United front as decision reached
5:15pm Friday 17th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Super League clubs put on a united front after giving the go-ahead for a radical overhaul of domestic rugby league.
The game was in danger of imploding after a failure to vote in restructuring plans put forward by the Rugby Football League led to months of uncertainty, with the new Super League season just three weeks away.
However, peace broke out on Friday when representatives of the 14 Super League clubs voted at a meeting in St Helens to cut the division to 12 at the end of the 2014 season, ratifying an earlier decision to scrap the much-maligned licensing system in favour of a return to automatic promotion and relegation.
The clubs also agreed to implement the convoluted RFL proposal to divide two divisions of 12 teams into three of eight two-thirds of the way through the 2015 season.
The top eight in Super League will play off as normal for a place in the Grand Final, with the bottom four joining the top four from the Championship to play each other for the right to compete in the top flight in 2016.
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who accused rebel clubs of "holding a gun to the head of the sport" after they walked out of a meeting in October to prevent a vote being taken, was naturally delighted with the unexpected development.
"Everybody is relieved and pleased that there has been a positive outcome and looking forward to starting the new season without all the uncertainty," Hetherington told Press Association Sport.
"Everybody now knows where we are going to be in the forthcoming season. It has still to be ratified by the RFL board of directors but there was a majority vote from the Super League clubs and there was unanimous support from the Championship clubs so it should be a rubber-stamping exercise."
Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan, who led October's walkout amid calls for a greater say by Super League clubs in the running of the game, was also pleased to see the deadlock broken.
"I think it's definitely progress." Lenagan told Sky Sports News. "Exchange of different views is only good for the game. I come out of the talks with a positive view."
The League say full details of the new structure will be announced later this month, with questions yet to be answered over finance and governance in particular.
The so-called rebels were angry over plans to increase the Championship clubs' allocation of funds from the Sky television deal and called for a greater say in the running of the game.
The 14 Super League clubs met to discuss the issue of governance on Tuesday but the meeting broke up without any agreement and they are set to reconvene later this month.
The RFL proposals already had the backing of the Championship clubs, even though under the new format four of them will be relegated to Championship One at the end of this season to create a 12-team division.
RFL chairman Brian Barwick, who is also chairman of Super League (Europe), said: "I would like to thank the clubs for their contribution to what was a very fruitful and positive meeting.
"The clubs were unanimous in their view that Super League should become a 12-team competition from 2015 and that there should be meaningful movement between Super League and the Championships.
"There was a full and frank debate about the competition structures and a commitment to support the proposed format.
"The Super League clubs' decision will now go before the RFL's independent board of directors for ratification next week."