It’s the shoot-out we’ve all been waiting for, as the two 100% records in the Championship to head-to-head with Featherstone against Toulouse.
In typical rugby league fashion, the eve of the game has been rocked by news of a potential re-structure, that could result in both teams gaining promotion which somewhat lessens the importance of this game, but we’ll ignore that for now.
Toulouse have swept all before them in the Championship this season, despite being forced to play all their games away from home, winning eight from eight – plus being handed a further win thanks to a London Broncos forfeit.
The manner of their victories have been quite something too – they hammered Widnes 70-0 and have racked up 433 points; with 409 of those coming in eight games; an average of more than 50 per match.
They remain the favourites to win the Championship, and have proven the point really that they ought to have been elevated to Super League to replace Toronto.
That surely would have made life a lot easier for everyone in relation to coronavirus too.
But my pre-season favourites were Featherstone, and they have lived up to that tag, winning 13 from 13 – which in any other season, would have had them marching away at the top of the table.
Indeed, they have earned six more points than any other team in the Championship this season; though the points percentage and points difference percentage, places this Sunday’s opponents above them.
Therefore, the outcome of this match will decide who sits top of the tree.
If there are no changes to the promotion criteria, then this game will be crucial in determining home advantage in the play-offs.
Although, in typical rugby league fashion, it remains unconfirmed; in recent years the Championship Grand Final has been held at the home ground of the top seeded team.
So whoever finishes top of the Championship is guaranteed to be at home in the Grand Final, should they get there; which could be of huge significance.
Buoyed by their 1895 Cup success against York a fortnight ago, Featherstone are almost at full strength for this game.
Even with absentees in recent weeks, they have been able to field strong sides even still, such is the depth to their squad, and of course the availability of loan players from other sides.
They this week added Gadwin Springer to their squad, while Will Dagger has been in good form during his loan spell from Hull KR.
Featherstone: Hall, Welham, Hardcaster, Gale, Holmes, Chisholm, Kopczak, Brown, Harrison, Ferres, Lockwood, Jones, Davies, Cooper, Field, Halton, Parata, McConnell, Moors, Dagger, Springer.
Toulouse are the freshest team in the competition, through no fault of their own, and have recruited strongly even during the season.
Tony Gigot and Romain Navarrete have been brought in to their squad since the kick-off, adding to a line-up already packed with quality and experience.
They too are virtually at full strength, with the exception of long-term injury victim Paul Marcon and ex-London centre Guy Armitage.
Toulouse: Kheirallah, Hitchcox, Vaivai, Jussaume, Ford, Casty, White, Hansen, Dixon, Peyroux, Marion, Pelissier, Puech, Bretherton, Paulo, Garbutt, Bergal, Schaumkel, Sangare, Navarrete, Gigot.
What they’re saying
Featherstone playmaker Nu Brown says their resilience in recent weeks, when the squad has been hit with coronavirus and isolation requirements, will stand them in good stead.
He said: “We stick together through hard times. We’ve had some hard games in recent weeks and we’ve showed up.
“Even with seven key players not playing due to COVID, we’ve produced the results against York and Bradford, which shows what our team is like.”
For Toulouse, they’ve had three weeks without a game, since they beat Batley 32-12 at Mount Pleasant on July 11.
Coach Sylvain Houles said: “
👊 A huge game coming up at Featherstone on Sunday!
— Rugby Football League (@TheRFL) July 30, 2021
While acknowledging it is a big game, Featherstone coach James Webster has done his best to play it down and told the Pontefract and Castleford Express that it won’t define the season.
Webster said: “It is a massive game for us. It is an exciting game, and I am sure it feels the same way for Toulouse.
“We get to test ourselves against what is considered the best in the league. They are full-time and they are fully rested, they will be really hard to beat.
“This game won’t define the season for either club, it is just a stepping stone to try and get to that final prize at the end.”
The biggest Championship regular season game in years?
It has been a long time since a regular season game has had as much riding on it as this.
In the only completed season since the Super 8s were scrapped, Toronto romped home as champions in 2019.
Prior to that, the regular season simply decided which four teams joined four from Super League in The Qualifiers and before that was the licensing era.
You would have to go back to 2007, when Castleford travelled to and beat Widnes 24-18 late on in the season to secure top spot at the expense of their opponents, for a game of this significance.
That year, the Tigers would use that home advantage to book their place in the Grand Final by again beating Widnes, before making it a hat-trick at the Grand Final at Headingley in front of more than 20,000 fans.
Whoever wins this Sunday would take their place as favourites for promotion.
Toulouse have only played once in the past five weeks.
- May 16 – Whitehaven 0 Toulouse 66
- May 22 – Toulouse 66 Swinton 18
- June 13 – Dewsbury 12 Toulouse 56
- June 27 – Sheffield 6 Toulouse 54
- July 11 – Batley 12 Toulouse 32
Featherstone have been racking up the points in recent weeks.
- June 28 – Featherstone 68 Newcastle 12
- July 3 – Featherstone 63 London 14
- July 11 – Widnes 10 Featherstone 32
- July 17 – Featherstone 41 York 34
- July 25 – Bradford 30 Featherstone 36
Where can I follow the game?
Unfortunately, there is no way to watch the game apart from being there yourself. While understandable given the impact coronavirus has had on everyone, it’s a shame that Our League nor Sky Sports deemed it suitable to pick this game up for broadcast.
Featherstone will of course maximise the attendance, and early reports seem to be that they’re expecting a good crowd.
🎟 We’ve just checked on ticket sale numbers ahead of Sunday’s game.
It’ll be the biggest crowd we’ve seen for a while.
— Featherstone Rovers (@FevRoversRLFC) July 30, 2021
There are five other Championship games taking place at the same time, as well as the Super League clash between Wigan and Leigh, otherwise there may have been a lot more.
You can of course follow all the matches live via the Love Rugby League Score Centre.
Anything else you need to know
The game takes place at the Millennium Stadium in Featherstone, with a 3pm kick-off.
The referee is Jack Smith, and the touch judges are Richard Thompson and Clint Sharrad.
For all the talk of off the pitch, re-structures and who is more fashionable – this one will all come down to the 80 minutes on the pitch on Sunday; which is just how it should be.