Super League play-offs

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Since 1998, a play-off system has been used to determine the Super League champions. The format has changed over the years, starting with a play-off involving first five, then six teams and currently eight. The play-off series culminates in the Super League Grand Final.

Use of a play-off system to decide the Championship brought back a rugby league tradition that had previously fallen out of use. The Super League Premiership, which had previously taken place between the highest placed teams in the competition, was discontinued after the introduction of the Super League play-off series. This was because its purpose had been to take the place of the previous Championship-deciding play-off system.

Current Play-Off System[edit]

For the Super League XIV season in 2009, a top eight play-off system was introduced to replace the previous top six system.[1] This change coincided with an expansion of the competition from twelve to fourteen teams following the introduction of Super League licensing. The format was introduced following consultation and discussion with all 14 member clubs in Super League. The series lasts four weeks, culminating in the Grand Final[1] at Old Trafford during October.

The new and unique eight team structure was developed by the RFL and, in their words, "is not a direct copy of other eight team formats operating in other sporting competitions".[1] The most significant feature of this system is that the highest ranked team from the regular season table winning a match in the first week of the play-offs will be able to select their opponents for their next game in Week Three.[1][2][3] This selection opportunity is known as "Club Call" and is only possible for teams finishing in the top three during the regular season to achieve.[3]

At the time, the RFL’s Chief Executive Nigel Wood stated that he believed the changes show Rugby League as "innovative and progressive" and added that the "new feature will also create more opportunities for broadcasters and the media to generate exciting coverage".[1] Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive Gary Hetherington praised the changes as reminiscent of the sport's innovation since 1895, noting that the new system rewards those teams that finish higher in the table.[1] Huddersfield Giants Managing Director Richard Thewlis commented: "This is another ground breaking move from our sport which has our full backing. It is an innovative move that will bring high class, pressurised play-off Rugby League to more teams which can only help drive development of players and the competition."[1]

The current First Utility Super League Play-Off structure:[1][2]

  • Week 1
Four matches will take place on Week One, effectively in two pools: the Qualifying Play-Offs and the Elimination Play-Offs.
  • Week 1: Qualifying Play-Offs
These matches involve the teams who finish in the top four.
They are:
  • 1st v 4th
  • 2nd v 3rd
The winners of these two games will progress directly to Week 3. The highest ranked winning club will have Club Call, whereby they choose their opponents in Week 3.
The losers of these two matches will have another chance in Week 2 when they will be at home to the winners of the Week 1 Elimination Play-Offs.
  • Week 1: Elimination Play-Offs
These matches involve the teams who finish from fourth-eighth.
They are:
  • 5th v 8th
  • 6th v 7th
The winners of both matches will progress to Week 2, losers are eliminated.
  • Week 2: Preliminary Semi-Finals
There are two matches in Week 2; the winner of each match progresses to Week 3 and the loser is eliminated.
  • The first Preliminary Semi-Final features the highest ranked Qualifying Play-Off loser (from Week 1) v the lowest ranked Elimination Play-Off Winner (also from Week 1).
  • The second Preliminary Semi-Final features the lowest ranked Qualifying Play-Off loser (from Week 1) v the highest ranked Elimination Play-Off Winner (also from Week 1).
  • Week 3
Week 3 also features two matches; the winner of each match progresses to the Grand Final and the loser is eliminated.
  • Week 3: Club Call
Club Call will take place following the second weekend of the play-offs and will be hosted by the highest ranked winning club from Week 1.
The host club will select who they play in Week 3 and can only select from the winners of the two Preliminary Semi-finals (Week 2) – they cannot choose the other Qualifying Play-offs winner.
The highest ranked club from the Qualifying Play-offs (Week one) must choose their opponents – they cannot cede the responsibility to the other Qualifying Play-offs winner.
The team with Club Call and the other Qualifying Play-off winners from Week 1 are guaranteed home advantage in Week 3. For example, should the teams that ended the regular season in 1st and 2nd place lose their opening play-off match, they could still find themselves playing away to the 3rd or 4th placed teams in Week 3.
  • Week 3: Qualifying Semi-Finals
  • The first Qualifying Semi-Final features the highest ranked Qualifying Play-Off winner(from Week 1) v the team selected through Club Call.
  • The second Qualifying Semi-Final features the lowest ranked Qualifying Play-Off winner(from Week 1) v the team not selected through Club Call.
  • Week 4: Grand Final
The two winning teams from week 3 contest the Grand Final to determine the First Utility Super League champions.
Super League 8 team play-off bracket
  Qualifying / Elimination play-offs Preliminary semi-finals Qualifying semi-finals Super League Grand Final
                                         
  QPO1:    
1       
4          PSF1:    
                    
EPO1:                    QSF1:  
5                      
8                         GF:  
            
  EPO2:       QSF2:           
6                    
7          PSF2:               
              
QPO2:                 
2         
3         
   
Key:          Losing team progressing      Winning team progressing      Winning team's progression chosen

Week 1. Qualifying/Elimination play-offs: Fixtures decided by regular reason finishing positions. Higher ranked teams play lower ranked teams. Higher ranked teams receive home ground advantage.
Week 2. Preliminary semi-finals: Fixtures decided by regular season finishing positions. Higher ranked teams play lower ranked teams. Higher ranked teams receive home ground advantage.
Week 3. Qualifying semi-finals: Winners of Qualifying play-offs play winners of Qualifying semi-finals. Fixtures decided by Club Call. Winners of Qualifying play-offs receive home ground advantage.

FAQ's:

  • Can any team have Club Call?
No. The highest ranked winning club from Week 1 will have Club Call, whereby they choose their opponents in Week 3. Only a team that ended the regular season in 1st, 2nd or 3rd can win Club Call.
  • Will the teams who finished 1st or 2nd at the end of the regular season be guaranteed home advantage in Week 3 should they progress?
No. The two highest rank teams after Week 1 (the team with Club Call and the other Qualifying Play-off winners) are guaranteed home advantage in Week 3. For example, should the teams that ended the regular season in 1st and 2nd place lose their opening play-off match, they could still find themselves playing away to the 3rd or 4th placed teams in Week 3.
  • Does the Club Call team have to choose their opponents or can they relinquish the responsibility to the other Qualifying Play-offs winner?
The highest ranked club from the Qualifying Play-offs (Week 1) must choose their opponents – they cannot relinquish the responsibility to the other Qualifying Play-offs winner. In addition, they can only select from the winners of the two Preliminary Semi-finals (Week 2) – they cannot choose the other Qualifying Play-offs winner.

Previous Play-Off Systems[edit]

1998-2001: Top Five[edit]

From Super League III in 1998 until Super League VI in 2001, a play-off series involving the top five teams was used to determine the Super League champions. Excluding the Grand Final, all matches were staged at the home ground of the team placed higher in the final league table.

The same system was used in the NSWRL's Sydney Competition 1973-1994, the Australian Super League in its only season 1997, the VFL, 1972–1990 and New Zealand's Lion Red Cup, 1994–1996, and Bartercard Cup, 2000-2006.

From week two on the Top five play-offs system reflected exactly the Page playoff system.

The Top Five Super League Play-Off Structure:

Week One

  • Qualification Final: 2nd vs 3rd
  • Elimination Final: 4th vs 5th
  • Bye: 1st

Week Two

  • Major Semi Final: 1st vs Winners of Qualification Final
  • Minor Semi Final: Losers of Qualification Final vs Winners of Elimination Final

Week Three

  • Preliminary Final: Losers of Major Semi Final vs Winners of Minor Semi Final
  • Bye: Winners of Major Semi Final

Week Four

  • Grand Final: Winners of Major Semi Final vs Winners of Preliminary Final

2002-2008: Top Six[edit]

From Super League VII in 2002 until Super League XIII in 2008, a play-off series involving the top six teams was used to determine the winners the Super League champions. Excluding the Grand Finall, all matches were staged at the home ground of the team that finished higher in the final league table.

A similar system was used by the Australian National Soccer League and is now used by the A-League to decide its champions. From Week Two onwards, the Top Six play-offs system reflects exactly the Page playoff system.

The Top Six Super League Play-Off Structure:

Week One

  • Elimination Semi-final A: 3rd vs 6th
  • Elimination Semi-final B: 4th vs 5th

Week Two

  • Qualification Match: 1st vs 2nd
  • Elimination Final: Winners of Elimination Semi-final A vs Winners of Elimination Semi-final B

Week Three

  • Final Qualifier: Losers of Qualification Match vs Winners of Elimination Final

Week Four

  • Grand Final: Winners of Qualification Match vs Winners of Final Qualifier

Future Play-Off System[edit]

From Super League XX in 2015, the play-off format will be changed due to the implementation of an innovative new league structure:

The 12 First Utility Super League and 12 Kingstone Press Championship clubs will play each other home and away over 22 rounds, including a Magic Weekend for both divisions. Following the conclusion of their regular league seasons, the 24 clubs will then compete in a play-off series where they split into 3 leagues of 8 based upon league position:[4][5]
  • The top 8 Super League clubs will compete in the Super League Play-Offs. After playing each other once (either home or away), the top 4 clubs will progress to the semi-finals to determine who will compete in the Grand Final and be crowned champions.
  • The remaining (bottom 4) Super League clubs and the top 4 Championship clubs will compete in the Super League Qualifying Play-Offs. They will play each other once (either home or away) to determine which four of the clubs will compete in Super League the following year.
  • The remaining (bottom 8) Championship clubs will compete for the Championship Shield and to avoid relegation to Kingstone Press Championship 1. Two clubs will be relegated each year.

References[edit]