5 Things We Learned #84

Promotion all to play for

With just one round left to play, it’s quite a prospect that there’s still five teams that mathematically could end up in the Million Pound Game. Usually by this point the promotion decider is more or less confirmed, with the only uncertainty perhaps being the venue. The competitive nature of the Championship teams involved this year, though, has taken the Qualifiers to a whole new level.

Toulouse, Toronto and London all triumphed over Super League teams at the weekend and are all in strong positions going into round seven. London’s win over Salford is particularly significant, as they are expected to beat Halifax on Saturday, with Toulouse facing the Red Devils in a much tougher game. Toronto will struggle to beat Leeds, while Hull KR should get the better of Widnes, meaning we should see the Broncos travel to Canada next week for a final showdown with the Wolfpack.

 

Widnes relegated

It’s been impending for a while, but the Vikings’ relegation from Super League was finally confirmed with their 20-12 loss to Toronto on Saturday. It’s a gutting outcome for the entire club – it’s fans, players, coaching staff and board members – who have put their all into making Widnes an established Super League side.

While the results weren’t up to scratch over the past couple of years, there were definite signs that things were going well off the pitch. Their youth academy, for example, was developing into one of the best in the league. Talents such as Matt Whitley, Danny Walker, Olly Ashall-Bott and the Chapelhow twins are just a handful of the homegrown talent produced. As far as going forward is concerned, Vikings chairman James Rule confirmed after the game that they will continue as a full-time club, which is the most important thing. It means they’ll be able to still attract top names to the club and gives them the best chance of bouncing straight back up into Super League.

 

Catalans pushing expansion

The Dragons certainly seem to be making the most of their high-profile Challenge Cup win, after making some great connections with Barcelona football club over the weekend. On Sunday, the club attended Barca’s game with Girona to parade the trophy around the pitch. Their New Zealand-based players and coaches performed a special Haka to members of the football club’s board, before being met by much applause at halftime.

 

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Présentation de la challenge cup au Camp Nou 🏆 #gracias#barcelone

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What’s even more exciting is that the Dragons have reportedly been invited to play a home game at the Nou Camp next summer. As far as exposure goes, this is the best possible outcome everyone at the club and rugby league in general could have hoped for. The stadium draws in thousands of people when there’s not even a game on, so imagine the potential crowd for a rugby league match. The majority would be first-time watchers too, which would be huge for expansion.

 

York on the up

A big congratulations is in order for James Ford and his side. The City Knights capped off a superb season with a win over Whitehaven to make them 2018’s League 1 champions. It’s a well-deserved reward for the club, who have built a strong squad and backroom team after almost closing down just a couple of years ago.

This season, in particular, has seen Ford develop his side into one that could probably compete in the Championship already. Super League signings Ben Cockayne, Graeme Horne and Judah Mazive took them to another level, as did mid-season signings Josh Jordan-Roberts, Jack Ormondroyd and Joel Edwards, who all have experience playing at the top level. With Ford set to add even more quality ahead of 2019, it’s not inconceivable that we could see the Knights challenging for promotion as soon as next year.

 

Halifax are doing it right

I had the pleasure of visiting The Shay for the first time on Sunday to watch Halifax face Leeds, and I must say I was very impressed. I’ve long been an outside spectator of Fax’s exploits in the Championship and while they’ve always struck me as a club that prides itself on professionalism, you need to be there to truly appreciate their values to the community. The fans are superb for a start. They’re full of passion and that rubs off on the players, particularly the likes of Scott Murrell, who is as good a captain as I’ve seen. The way he interacts with and motivates his players is great to watch.

They’ve got a coach in Richard Marshall who implements a real resilient style of play, best demonstrated by the numerous goal line sets they defended. Add that to the impressive reserve system they have, which is actually funded by the supporters, and you’ve got a club making great strides. It’s to be hoped that when Super League expands to 14 teams, Halifax are one of those who move up because they’re a club that are way ahead of the rest.