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Bradford Bulls coach Francis Cummins disapproves of RFL revamp
A media briefing was held at the RFL’s headquarters in Leeds on Monday – tea and biscuits with Nigel Wood and Ralph Rimmer.
Over a dozen journalists packed into a room at Red Hall to hear the governing body present the case for a radical restructure of the domestic game.
Wood and Rimmer spent the best part of 90 minutes fielding a myriad of questions. At the end of it though, there was still plenty of head-scratching, quizzical looks and furrowed brows among the assembled media.
“Convoluted is the word I’ve heard most often to describe it,” said Wood of the new structure.
Francis Cummins was rather more forthcoming a couple of hours later at the Bulls’ pre-season media day.
The head coach declared: “I think it’s rubbish, personally. My concern is we’ll take our focus off promoting young players because teams will be worried about relegation.
“Teams could take money out of their academy and put it into signing a player, hoping they won’t get relegated.
“I just don’t think it’s thought through. It needs to be worked towards but there has to be criteria because we haven’t got the clubs to do it.
“There are no teams from underneath who could come up and be mid-table. I think it’s more of an idea for the television companies than the sport as a whole.”
It was clear from Monday’s briefing that there are still plenty of aspects of the new structure to be ironed out.
But few would deny that a return to promotion and relegation will generate increased interest in the game, particularly towards the business end of the campaign.
Who could forget the derby between Wakefield and Castleford on the last day of the 2006 season which determined the relegation spot?
The basic premise of the new structure is that two teams will be relegated from Super League at the end of the 2014 campaign.
Next year the top two divisions of the professional game will split into three of eight teams after 23 rounds to produce a series of crucial play-off matches to determine the make-up of Super League for 2016.
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 quartet of 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.
Wood revealed he had spoken to Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster about the controversial model.
It was never taken up in Scottish football but the model was used for 15 years in Switzerland, between 1988 and 2003.
Rimmer said the RFL had consulted wide and far, using one of the largest professional services companies in the world in KPMG, before putting forward the restructure proposals in the Policy Review.
Critics have labelled the plan too complicated but the RFL hope it will lead to closer matches and more meaningful games.
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,” he 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 much criticised 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,” he said.
The Bulls have said this coming season is all about “survival mode”, which basically means staying afloat off the pitch and avoiding relegation on it.
Cummins said: “Finishing third-bottom is certainly not a good goal for me. That’s not what I’m aiming for.”
If Cummins’ small squad can avoid a significant number of injuries at any one time, they can surely set their sights higher than a 12th-placed finish.
That much was evident during last weekend’s opening friendly win over Hull FC.
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