THE Rugby Football League are again in a position where they have to re-consider how to present their end of season showpiece as the latest scheme has unravelled in front of their eyes.
After an opening weekend of the Super League play-offs where all the four home teams recorded their lowest attendances for the season, the following series of elimination play-offs failed to produce much better through the gates.
The RFL’s efforts to make the Super League season more meaningful for longer for more teams seem to have achieved little more than taking us back in time – without meaning to!
When I started watching the 13-a-side code winning the Challenge Cup was the big prize, winning the league proved you were the best team in the country and the Premiership – as the play-offs were then called – was an end of season bonus for the four top teams.
However, with the introduction of ‘summer’ rugby league and the Super League we had to change to Australian thinking where a play-off series mattered more than the achievements of an entire season.
I am not too sure that many RL fans have bought into that concept – and for many the play-offs still remain an after thought a decade and a half later.
We have just concluded Super League XIV with Leeds top of the ladder but they have been handed a ‘minor’ trophy for being best in a 27-game marathon, while we are now indulging the lottery of an eight team play-off.
First draw back with the eight team play-off introduced this season is that the programme risked the initial qualifying games amongst the top four being repeated again in the semi-finals – had things gone to form.
While they haven’t, the RL supporting public have still stayed away in their droves.
Second draw back is that Catalans Dragons have hit the ground running once getting into the top eight.
Nothing against the French team because they have earned their place and came up with wins at Wakefield Trinity and Huddersfield Giants that have put them in the last four.
However, their involvement as an away team in the play-offs has done nothing to help the attendance problem – let’s face it you can count their travelling support on the digits nature gave you and maybe not even take your socks off.
Third drawback is the Dragons are now just 80 minutes away from playing in the ‘major’ final of the season – having finished eighth in the league!!!
So now you can be the best team in the competition and win the biggest prize and finish below halfway?
But the weirdest thing is that the RFL have been trying to copy the Aussies for the best part of 15 years now and have still not got it right.
As our clubs fail to pull the punters through the turnstiles the NRL play-offs are big box office – even before the elimination semi-final stage.
In Melbourne, hardly the heartbeat of RL down under, nearly 28,000 turned out for the Storm’s win over Brisbane Broncos.
More predictably in Sydney 74,549 watched the Bulldogs (or Canterbury Bankstown as I prefer to call them) lost 22-12 to Parramatta Eels.
If 75,000 turn out for our Grand Final at Old Trafford in eight days time for the ‘event of the season’ we will all be pleased – seems we still haven’t quite ripped the Aussie blueprint off properly yet by the tune of a few tens of thousands, but there’s still time.