Super League is to call an early halt to the regular season following further major disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and bring forward an expanded play-off series.
Clubs have agreed to make what are left of this week’s fixtures the last following another spate of cancellations and will kick off a six-team Grand Final series a week later.
The top two will have a week off while the rest play elimination ties on November 12 and 13 at venues to be announced and the seventh-placed club, almost certainly Huddersfield, will remain on standby in the event of further disruption.
Catalans Dragons’ home game against St Helens on Thursday has been cancelled due to the imminent national lockdown and heightened concerns over international travel while the scheduled match between Wigan and Huddersfield on the same day will move to Friday.
The previous requirement for a club to complete a minimum of 15 games has been scrapped so the Catalans now qualify for the top six.
The radical decision to increase the number of teams taking part in the play-offs from four to six keeps alive the chances of sixth-placed Hull reaching the November 27 Grand Final on their own ground.
Wigan went top of the table after their 18-6 win over reigning champions St Helens last week and will clinch the League Leaders’ Shield if they beat Huddersfield.
Super League head of commercial Rhodri Jones said: “The revised format to the play-off schedule provides fans and Sky Sports with an extended series of exciting knock-out matches to finish the season.
“Nothing has been predictable in this 2020 season and we hope players, supporters and the media will appreciate why we have made this change.
“We believe this revised structure provides the best and fairest way to ensure the two most deserving teams reach the Grand Final.
“I’m sure everyone will be excited about five huge games, set to deliver an even more exciting climax to the 2020 season.”
Meanwhile, clubs have voted to return to a 12-team Super League in 2021 and introduce a 27-round regular season, including Dacia Magic Weekend in Newcastle in May.
The competition was reduced to 11 teams following the withdrawal of Toronto in mid-season and, following the failure of the Canadian side to regain their place for 2021, clubs were given the option of sticking with 11 or reverting to 12.
Super League say the process to find Toronto’s replacement will begin promptly and the decision will be made by a committee headed by an independent chairman.
Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone said: “Our clubs unanimously voted for a 12-team Super League in 2021. The process of choosing that 12th team will start as soon as possible.”
Toulouse were top of the Championship before the season was suspended in April and president Bernard Sarrazain has confirmed his club want to fill the vacancy and line up alongside neighbours Catalans Dragons in Super League.
London Broncos, the last club to be relegated from Super League, will also have a strong case while Featherstone, Leigh, Widnes, York and Bradford are expected to throw their hats into the ring.