Massive season in store for Cumbria

For the first time in many years, all three Cumbrian sides find themselves in the same division, a division that nobody wants to be in in 2013.

As the RFL expand Championship 1 in 2013 with a number of new teams in expansion areas, such as Northampton, the remaining heartland clubs in the third tier face a titanic battle to earn one of the four promotion spots on offer.

That battle includes Barrow, Whitehaven and Workington.

Barrow and Whitehaven have both enjoyed success in National League 1 or the Championship in the past decade, but now find themselves in the third tier with Workington, who remain the only Cumbrian club to have played in Super League.

Whitehaven came close in 2004, when they were beaten by Leigh in Grand Final extra time, while Workington have also suffered Grand Final heartbreak of their own – losing the promotion play-off against Keighley last season which would have seen them fly the flag for Cumbria in the Championship in 2012.

Meanwhile, Barrow pushed to become a Cumbrian Super League franchise during the 2012 application process, having qualified courtesy of their 2009 Championship Grand Final triumph.

However, their bid was picked apart by the RFL, and last season, chairman Des Johnston was banned from the sport for eight years for salary cap breaches and illegal player payments at Craven Park between 2007 and 2011, which also resulted in relegation, after all their Championship competition points were deducted.

Workington have been in the third tier since the 2003 season, after they lost the National League 2 promotion/relegation play-off final against Dewsbury in 2002. They were joined in that division for 2011 by Whitehaven, who started the season on minus nine points having entered administration the previous autumn.

The two had infamously rejected a merger, both in the build up to Super League launching in 1996, and back in 2002, when Whitehaven were in severe financial difficulties.

But they kicked on following the arrival of Paul Cullen as coach in September 2000, earning promotion to National League 1 in 2002, and by 2004, they were within 80 minutes of Super League. They lost that Grand Final 32-16 to Leigh, and also lost the following year – 38-0 to Castleford – but did pick up the club’s first ever bit of silverware – the National League 1 league leader’s shield.

Whitehaven reached the Northern Rail Cup final in 2007, as did Barrow in 2009, but now Cumbrian rugby league must build from the bottom up.

Failure to earn promotion this season will mean plenty of cost ineffective away trips in 2013, with London, Gateshead and the two Welsh teams to be joined by Northampton and three others, all likely to come from the Midlands and South.

Competition promises to be fierce, with traditional heartlands clubs in the shape of Doncaster, Oldham and Rochdale also all vying to get in to the Championship.

Whitehaven back-rower Lee Doran said: “It’s a massive season for Cumbrian rugby league. I can’t remember the last time they had three teams in the same division, and it’s great for the supporters, more than anything.

“It’s all about bragging rights. There are players in teams that are friends and then of course the supporters, it adds a bit of spice and the local rivalry is what it’s all about.

“But we’re professionals. We’re just here to turn up and win every game we can.”

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