RUGBY league clubs have given their broad backing to proposals by IMG to shake-up the game, with Keighley Cougars the sole dissenting voice among the 37 professional clubs.

The global sports media giant last month unveiled a string of measures designed to “re-imagine” the sport as part of its 12-year strategic partnership with the Rugby Football League.

Those recommendations were put to the vote at a meeting of the Rugby League Council yesterday and, according to the RFL, received “strong” support in principle.

Although there were some abstentions, IMG will draw encouragement from the decision of the vast majority to throw their weight behind them.

The main plank of the recommendations is a scrapping of automatic promotion and relegation between Super League and the Championship, with clubs given the chance to climb the ladder based on a new grading system.

Clubs would be categorised in three bands based on a series of as-yet undetermined on and off-field criteria, with teams in the A band guaranteed to earn their place within the competition’s top tier.

Those given category B status would fill the remaining places in a 12-team top flight but face an annual re-assessment in which they must prove themselves worthy of promotion to the safeguarded A standard or run the risk of being replaced.

The plans, which also include removing unpopular ‘loop’ fixtures and scrapping of the annual Magic Weekend to ensure a tighter domestic schedule that would create an opening for an international break, are due to come into force at the end of the 2024.

Meanwhile, Keighley will continue to oppose the plans, with managing director Kaue Garcia claiming they will damage the game in the long run.

A statement issued by chief executive Ryan O’Neill said: “Keighley Cougars take pride in promoting equality and fairness in all walks of life, both sporting and non-sporting.

“To give elite clubs immunity from relegation runs contrary to our values.

“To create a top division with elite clubs who can never face relegation is only in the self-interests of those involved.

“It is unfair, it is anti-competition and it isn’t sport.

“The Cougars are currently standing alone against the proposals but we believe in our values and in the long-term interests of our sport.

“This vote was in favour of the equivalent of the failed European Super League in football.

“This was rejected at the highest level, with the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson committing to legislate against it, citing a cartel and it being ‘against the basic principles of competition’.

“Keighley Cougars are committed to equality for all. Now we fight for the equality and fairness for our sport.”

Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley and Ilkley, added: "I stand unequivocally with the Keighley Cougars position on this issue and I admire the strong stance they have taken today.

"Especially with being the only club to vote against the IMG’s completely unfair proposals.

"The Rugby Football League and IMG should not be an elitist venture where clubs can pay-in to win, with immunity from relegation.

"It’s not fair, and it’s not sport.

"I will do all I can in Parliament to support our Keighley Cougars in their efforts to reverse these ridiculous plans.

"In favour of fair values and in the long term interests of a sport we all love."