Editor’s column: Championship needs stability and neutral Grand Final

Championship Grand Final Leigh v Featherstone

The Championship Grand Final should be at Headingley, and it’s a nonsense that it’s even been contemplated that it wouldn’t be at a neutral venue.

The Grand Finals Day was always the pinnacle of the lower league calendar, and gave clubs something to aim for, but also fans to attend – and also the RFL something to sell and market towards.

Brushed aside by the ill-fated Super 8s format, along with the Northern Rail Cup, the Grand Final makes a welcome return this year to determine who gets promoted to Super League.

The Championship Grand Final was always a big occasion in the calendar – more than 20,000 fans watched the last promotion-sealing game between Castleford and Widnes in 2007 – but mellowed thanks to the glass ceiling put in place through the licensing years.

For some reason, it has been quietly assumed that this year’s Grand Final would be played at the home of the top seed, which is a nonsense in itself, even if you disregard the logistical issues relating to Toronto.

Clubs have now started to realise that they might be faced with two trips to Canada in no time, as per Matt Shaw’s report in League Express, and as such it’s on the agenda for discussion.

To be in a situation where less than three months away from the final we have no clue where it will be is embarrassing, and reflective of the disdain and sheer lack of co-ordination offered to the structure of the game in recent years.

We’re already faced with the situation where, for the second successive year, the make-up of the league is unknown beyond the end of this season, with no one particularly sure whether the two relegation spots will be as advertised.

A year ago, both Rochdale and Swinton looked certs for relegation, but a change to the structure enabled both to secure reprieves, as the league expanded to 14 teams.

There is talk now of the league expanding again to 16, potentially rendering an exciting possible relegation battle obsolete once again.

While we can appreciate the uncertainty that the future holds for the game outside of Super League, due to the upcoming cut in central funding and potential new broadcast deal, that is no excuse to undermine the integrity of the competition year in, year out.

The powers that be need to decide on a suitable format for the competition and stick to it, and stop short-changing fans.

Get the Championship Grand Final at a neutral venue year in, year out. Combine it with a women’s final and the League One play-off final, and get it announced in plenty of time to create another opportunity to generate revenue and showcase rugby league to a bigger audience.

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