Exciting Championship wide open

Mark Aston’s Sheffield dished out a serving of humble pie to Halifax boss Matt Calland last weekend.

Calland has proclaimed his team to be far superior to that of any other in the Championship following the previous week’s 35-34 extra time defeat to Castleford in the Challenge Cup.

But just seven days later, they found themselves humbled at home by Sheffield, in what was only the Eagles’ second win of the season, and not only that, the Championship leaders were denied a bonus point.

Last weekend saw all of the top three lose in the Championship, and the league has been blown wide open, with just five points separating the top seven.

Barrow were defeated by a resurgent Toulouse, who despite that early season 70-0 drubbing at Widnes, have put a run of five straight wins together. Widnes’ dismal form continued with a 23-16 loss at Leigh – the Vikings have now lost three games on the spin and are only in such a high position as they have played more games than anybody else.

Featherstone are in a very good position in fourth, while Whitehaven and Leigh would also fancy their chances against the top sides. Sheffield, despite only winning two, have gained a bonus point in every one of their losses, and are not a team many would like to play against. Gateshead, meanwhile, have four new signings to bed in to their team and may well find themselves a threat at the end of the season.

Halifax remain favourites, with Barrow not far behind, but it would take a brave man to be against Toulouse satisfying the criteria that would probably all but guarantee them a Super League place in 2012 – after all, isn’t that why they were included in the Championship in the first place?

But how much of this competitiveness is down to the Super League licensing system? There are now no full time squads in the Championship, and this, together with the £400k salary cap, has levelled out the competition. No more are there Super League squads that have bounced down from the top flight looking to go straight back up.

Of course, the majority of clubs are battling to reach a Grand Final or to win the Northern Rail Cup to qualify for the Super League licence process for 2012. Some have gone all out on trying to achieve the criteria this season, while others are hoping that their all round package will prove enough, once they have satisfied the appropriate performance requirements.

It’s certainly keeping fans of Championship clubs on the edge of their seats.

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