the NFP was divided into National Leagues 1 and 2 with a National League 3 made up from sides drawn from the Rugby League Conference and British Amateur Rugby League Association winter leagues. It was intended that at some future point promotion and relegation would be allowed between National League 3 and National League 2, however, in 2006 National League 3 was rebranded Rugby League Conference National Division and plans for promotion and relegation were scrapped.

In 2009, the National Leagues were renamed the Co-operative Championship and Championship 1. Automatic promotion and relegation between Super League and the Championship was replaced by a franchise system.

In 2013, it was announced that there was to be a review into the structure of the Rugby League system in Europe. Clubs, fans and sponsors were asked about their needs from the system. Three options were reviewed; one system using two leagues of 10, with the Super League and Championship having one Promotion and Relegation place between the two. The format of promotion was to be decided later. The second option was the same system, with Promotion and Relegation between the two, but with 12 teams in each division. The third option was most radical, and featured two leagues of 12, which would, after 11 games, split to three groups of 8. This would be mixed with a new funding structure. On 17 January 2014, it was announced the third option had been selected, but had been changed to split after 23 games, which would be a complete round-robin and an added fixture, the Magic Weekend. From 2015, this was decided to be the new structure. [1]

In Preparation for the new structure, it was decided across the two leagues, RFL Championship and Super League, there would be a season of realignment, in which five clubs would be relegated from the Championship, and one promoted to the Championship, and two teams would be relegated from the Super League to the Championship. This meant that the Super League, from 2015, would be made up of the 12 remaining teams from the Super League XIX season, and a Championship made up of the two relegated teams from the Super League, one team promoted from the 2014 Championship 1 and the nine remaining Championship teams. League One, which would be modelled on the Championship, would be made out of the five relegated Championship teams, 8 current Championship 1 teams, and Coventry Bears.

Reserve Leagues[edit]

The Rugby League Reserve Team Championship is a competition for the reserve teams of the British based Super League clubs. Having a reserve team is a compulsory part of the minimum criteria to hold a Super League license, but Catalans Dragons have dispensation to run their reserve team in the French Elite League for logistical reasons. The reserve championship has been replaced by an Under 20 competition.

The Rugby League Reserve Team First Division is a competition for the reserve teams of Co-Operative Championship clubs, although there is no longer an obligation for clubs in the Championship to enter a reserve team. This is now an Under 23 competition featuring just six sides in 2012.

Some of other teams in the professional ranks have run reserve teams in the Rugby League Conference or Gillette National Youth League.

Community leagues[edit]

Tier 4[edit]

The leading competition is the National Conference League which consists of four divisions (Premier Division, Division One, Division two and Division Three) of up to 14 teams each. There is promotion and relegation between each division – three up and three down. The bottom two teams from Division Two face re-election, but usually they are both re-elected as enough teams resign from the league to allow any new teams to enter. From 2012 they will be summer based.

Conference League South in 2013 was a separate league directly administered by the Rugby Football League with the same format as the defunct Rugby League Conference National Division [1] which from 2013 evolved into a separate Conference for teams in the South and Midlands.

Teams from regional leagues can apply for election to the Conference League if they meet minimum criteria. There is never automatic promotion or relegation from BARLA leagues into the National League structure

Tier 5 (Regional Leagues)[edit]

The now defunct Rugby League Conference was abolished and replaced with a series of regional leagues from 2012 with the inclusion of many clubs that formerly played in the winter. [2]

British Amateur Rugby League Association administer different amateur competitions which run throughout the winter in the heartlands.





Super League
(First Utility Super League)
12 clubs – 0-4 relegations


(Kingstone Press Championship)
12 clubs – 0-4 promotions, 2 relegations


League 1
(Kingstone Press League 1)
14 clubs – 3 promotions, 0 relegations


National Conference League
(Kingstone Press National Conference League)
40 clubs – 0 promotions, 2 relegations (over 4 divisions)

Conference League South

(Kingstone Press Conference League South)
6 clubs – 2 promotions, 1 relegations


(All divisions run in parallel)

See also[edit]


External links[edit]