There was plenty of anticipation ahead of the new Championship season, and the first round of results has only added to the intrigue.
Early favourites Toulouse showed their credentials with an impressive 21-6 win away at fancied York, and that’s despite the turmoil they have suffered on the eve of the season with the departure of first choice half-back Ben Reynolds, the loss of prop Ben Evans and a serious injury to France international Paul Marcon.
It was not the start to the season York would have wanted, especially as they lost all four league games they played in 2020 too, but the occasion itself was worth taking note of – a vibrant English city with a history of rugby league dating back to 1901 taking on a populous French city that is making unprecedented strides with their rugby union stadium-mates to take the game forward.
Halifax’s stunning win over London Broncos almost went under the radar thanks to Sheffield’s surprise demolition of Bradford.
The newly-named Panthers haven’t been talked about too much when it comes to promotion candidates, but their 47-14 win over the Broncos suggests they may well be up there.
For London, a large turnover of players in both the last two off-seasons may be contributory to a transitional phase – and without key players like Jarrod Sammut and Chris Hankinson, they may find the going tough.
Being a full-time team with the talent they have, they will still be a contender for those top spots, but it breathes even more life in to the competition if the gap between the favourites and the also-rans is as close as this weekend suggests.
1895 Cup holders Sheffield are top of the table after the first weekend after thrashing Bradford 50-12.
Anthony Thackeray, James Glover and Aaron Brown all scored braces in a result that will make people sit up and take notice.
Mark Aston has pedigree in the Championship and they may well emerge as surprise contenders.
As for Bradford, they have suffered two heavy beatings from Featherstone and Sheffield, and it will be far from the start John Kear would have hoped.
The recruitment of veteran Danny Brough looked to be a sign that the Bulls were aiming high in the Championship, something they haven’t really managed to do consistently since their relegation from the top flight. While George Flanagan’s antics won’t have helped preparations, they really ought to be doing better than they’ve shown so far this campaign.
The Bulls, along with Widnes, are of course former world champions adding further glamour to a competition that features six city teams.
The spread from Whitehaven in Cumbria across to Newcastle in the north east, London in the south up to York in the north surrounds the traditional strongholds in west Yorkshire and west of the Pennines, not to mention Toulouse.
Widnes provided the entertainment on Sunday night as they surrendered a 14 point lead to be held 30-all by Newcastle, the newcomers to the Championship and another that brings excitement to the competition with their potential.
Thunder are a bit of an unknown quantity, having recruited a large portion of their squad late after their elevation, and it will be interesting to see if they can make their way in to play-off contention.
Their half-back pairing of former Wigan duo Jake Shorrocks and Josh Woods will be as good as any in the division, and they certainly caused a more experienced Widnes team a lot of problems.
With a bit more strike power in the outside backs, Thunder could cause teams some problems, especially at home.
Opening day wins for Dewsbury and Oldham will have provided them with encouragement and it remains a very unpredictable competition and one certainly worth watching, even when the Our League cameras turn away.
Whitehaven, who went down to Dewsbury, have had an interesting off-season of recruitment and Australian back Lachlan Walmsley has caught the eye in their games so far. They sure would have traded their Challenge Cup win over Dewsbury for a win in the league fixture though.
Featherstone were my pre-season favourites and they’ll be hoping their off-field shenanigans that have been in the headlines don’t derail what could be the best opportunity they’ve ever had to earn a place in Super League.
It was also the first weekend under the new league table format, brought in due to the COVID restrictions.
The league table will be determined by win percentage, and then by points scored percentage.
— Rugby Football League (@TheRFL) April 6, 2021
Points scored percentage is calculated by taking points for, dividing it by points against, and then multiplying by 100.
That means that Toulouse, having won by 15 points on opening day, are above Halifax, who won by 33.
It will likely look odd until we reach the point where teams have played a different number of games.