Number of teams
England (11 teams) France (1 team)
Wigan Warriors (4th title) (2016)
Leeds Rhinos (7 titles)
Super League XXII, Super League XXI, Super League XIX, Super League XX, Super League XVIII
Super League (known officially as the Betfred Super League due to sponsorship by Betfred) is the top-level professional rugby league club competition in Europe. The league has twelve teams: eleven from England and one from France. Canadian and Welsh clubs that also compete in the Rugby Football League can also qualify. Commonally known in the UK as the Super League it is referred to internationally as the European Super League (ESL). The current champions are Wigan Warriors.
- 19962001 Establishment
- 20022008 Promotion and relegation
- 20092014 Licensing
- 2015Present Super 8s
- World Club Series
- Regular Super League season
- Magic Weekend
- Challenge Cup
- Super 8s
- Play offs
- Current clubs
- Former Super League Clubs
- Non English Teams
- All Time Super League table
- Reserve League
- Dual registration
- Under 19s
- The Double
- The Treble
- All Four Cups
- League Leaders Shield
- Super League Trophy
- Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award
- Albert Goldthorpe Medal
- Super League Dream Team
- Head Coaches with Super League titles
- Winning captains
- Club trained players
- Salary cap
- Squad announcement system
- Match officials
- Big Four Dominance
- M62 Corridor
Super League began in 1996, replacing the RFL Championship and switching from a winter to a summer season. Each team plays 23 games between February and July: 11 home games, 11 away games and a Magic Weekend game at a neutral venue. After 23 games, teams enter a Super 8 stage, the top eight play each other once more. The top four then enter the play-off series leading to the Grand Final (formerly Championship Final) which determines the champions. The bottom four teams go on to play the top four Championship teams in The Qualifiers to determine who will play in Super League the following season.
Leeds Rhinos are the most successful club in the Super League era, having won 7 titles. However, Wigan Warriors are the most successful club overall, having won 21 British Championships.
The Super League champions play the National Rugby League champions from Australasia in the World Club Challenge at the start of the season.
A "super league" competition was first mooted during the Australian Super League war as a way for Rupert Murdoch to gain the upper hand during the battle for broadcasting supremacy with the Australian Rugby League. Murdoch also approached the British clubs to form Super League. A large sum of money aided the decision, and the competition got under way in 1996. Part of the deal saw rugby league switch from a winter to a summer season. The 12 founding teams of Super League were:
Initially, several mergers between existing clubs were proposed:
They were to be included with the following stand-alone clubs: Bradford Northern, Halifax, Leeds, London Broncos, Paris Saint-Germain, St. Helens and Wigan.
However this proved so unpopular that only existing clubs were selected for the competition. The clubs finishing below 10th in the existing top flight were excluded, which meant Featherstone Rovers, Hull, Wakefield Trinity and Widnes were left out, as were pioneering club Keighley who had just won the Second Division Championship. London Broncos, who had come fourth in the Second Division, were "fast-tracked" in on commercial grounds. A new team, Paris Saint-Germain, was created to give a French dimension. Between 1998 and 2000 there was no relegation from Super League.
2002–2008: Promotion and relegation
After two years Paris were dropped from the competition. Promotion and relegation between Super League and the Rugby League National Leagues was re-introduced, and in 2002 the Super League Europe (SLE) governing body re-integrated fully into the Rugby Football League (RFL). In 2006, French side Catalans Dragons (also known as UTC or Les Catalans) from Perpignan joined the league, becoming the second non-English team to compete. To facilitate this move, two clubs were relegated from Super League at the end of the 2005 season: Leigh who finished bottom of the league were replaced by the one club coming up from the National Leagues and Widnes who finished 11th (and would have stayed up any other year) were dropped for Les Catalans, thus the number of clubs in Super League remained at 12.
Super League licences were announced in May 2005 by the RFL as the new determinant of the Super League competition's participants from 2009 in place of promotion and relegation. The licences were awarded after consideration of more factors than just the on-the-field performance of a club. After 2007 automatic promotion and relegation was suspended for Super League with new teams to be admitted on a licence basis with the term of the licence to start in 2009.
The RFL stated that clubs applying to compete in Super League would be assessed by criteria in four areas (stadium facilities, finance and business performance, commercial and marketing and playing strength, including junior production and development) with the final evaluations and decisions being taken by the RFL board of directors.
Successful applicants were licensed for three years of Super League competition and three-yearly reviews of Super League membership took place to ensure ambitious clubs lower down the leagues can still be successful.
Points attained by each club's application are translated into licence grades A, B or C. Clubs who achieved an A or B Licence would be automatically awarded a place in Super League, while those who achieved a C Licence underwent further scrutiny before the RFL decided who made the final cut.
First licensing period
In June 2008, the RFL confirmed that Super League would be expanded from 12 teams to 14 in 2009, and on 22 July 2008 the RFL confirmed the teams awarded licences. The teams announced were the 12 existing Super League teams along with National League 1 teams, Celtic Crusaders and Salford. Celtic Crusaders becoming the first Welsh team to play in Super League and the only team to be awarded a licence who had never played in the Super League previously.
Featherstone Rovers, Halifax, Leigh and Widnes all failed to attain a licence. Leigh and Widnes, especially, were disappointed with their exclusions with Leigh's chairman being extremely critical of the RFL.
Second licensing period
For the 2012–14 seasons Championship sides Batley, Barrow, Featherstone Rovers, Halifax and Widnes all met the on-field criteria needed to submit an application, but despite this only Barrow, Halifax and Widnes decided to submit an application. On 31 March 2011 Widnes were awarded a Super League licence; Barrow, did not meet the criteria and were refused a licence; and Halifax's application was to be further considered alongside the other Super League clubs.
The Rugby Football League's final decision was announced on 26 July 2011, Widnes would be joining thirteen existing Super League teams with Crusaders RL having withdrawn their application and Halifax not meeting the criteria. Crusaders CEO Rod Findlay stated that the club's finances were not in a good enough condition to justify their place in Super League. Halifax chairman Mark Steele was critical of the decision to award Wakefield a licence over themselves, saying "If you compare Belle Vue with the Shay, it's no contest; if you compare playing records, it's no contest; and if you compare the financial position, we have kept our head above water and they haven't." Wakefield had been favourites to lose their licence before Crusaders' withdrawal.
2015–Present: Super 8s
At the 2013 Annual General Meeting at Bradford, the Super League clubs agreed to reduce the number of clubs to 12 from 2015, and also for a return of Promotion and Relegation with a 12 club Championship.
The 12 First Utility Super League and 12 Kingstone Press Championship clubs will play each other home and away over 22 "rounds", including a Magic Weekend for both divisions. Following the conclusion of their regular league seasons, the 24 clubs will then compete in a play-off series where they split into 3 leagues of 8 based upon league position:
Funding for clubs will be tiered in both leagues to prevent relegation related financial difficulties.
In June 2015 8 of the 12 Super League clubs voted to allow a Marquee Player that can exceed a clubs salary cap as long as they can afford their wages. The marquee player rule comes into force for the 2016 Super League season.
World Club Series
The World Club Series consists of three games, the first two being a series between 2 NRL teams and the Super League League Leaders and Challenge Cup winners. The third game is the World Club Challenge between the NRL and Super League Champions.
Regular Super League season
12 teams compete in Super League. They play each other twice on a home-and-away basis, interrupted by the Magic Weekend round in May. The team finishing bottom after 23 rounds collects the Super League Wooden Spoon. After the 23 rounds, the top eight teams carry their points forward and play each other once (home or away) in the Super Eights. A play-off series is used to determine the two teams who will meet in the Super League Grand Final to compete for the championship.
In an attempt to expand out of the traditional rugby league "heartlands", and market the game to a wider audience, the RFL has staged games in large stadia, in places without a strong rugby league presence. The "Magic Weekend" concept, which involves staging an entire round of Super League in such a stadium, was first staged in Cardiff in 2007. Dubbed "Millennium Magic", and played in the Millennium Stadium, the concept was held in Cardiff again in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, the event was held in Edinburgh at the Scottish national rugby union stadium, giving rise to the name changing to "Murrayfield Magic". Generally held during the May Day weekend, 2011 saw the Magic Weekend return to Cardiff, and was held during the weekend 12–13 February, and serving as the season opener. It has since returned to its traditional mid-season slot and is currently held at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
The Challenge Cup domestic cup in Super League and all levels of rugby league in Britain. It is usually played on the August bank holiday. It has been held annually since 1896 and has been expanded so teams in Russia, France, Scotland and Wales can take part.
The top 8 sees the top eight teams in Super League play each other once more home or away with the points they earn in the regular season being carried forward. The further up the table a team finishes, the more home games they will play. Once the teams have played each other once home or away the top team is awarded the League Leaders Shield and the top four teams enter the play offs to play in the Grand Final.
The Qualifiers Super 8s sees the bottom 4 teams from the original Super League table mixed with the top 4 teams from the Championship. The points totals are reset to 0 and each team plays 7 games each, playing every other team once. After 7 games each the teams finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd will gain qualification to the next years Super League season. Teams finishing 4th and 5th will play in a Promotion Play-off, dubbed the "Million Pound Game" at the home of the 4th place team. This one game fixture will see the winner earn a place in the next year Super League season, whilst the loser, along with teams finishing 6th, 7th and 8th will be relegated to the next years Championship competition.
From 2015 the play-offs have been contested by the four sides finishing highest in the league after the Super Eights. The structure is designed to reward the teams finishing nearer the top and the most consistent teams. The Grand Final is played at Old Trafford.
The current Super League Play-off structure:
a: Founding member of the Super League
b: Appeared in every Super League season since 1996
c: One of the original 22 RFL teams
Former Super League Clubs
In 1996 Paris Saint-Germain were chosen to compete in the first season of the newly formed Super League, making them the first team outside England to compete in the top flight of English rugby league. They played in the first ever Super League game against Sheffield Eagles in Paris, winning 30–24 in front of a crowd of over 17,000. After a poor debut season French clubs refused to loan players to PSG, which resulted in bringing Australians over from the NRL which turned out to be very costly as attendances plummeted and the cost of travelling to England became too much. PSG were dissolved in 1997 after two seasons in Super League
In 2005 the new franchise was awarded to Catalans Dragons to play in the 2006 Super League. To help make sure the franchise did not fail as the PSG franchise did, the RFL allowed the Dragons to sign players from other French teams for no transfer fee. They were also promised to be exempted from relegation for three years. In their first season they finished bottom of the league but Castleford Tigers were the team relegated. Over the next few years they continually improved and in 2007 they became the first French team to reach a Challenge Cup Final.
Celtic Crusaders became the first Welsh team to play in Super League in 2009 after they were promoted via licence but finished bottom of the league. The next season they reach the playoffs for the first time in their second season but failed to beat Huddersfield in the first round. In 2011 they were deducted 6 points for entering administration and finished bottom of the league for a second time. They initially applied for a licence in 2011 but pulled out. They were turned down when they requested to play in the Championship and folded in 2012. The club was replaced by North Wales Crusaders in 2012 who entered League 1.
All Time Super League table
In 2014 and 2015 Super League clubs were unhappy with the Dual registration system and wanted to form a Under 23 reserve leagues between the Under 19s and 1st team. Wigan, Warrington and St Helens were the first teams to propose the return of the reserve league where players could move from the under 19s and play with professional players before playing in the 1st team. A reserve league was set up in 2016 with a mixture of Super League, Championship and League 1 teams.
Dual registration refers to an arrangement between clubs whereby a player continues to be registered to his current Super League club and is also registered to play for a club in the Championship. The system is aimed at young Super League players who are thought to be not quite ready to make the step up to 'week in, week out' Super League first team duties but for whom first team match experience is likely to be beneficial for their development.
In 2017 the following teams will run in each of the Senior Academy divisions: Super League Academy – U19s:
ChampionsSee Rugby Football League Championship for the all-time list of champions since 1895.
The league format changed in 1998 and the championship became a play-off series to determine the Super League champions. This meant a reintroduction of a final to determine the European champions, the first since the 1972–73 season.
In rugby league, the term 'the Double' is referring to the achievement of a club that wins the top division and Challenge Cup in the same season. To date, this has been achieved by a total ten different clubs but by only four different clubs during the Super League era.
The Treble refers to the team who wins all three domestic honours on offer during the season; Grand Final, League Leaders Shield and Challenge Cup. To date seven teams have won the treble, only Bradford Bulls, St. Helens and Leeds Rhinos have won the treble in the Super League era.
All Four Cups
Winning all Four Cups refers to winning the Super League, League Leaders Shield, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge in one season. Not all of these cups were available in the past but have replaced over cups that could be won.
League Leader's Shield
The League Leader's Shield is awarded to the team finishing the regular season top of Super League; this is also known as a minor premiership. The League Leader's Shield was introduced only in 2003, previously no prize was awarded to the team finishing top following the introduction of the Grand Final.
Super League Trophy
The winner of the Grand Final is given the Super League Trophy as Super League Champions. This is considered more prestigious than the minor premiership. Each year, the year of a champion team's triumph, team name and team captain are engraved.
The record for most Super League titles won is held by Leeds with seven titles. Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield currently holds the record for captaining the most Super League title winning sides after captaining Leeds to all 7 of their grand final successes. St. Helens contested the final 6 years in a row (from 2006 until 2011) during which time they succeeded only once in lifting the trophy against Hull F.C. in 2006; after which they suffered consecutive defeats against Leeds in 2007, 2008, 2009, Wigan in 2010 and Leeds once again in 2011. However, St. Helens made a victorious return in 2014, defeating rivals, Wigan 14–6.
Following their 2014 and 2015 defeats to St. Helens and Leeds respectively, Wigan have now equalled St Helens's record of losing five Grand Finals.
Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award
The Man of Steel Award is an annual award for the best player of the season in Super League. It has continued from pre-Super League times, with the first such award given in 1977. It was renamed in honour of Steve Prescott in 2014.
Albert Goldthorpe Medal
The Albert Goldthorpe Medal is an award voted for be members of the press who cast a vote after every game of the regular season. The three players who, in the opinion of the reporter, have been the three 'best and fairest' players in the game will receive three points, two points and one point respectively. To be eligible for a vote, a player must not have been suspended from the competition at any stage during the season.
Super League Dream Team
Each season a "Dream Team" is also named. The best thirteen players in their respective positions are voted for by members of the sports press.
Head Coaches with Super League titles
The Super League has been won by 12 different coaches, 8 from Australia, 3 from England and 1 from New Zealand.
9 players have captained teams to win the Super League.
The Super League has had two official logos. The first was used for the inaugural season in 1996 and until 2016. The logo had the Super League S with Super above it and League below it. The title sponsors name would appear above the logo until 2014 when title sponsors First Utility used their own personalised logos that appeared on player shirts and in the media. The reigning champions had a ribbon around the logo with champions on it until 2011.
The second official logo was introduced in 2017 as part of a radical rebrand across British rugby league. The design was similar to the RFL and England logos. It had a rectangular backdrop representing the George Hotel, where rugby league was founded, thirteen lines representing thirteen players, a chevron which are well known for appearing on rugby league shirts and the S which represents the ball and the Super League. The current champions have a gold logo.
Super League has been sponsored since its formation, apart from the 2013 season.
The title sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. There have been seven different title sponsors since the league's formation:
As well as title sponsorship, Super League has a number of official partners and suppliers. For the 2017 season these include Kingstone Press Cider, Dacia, Foxy Bingo, Batchelors and Specsavers. The official ball supplier is Rhino Rugby.
Club trained players
The 'club trained player' rule stipulates that each club must have a minimum number of players who are aged under 21 years or are graduates from their own academy system in their 25-man first team squad. Clubs are also required to have a minimum number of UK-trained players (or in the case of the Catalans Dragons, France-trained players) in their squads, and also are limited to a maximum number of "overseas" trained players.
The table below shows how the figures for the ruling from 2008 to 2011.
The Super League operates under a real-time salary cap system that will calculate a club's salary cap position at the start of and throughout the season:
Squad announcement system
Before each Super League and Tetley's Challenge Cup fixture, each club must announce the squad of 19 players it will choose from by 2.00pm on the second day before the match day.
All Super League matches are governed by the laws set out by the RFL; these laws are enforced by match officials. Former Super League and International Referee Steve Ganson is the current Acting Head of the Match Officials Department and Technical Director. Former Hull F.C. player and Huddersfield Head Coach Jon Sharp was the previous Head of the Match Officials Department of the RFL. Sharp was sacked in July 2015 and took up the role of Head Coach at Featherstone Rovers. He assumed his role at the RFL following Stuart Cummings' departure in March 2013 having previously held the role of Match Officials Coach & Technical Director.
Big Four Dominance
Since its formation in 1996 only four teams have won the Super League (Leeds Rhinos, Bradford Bulls, Wigan Warriors and St. Helens) and a total of six have taken part in the Grand Final (Hull F.C. and Warrington Wolves being the other two). Six different teams have also been the league leaders, however only one of these (Huddersfield Giants) is a different team to those that have appeared in the grand final, meaning that only seven different teams have been involved in the grand final or topped the regular season table, however a total of 23 teams have taken part in Super League since its inception.
In comparison, in the same 20-year period, 10 different teams have won the Australasian National Rugby League competition and 13 different teams have appeared in the Grand Final.
Between 2009 and 2014 teams had to apply for a license to play in Super League, this also meant there was no automatic promotion between Super League and the Championship. This was unpopular with Championship clubs because there was no fair and easy way for them to get promoted into Super League and it was seen as a closed shop.
Attendances in the lower divisions dropped as a result of this system because it was felt that there was little appeal in these leagues when there was no incentive for the clubs to win the Championship. Also the only time that lower division clubs got the chance to play Super League opposition was in the early rounds of the challenge cup. With no route to the Super League however, teams were unable to compete with top division opposition because there was no way that clubs could attract top talent when players would not be playing in top-level rugby league.
Another Criticism of the Super League is that most of the teams that have competed in it have been in its heartlands of the M62 Corridor between Yorkshire and Lancashire. Catalans Dragons are the only team currently playing in Super League who are outside its traditional headland in the North of England and are considered a success compared to teams such as London Broncos and Celtic Crusaders.
Expansion was a key policy of the RFL when Super League was created. Along with the above-mentioned teams, Paris Saint-Germain RL competed from the beginning of the competition but departed after just two seasons due to a lack of interest and investment. Another team to fail from outside the heartlands was Gateshead Thunder who competed in the first season of Super League. After that first season they found themselves with debts of £700,000 and so accepted a grant of £1,250,000 to merge with Hull F.C..
Expansion has taken place in the lower divisions and this is a continuing policy of the RFL. At present nine expansion clubs take part in the lower divisions with 1 in the Championship and 8 in the Championship 1. In 2015, it was announced that Toulouse Olympique had been granted entry into League 1, the third division of European rugby league; the team has previously competed in the Championship. This brought the total number of expansion teams across the top 3 divisions to 10 (out of 39 clubs). In 2016 it was announced that a team based in Toronto, Canada had also been granted access to League 1. Toronto Wolfpack will begin play in the 2017 season and will take the number of expansion clubs to 11 (out of 40 clubs). This also means that teams taking part in the top 3 divisions will come from 4 countries and 2 continents.
Sky Sports have been the primary broadcast partner of Super League since its inaugural season in 1996. The current deal lasts until 2021 and covers 80 matches per season, rising to 100 from 2015. They currently have the rights to show live Super League games in both Ireland and the United Kingdom; two live matches are broadcast each week – one on Thursday nights at 7:30pm (kick off 8pm) and another at 7:30pm on Friday nights (kick off 8pm). From 2014, they also simulcast all of Catalans Dragons' home games and from 2015, will broadcast regular Kingstone Press Championship matches.
Detailed Sky coverage
In addition to Sky Sports' live coverage, BBC Sport broadcast a weekly highlights programme called the Super League Show, usually presented by Tanya Arnold. This is broadcast to the North West, Yorkshire & North Midlands, North East & Cumbria, and East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire regions on BBC 1 on Monday nights (after 11pm) and is repeated nationally on BBC 2 on Tuesday afternoons. A national repeat was first broadcast overnight during the week since February 2008 when the then BBC Director of Sport, Roger Mosey, commented that this move was in response to the growing popularity and awareness of the sport, and the large number of requests from people who want to watch it elsewhere in the UK. The end of season play-off series is shown nationwide in a highlights package. The Super League Show is also available for streaming or download using the BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Regular commentators are Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson with summarisers including Phil Clarke, Brian Carney, Barrie McDermott and Terry O'Connor. Live Super League broadcasts regularly rank amongst the top 10 most watched programmes in a week on Sky Sports with in excess of 250,000 viewers. Sky Sports also run several supplementary magazine shows, including Super League Full Time and Boots N' All.
Premier Sports and Made in Leeds show a rugby league magazine program called Rugby AM hosted by Alex Simmons, Jamie Jones Buchanan and Keith Senior. It is aired on a Thursday night at 7 and is also repeated on Saturday. Rugby AM also has a radio show on All Star FM.
Internationally Super League is shown live by eight different broadcasters in eight different countries and regions.
Talksport is an official broadcaster of Super League, broadcasting commentaries and magazine programming on Talksport 2. BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra covers more than 70 Super League games through 5 Live Rugby League each Thursday and Friday night. Each 3 hour programme is presented by Dave Woods with a guest summariser (usually a Super League player or coach) and in addition to live commentary also includes interviews and debate. A 5 Live Rugby League podcast is available to download each week from the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtxd/episodes/downloads.
Super League is also covered extensively by BBC Local Radio:
The competition is also covered on commercial radio stations:
All Super League commentaries on any station are available via the particular stations on-line streaming.
ESPN3, formerly ESPN360, has had worldwide broadband rights since 2007 when they broadcast the 2007 Grand Final.
Since 9 April 2009, all of the matches shown on Sky Sports have also been available live online via Livestation everywhere in the world excluding the US, Puerto Rico, UK, Ireland, France, Monaco, Australia and New Zealand. Theses matches are also available online for UK users only through Sky Go and Now TV.
In the United Kingdom, a number of commercial radio stations, along with BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and the local BBC radio stations simulcast commentary of Super League games on the internet. Additionally, the 5 Live Rugby League podcast is available to download each week from the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtxd/episodes/downloads.