Pre-season attendances can’t be read into hugely given that quite often teams are playing weakened squads against lower league opposition but it’s still a good benchmark to gauge the excitement levels for the upcoming season.
Given the cost of living crisis as well not all fans can justify spending a £15, £10 or even £5 admission fee to pre-season games which is another reason why attendances can obviously be misleading at present.
Despite this we’ve seen some very impressive attendance figures across pre-season, notably Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield in their traditional Boxing Day clash, a game that saw 9,143 turn up at Headingley to celebrate the return of rugby league.
That number surpasses plenty of Super League side’s highest attendance of 2022 and sails past plenty of average attendances too.
This weekend saw Leeds in action again in a rivalry game against Bradford Bulls on Sunday and whilst fans of both clubs turned out in good number the figure was less than half of those at the Boxing Day clash with 4,448 checking in to watch the 24-10 victory.
That figure topped the Sunday attendances though but it was surpassed by the Friday night game which saw Mark Percival’s testimonial hosted at the Totally Wicked Stadium against Widnes Vikings.
Sadly Percival didn’t feature in the match however fans still turned up in force to see a young team hold on to victory over an impressive Widnes team led by John Kear as 5,678 turned up.
Both Leeds and Saints averaged among the highest attendances in Super League in 2022 so it’s no surprise that they far surpassed any other attendance but what was a surprise was that the third most attended game was claimed by a Championship side.
That was in spite of a further two Super League teams playing at home.
Incredibly Barrow Raiders saw a crowd of 2,306 turn up to Craven Park and those fans that turned up were rewarded with an impressive 26-14 win over Challenge Cup holders’ Wigan Warriors.
Granted it was a youthful Wigan team but it’s no doubt a result that Paul Crarey and his team will take great confidence from as they head into their Championship season this coming week.
Unfortunately Barrow were the only side along with Leeds and Saints to surpass 2,000 with both Wakefield (1,909) and Salford (1,807) failing to meet the mark despite home games at Belle Vue and the AJ Bell respectively.
Wakefield had a hugely anticipated game as well with Super League slayers Featherstone Rovers coming to town looking for a third consecutive pre-season win against top tier opposition.
That looked on the cards at half-time as they went into the sheds 12-0 up but a resurgent Wakefield scored 24 unanswered to secure the win and keep their pre-season record a perfect three from three.
As for the Red Devils they found themselves 16-0 up inside 10 minutes against local rivals Swinton Lions before Paul Rowley made massive changes and the rivalry game finished a close 26-22.
Whilst Swinton have of course just earned promotion from League One and are Championship opposition the fact their stadium is less than a 10-mile drive away from rivals Salford who were playing their first game of 2023 following a playoff semi-final season, it was a concerning turnout of just over 1,800.
Sunday saw three other games and the highest attended of those was another Cumbrian side who hosted Super League opposition with Castleford Tigers heading to the LEL Arena to face Whitehaven, who they dispatched 38-4.
Following the cancellation of their match last week against former stars Jake Webster and Luke Gale it was a necessary game for Lee Radford’s side and 910 turned up at Whitehaven to watch it, a very strong attendance figure.
A local rivalry game took place at the Olympic Legacy Park with Championship side Sheffield Eagles running out victors 36-24 against League One Doncaster with 721 in attendance.
Meanwhile Hunslet hosted last season’s Million Pound game losers Batley Bulldogs with the away side running out 20-12 victors in front of 628, a strong figure for the League One side.
Attendance figures in full
St Helens 16 – 12 Widnes Vikings: 5,768 at the Totally Wicked Stadium
Barrow Raiders 26 – 14 Wigan Warriors: 2,306 at Craven Park
Hunslet 12 – 20 Batley Bulldogs: 628 at the South Leeds Stadium
Leeds Rhinos 24 – 10 Bradford Bulls: 4,448 at Headingley
Salford Red Devils 26 – 22 Swinton Lions: 1,807 at the AJ Bell Stadium
Sheffield Eagles 36 – 24 Doncaster: 721 at the Olympic Legacy park
Wakefield Trinity 24 – 12 Featherstone Rovers: 1,909 at Belle Vue
Whitehaven 4 – 38 Castleford Tigers: 910 at the LEL Arena