Far-from-enthralling finals

For anyone who isn’t a Salford fan Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup final was difficult to watch. It was a relief to be following two other more exciting games on radio at the same time and not pay full attention to what was a far-from-enthralling spectacle. nnOf course no blame can be attached to the teams involved. The Reds did the job they were supposed to do: they won and won well, in one of their best performances of the season. It would be deeply unfair to criticise Doncaster given the strength of their opposition.nnNo-one is at fault, but it was a disappointing – from a neutral perspective – to see another one-sided rugby league final. Last year’s NRC saw a 54-6 win for Widnes over Whitehaven; the Vikings then lost 42-10 to Castleford in the NL1 Grand Final. It was little better at the top of the game, a comfortable St Helens win in the Challenge Cup but a 33-6 thrashing for Saints at the hand of Leeds in the Grand Final.nnThe problem this year was that of the four semi-finalists the two favourites were drawn together, resulting in two entertaining semis and a poor final. The same happened last year, and there’s a real danger that this year’s Challenge Cup could suffer a similar fate. nnThere’s no way to ensure a competitive final apart from seeding cup draws, and that takes a great deal away from the competition. But there is a danger that rugby league events will lose their attraction if they can’t produce at least one fully competitive encounter. nnSuch a fear is not groundless: during Wigan’s cup final dominance Wembley attendances soon began to drop off after the club claimed the trophy every season. This year the cup final will probably draw a large crowd whoever gets there, but a final such as Leeds v Wakefield, for example, would struggle to draw the crowds after a few years of one-sided finals.nnHopefully the next big final on the horizon – the Challenge Cup final – can produce a contest worthy of its high status, one that will bring all the excitement of rugby league to the Wembley stage. If not then the neutrals will leave the stadium and switch off their televisions feeling a little disappointed. nnFans’ views should be heardnnLast Tackle’s latest feature is the “Fan’s View” of the license system. It’s a great idea because it puts the spotlight on what the fans think of their club’s application, where that stands against the other clubs, as well as what they make of the whole system itself.nnOther investigations into where the clubs stand have been done from a neutral perspective, so it’s interesting to find out what partisan supporters think are important and how they rate their team’s chances. You might not disagree with the fans of rival clubs, but that’s all part of a healthy debate.nnOf course no-one can know the minds of RFL executives and those responsible for reaching that decision in two weeks’ time. Have they made up their minds yet? Are they sticking to the point-by-point system? Hopefully when the announcements are made the reasons for the decision will be revealed with them.nnThree-horse racennA few weeks ago it looked very unlikely that anyone other than Leeds Rhinos would be sitting atop the engage Super League table at the end of the season. But now that’s all changed. St Helens claimed top spot with their 56-0 win at Harlequins while the Catalans are just one point off joining the big two on 30.nnThe Rhinos haven’t been in top form of late with losses to Quins, Saints and Wigan in an enthralling game on Friday. It will be a real test of character for them to get back to their brilliant best. Saints have already had their character tested after a relatively poor start to the season and need to carry that on.nnThe biggest surprise of all would be if the Catalans claimed top spot. I doubt any team – not even Saints or Leeds – would fancy a trip to Perpignan in the Grand Final qualifier or the final eliminator. Whatever happens it’s bound to be an exciting finish to the regular season.nnKeep Your Eye on Rugby Leaguenntony.williams@lasttackle.com

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