Championship needs to put on a show to whet the appetite ahead of fans return

James Gordon

14th March 2020, DCBL Stadium, Widnes, England; Coral Challenge Cup Round 5, Widnes Vikings v Swinton Lions : Widnes Vikings fans take protection against the Corona Virus as Rugby League continues

Playing in front of no fans will be a new experience for players in the Championship when the competition resumes later this month.

While their Super League counterparts played most of their 2020 campaign without fans, players in the second tier haven’t played a game since fans were last allowed prior to the first lockdown last March.

So after a year of no rugby at all, they will also have to adjust to the unusual situation of having no one in the stands cheering them on.

Widnes captain, Jack Owens, said: “It’s obviously going to be different. It’ll probably be like when you’re younger and there’s about 60 people like mums and dads watching. So it’s going to be quiet.

“None of us have played under the new rules yet either, like with the six-again rule and no scrums.

“It’s been a bit strange having a year out of the game. Just like everyone really, not knowing how to handle things. It’s been good to get back to training and round one can’t come quick enough.”

The Challenge Cup, involving all Championship sides except Toulouse, gets underway on March 19 and all games are being live streamed, either via the RFL’s Our League app, the BBC Sport website or via Betfred.

A second round takes place the following weekend before the opening round of the Championship over Easter, where again all games will be live streamed.

The recent Government announcement has given hope that fans can return in the middle of May, by which time the season will only be five or six weeks old.

And Widnes coach Simon Finnigan says they have a responsibility to ensure that clubs make fans returning a no brainer.

He said: “I think certainly at our club, we’re desperate to have fans back. The club is built around the fans. We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves because we haven’t played rugby for so long, so let’s get on the field and hope that all these boxes get ticked so the fans can come back.

“It will be nice if we as a club and the Championship in general can put on some really good performances in the games on the Our League app so it encourages fans to want to get back to that live experience when they can.

“It’s our duty and our responsibility to perform and present some really good rugby so they’re desperate to fill the stadiums again and get back out there.”

Widnes will play their first two games away from home – a long trip to West Wales Raiders in the Challenge Cup live on the BBC Sport website on Sunday March 21, before a trip to Newcastle on Easter Sunday to kick-start their league campaign.

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