It promises to be one of the most exciting Championship seasons to date, with at least half a dozen sides battling for promotion to Super League in 2022.
Among them will be the Leigh Centurions, Featherstone Rovers and the likes of Halifax Panthers and York City Knights as major stars make moves to the second tier.
Joey Leilua, for example, a world-renowned blockbusting centre will play with Featherstone next season, whilst Bradford Bulls fought off Super League sides to keep young forward Ebon Scurr.
But, just how will the Championship table look at the end of the 2022 season?
1. Leigh Centurions
It was a major thought process behind separating Leigh and Featherstone for the top spot, but the former just sneaks it. Owner Derek Beaumont has put together a formidable side consisting of Super League and NRL experience, with head coach Adrian Lam voted Super League Coach of the Year just two seasons ago. Chris Chester as head of rugby will be the figure behind the scenes, whilst new signings such as Caleb Aekins, Tom Amone, Jy Hitchcox and Joe Wardle are all Super League quality. Lam and Chester could well be the dynamic duo to send the Centurions back to the top flight.
2. Featherstone Rovers
Featherstone won’t be far behind Leigh, though. New signings such as Jesse Sene-Lefao, Luke Briscoe and Kyle Trout have Super League pedigree whilst Rovers shocked the world with the capture of Joey Leilua from Wests Tigers. New head coach Brian McDermott has been given full backing by the board in the hope that this will finally be the year that Featherstone make it into the top flight after years of heartache. Entrenched stars such as Tom Holmes, Craig Hall and Dane Chisholm will also help their cause.
3. Halifax Panthers
They finished third in 2021, but Halifax will have to contend with some incredibly strong sides heading into the 2022 Championship season. The signing of halfback Joe Keyes will be key, whilst the capture of three Wakefield stars in Kyle Wood, Joe Arundel and Alex Walker will definitely help. Recruiting Whitehaven’s Louis Jouffret and Lachlan Walmsley can take the Panthers to the next level as head coach Simon Grix knuckles down for more of the same in 2022. Adding Liam Finn and Scott Grix to the backroom staff could also hand Fax a major advantage too.
4. York City Knights
Head coach James Ford recently signed a new long-term deal to stay at York for the foreseeable future which is exactly what the club needs. He is desperate to take the Knights to the promised land and he has recruited just for that reason. The likes of Pauli Pauli and Jamie Ellis and loan signings of Leeds Rhinos duo Corey Johnson and Corey Hall have the right pedigree to take York that one step further after a relatively disappointing 2021. And, with the veteran Danny Kirmond still in their ranks, the Knights have the right blend of youthful enthusiasm and old-head experience.
5. Newcastle Thunder
They finished 11th in 2021 with only seven wins from 20 games, but Newcastle Thunder look to be one of the main dark horses for promotion in 2022. Thunder are one of only two full-time teams in the division, alongside Leigh, and that may well be a major advantage heading into what will be a tough, gruelling year. Super League quality in Alex Foster, Craig Mullen, Mitch Clark, Brad Day and Thomas Minns have all penned deals at Kingston Park whilst head coach Eamonn O’Carroll and director of rugby Denis Betts are well placed to go hell for leather in 2022.
6. Bradford Bulls
Replacing the retiring Danny Brough would be no mean feat despite the halfback spending most of the 2021 season injured. However, Bradford head coach John Kear has wasted no time in bringing in Super League quality with Salford star Dec Patton joining the club. Credit to the Bulls, too, they managed to keep hold of young prop Ebon Scurr despite top flight interest. Bradford have also signed the likes of powerhouse prop Samy Kibula from Warrington and exciting outside back Elliott Hall. Plus, with backing from their vociferous support, the Bulls could spring a surprise or two on their way.
7. Batley Bulldogs
The Bulldogs finished fourth in 2021 which was an incredible feat for a side many tipped to be nowhere near the play-offs. Head coach Craig Lingard has got Batley ticking over nicely and though promotion is a far cry away, that’s not to say that many a scalp will not be taken on the road in 2022. Signing Perry Whiteley from York and James Meadows from London gives the Bulldogs extra zip and power while keeping hold of Luke Hooley, Ben White and Alistair Leak will prove to be majorly important.
8. Widnes Vikings
Something in the air seems to be changing at Widnes; after a barren few seasons with trouble off the field, finally there seems to be some stability at the club. The Vikings finished an average eighth in 2021, but they have signed Championship quality with the likes of Ryan Ince, Levy Nzoungou, Olly Davies and Matty Fleming. Losing old heads like Matt Cook and Lee Jewitt might hurt them initially, but Widnes could mount a play-off charge if everything goes right.
9. London Broncos
Something just seems to be amiss in the capital at present, though a new head coach and move to a new stadium could well rectify that. Jermaine Coleman looks a decent acquisition as the new boss, with London bringing in a whole host of new signings such as Ronny Palumbo, Lewis Bienek, Will Ramsey and Dean Parata. Whether or not those signings will gel in time for the Broncos to launch a move to the play-offs remains to be seen.
10. Sheffield Eagles
One of the Championship sides with the most signings in the locker for 2022, Sheffield Eagles endured a poor 2021 campaign, finishing just eight points above relegated Swinton. That being said, the capture of Ben Jones-Bishop as well as Jason Bass, Kris Welham and Oakes will help the Eagles manouevre up the table – if only slightly. Mark Aston is still at the helm so Sheffield will be far too good for relegation.
11. Dewsbury Rams
The Rams surprised a few people last season with their tenth-placed finish and I have predicted them to finish there or thereabouts once more in 2022. The likes of Dale Ferguson, Ross Peltier and Brad Graham will be able to push a number of their rivals all the way, but Lee Greenwood’s side will not trouble the top half.
The Cumbrian side finished in sixth in 2021, but they have lost their main go-to man in Louis Jouffret to rivals Halifax. That has almost left Haven rudderless, with the departure of top scorer Lachlan Walmsley also likely to affect their strike power out wide too. They will still be too good to get relegated, though a play-off charge looks less likely in 2022.
13. Barrow Raiders
I fancy Barrow to finish above Workington due to the way in which the Cumbrian side eased to promotion in 2021. However, I don’t fancy the Raiders’ chances of staying in the Championship in 2022. That being said, Barrow have signed some good recruits in Wakefield’s Josh Wood and Oldham’s Danny Langtree.
13. Workington Town
The newly-promoted sides generally struggle in their first season in a new division – with the exception of Newcastle Thunder of course. However, Workington Town showed the mettle and determination to make it to the second tier when the odds were stacked against them. Town have signed Alex Clegg and Evan Simons from Newcastle which will enhance their chances of staying up, but it could be a struggle.