Summer Bash to Headingley, Bradford crowd boost & capital concerns

James Gordon
BBC Radio

It’s all eyes on the Championship this weekend as the 2022 season gets underway.

On the eve of the new campaign, the fixtures for Summer Bash were announced – which will this year be held at Headingley.

Headingley is a fantastic rugby league venue and in my view, should have always been retained as the venue for the Championship Grand Finals day.

Whether it works for Summer Bash, or indeed whether the Championship even needs a Summer Bash, remains to be seen.

It skews the fixture list and has added significant operating costs for Championship clubs.

Only time will tell if it becomes a commercial success – which ultimately is the name of the game for events such as this.

From Leeds to Bradford

While stopping well short of “get the Bulls back in Super League”, the crowd at Odsal for Bradford’s friendly with Leeds will hopefully be the sign of things to come in 2022 for rugby league.

It would be pretty boring if the same teams played year in, year out with no fear of relegation and no one from the outside any structured hope of getting in. Trust me, we’ve been there.

As one of (still only) four champions in the Super League era, of course the Bulls would be a big name for the competition and based in a city no less.

But it’s up to them to get back there. It’s their own fault they’re not there now, and it’ll be their own fault if they don’t get back there again. Which is exactly how sport should be.

Speaking of which, Featherstone claimed a victory on wind off the pitch over Wakefield at the weekend.

Not often a fan of some of Fev’s social media antics, but even the most miserable and cynical beings such as myself could appreciate this effort.

Capital concerns

It’s the start of another new era for London Broncos this weekend, as they welcome Widnes to open the Championship season at their new home, the Cherry Red Records Stadium home of AFC Wimbledon.

Whether it’s a deliberate ploy not to get too excited, given the false dawns of the past, the Broncos are hardly hammering the door down with excitement ahead of the season’s start.

The decision to go part-time was practical, if unfortunate for the game in the south, and it will take time for them to find a suitable player pool.

Maybe the powers that be realise that the team just isn’t going to be hitting the heights some might expect. It will be difficult to attract a new audience if a team isn’t winning on the pitch.

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They’re certainly not bending over backwards to reach a new audience on social media.

They announced recently that a feature with coach Jermaine Coleman would only go out to club news subscribers, rather than on social. Now, of course, a good ploy to drive email subscriptions – but that only works if people are interested in the first place.

When one fan queried, the Broncos responded: “News and Offers go to subscribers first John with follow up releases on Social Media. Supporters have made us aware they prefer to be sent emails as they are not often looking at Social Media.”

They must have a fanbase from a different world than any other sports organisation on the planet.

When we noticed recently that players and numbers had been added to the squad page on their official website, their response was to delete the entire page off the website. They claimed that the numbers were incorrect, some players were either there in error or missing, and that we should wait for an official announcement.

Well, less than a week to go until the season, and Joe Public is still none the wiser as to what the make up of London’s squad will be.

Jermaine Coleman

London Broncos will ground-share with AFC Wimbledon at Plough Lane this season

Unfortunately, the new era may well get off to a difficult start. The Championship is extremely competitive, especially with clubs who had initially recruited expecting a switch to the two 10-team divisions which was later scrapped.

The Broncos struggled when operating a full-time environment in a predominantly part-time league, and they’re going to have to get up to speed fast in 2022 or they could be looking forward to a London league derby with Skolars this time next year.

They clearly have work to do to try and make something of their proud 40-year history.

London Broncos are an established part of rugby league – although a southerner we had on work placement in our offices last week (equal opportunities and all that), a big rugby union fan, wasn’t aware the Broncos still existed.

He thought they had ceased to exist some time after the Harlequins fall out, having watched them a few times during those years at Twickenham Stoop, which is a cracking ground to watch rugby at.

It will be interesting to see just how the new location in Wimbledon stacks up for the Broncos, and indeed just how the football fans embrace them.

AFC Wimbledon and its fans have a unique story and history, and if a football link-up was going to work anywhere, then they would be near the top of the list.

Championship opening weekend

Workington and Newcastle kick-off the new Championship season on Sunday at 2pm.

Kicking off an hour later is London’s game against Widnes plus four other opening round ties.

Relegated Leigh take on last season’s play-off surprise package Whitehaven, while League 1 champions Barrow open at home to Sheffield.

Dewsbury host Bradford and two of last season’s top six in Batley and Halifax meet at Mount Pleasant.

And then on Monday it’s the first live televised game on Premier Sports, as York entertain Featherstone.

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