The prize-money for the new season of #Super League #Rugby league is set to be revamped for 2015, to ensure that the side that finish top of the table during the regular season are more generously rewarded for their efforts. The decision seems to have been made in response to the wishes of the clubs themselves, such that the table-toppers will now receive £100,000, which still puts them way behind the English Premier League in football and the millions of pounds that they can command.
In confirmation of the decision, the League's general manager Blake Solly stated that: "The clubs wanted to make sure it meant more than in the past. They felt good form over a 30-week season deserves to be recognised." Last season's table-toppers were St Helens who pocketed £50,000 in addition to the league leader's shield, before going on to also claim the Grand Final crown in the Old Trafford showpiece event.
The revamp will be welcomed by those within the sport who have sensed that the prestige associated with winning the shield has been diminished, as the Grand Final has become far more important as a goal for the season in recent years. As such, it has become commonplace for teams that were well down the 'pecking order' in terms of league position, to rally themselves during the play-offs and take the Grand Final title itself, as occurred in 2011 and 2012.
Further changes being brought in should ensure that there is no opportunity for teams to coast into the play-offs once their title aspirations have gone. Teams will no longer be able to win the overall title from fifth place as could occur previously under the new structure coming in. Both the Super League and the (second-tier) Championship will be split into three groups of eight when the regular season ends in July. Only the top four teams will then play off for the opportunity of making the Grand Final.
The new Super League season begins this Thursday, when the losing finalists from last season, the Wigan Warriors visit the Widnes Vikings. Wigan will be without their prop Ben Flower, who is due to miss the first ten league games of the new season, after his rush of blood to the head in the Grand Final resulted in a six-month ban. He was sent off and attracted severe criticism afterwards, for punching Lance Hohaia during the early skirmishes in the match. Saints begin their campaign with a home game against the Catalan Dragons the following day.
With many teams having brought in fresh blood into their squads in the close season, it promises to be a wide-open season and it will be interesting to see which teams rise to the top of the pile.