Wigan coach Adrian Lam says it will be difficult to accept if a team finishes top of the Betfred Super League after playing fewer matches than their rivals.
Catalans Dragons were elevated to the top of the table after it was announced that final positions in the regular season in 2020 will be determined – for the first time since the formation of Super League in 1996 – by points percentage rather than the number of points gained.
The move by the Rugby Football League acknowledges the real possibility that not all clubs will be able to play the same number of matches before the end of the season due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
So far there are six league fixtures to rearrange and, with six of the 11 clubs having players who have tested positive for Covid-19, the RFL is clearly bracing itself for more disruption.
The radical changes come in immediately and the Dragons now top the revised table, despite having played just seven matches, displacing reigning champions St Helens, who have played 10, and relegating Wigan to third.
“Obviously no one is going to ever be happy with whatever system you come up with,” Lam told his weekly press conference ahead of Saturday’s game against the new leaders in Perpignan. “This is what the RFL felt is the fairest way.
“I guess in the situation as we stand, it’s difficult playing three more games – another 240 minutes – and not being rewarded as much or being rewarded for playing less games.
“I know the RFL will catch up where they can in the slots that are available.
“It’s going to be a difficult one at the end of the year, when some of the teams have played a lot less games and are ahead of you in the table, that’s going to be hard to accept.
“All we can do as a club is try to keep winning – win every week and it will take care of itself.”
The title will still be determined by a four-team play-off and a Grand Final.
The RFL says to qualify for the play-offs that a team must have played a minimum of 15 matches, although it retains the right to review the stipulation.
In another move that recognises the potential strain on Super League clubs’ playing squads during the crisis, the RFL has also relaxed the salary cap for the 2020 season.
Clubs can now use any player on their register, including those recalled from loan spells, without impacting on cap, provided the player has a value of £30,000 or less.
And, if a player who has tested positive for Covid-19 is unable to return after the minimum isolation or return to play periods, his club will be allowed to sign a replacement.
RFL chairman Simon Johnson said: “As a board, we recognise the unique challenges this season has presented – and the need for flexibility and creativity in response.
“It has been an immense logistical effort for all to get the Betfred Super League season up and running.
“Like other sports before us, and doubtless others to come, we have to recognise that this is not going to be a normal season.
“A number of fixtures have already been postponed, affecting some clubs more than others, and we have to allow for the possibility of that pattern continuing.
“These decisions, regarding the rearrangement of fixtures, amendments to the salary cap, and most significantly a new way of determining the league positions, are a realistic and sensible response to those issues – and we hope they will be welcomed by players, coaches, supporters and other stakeholders in that manner.
“The whole sport is doing everything in its power to deliver a Betfred Super League Grand Final later this year that will see the crowning of our 2020 champions.”
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