The RFL restructure in 2015 was viewed largely positively by observers, if at times it confused some of us. But we are already seeing positive outcomes from it in this Championship this season.
After six games, London top the table with 10 points from six rounds. In second place are John Kear’s Batley Bulldogs, who beat Leigh on the opening day of the season, and now have nine points.
Last season London finished in seventh place in the table, while Batley were down in ninth.
The strong Sheffield Eagles, who have made a good start to the season, also came a cropper at home to Whitehaven on Saturday afternoon with the Cumbrians making it back-to-back wins.
Halifax, who were so strong in 2015, have also struggled with only two wins from their first six fixtures.
While it is still early days for the 2016 season, outcomes such as this would indicate that the standard of the division is rising as more teams focus on climbing the professional pyramid to Super League.
As well the teams like Sheffield, Leigh and Bradford, though, for whom Super League is the ultimate aim, teams like Whitehaven and Batley are now doing more than simply spoiling the odd weekend for the ‘bigger teams’.
Certainly, John Kear thinks that the new structure has exerted a positive influence on quality throughout the division.
“I think we’ve all got a bit better,” the Batley coach told Love Rugby League.
“We’re used to the new model that the RFL have introduced. The first season was always going to be a bit ‘suck it and see’.
“But you learn from your experiences, and I think we’ve learned from last year.
“We slightly altered our preseason preparations because of the number of games within it, and we’ve altered our in-season preparations as well.
“Hopefully we’ve learned from that, and we’ll continue to progress.”
There currently seem to be two approaches to life in the Championship. One is to take a ‘big money’ approach to the task, and fill your team with Super League standard purchases to help galvanise a push for the top tier.
The other is to take a more gradual, reformist approach, and to put in place systems on and off the field which help to drive the club forward over a longer time period. Milestones on this road usually involve becoming full-time, and planning on the use of a new ground, either through sharing or, in the case of Sheffield, having one built.
The development of facilities seems to be particularly important to this second type of club. London’s move to the Trailfinders facilities seems to have exerted a positive impact on their performances.
Which of these two approaches ends up being more successful remains to be seen.
What is certain though is that this year’s Championship is more competitive than it has been for a while, and it looks like becoming even more so.
Clubs like Batley often make it something of an aim to spoil the seasons of the big clubs by gaining important victories.
This year they may be in line to do a little more than that as the Championship‘s overall standard contiues to rise.