The five teams that will go head to head in the Championship play-offs for a place in Super League have now been confirmed.
While the exact placings will only be determined on the final day this weekend, joining league leaders’ Toronto Wolfpack in the play-offs will be Toulouse, York, Leigh and Featherstone.
It’s the first time an automatic promotion spot has been open to Championship clubs since 2007, when Castleford beat Widnes in front of a 20,000+ crowd at Headingley.
The likelihood is that this year’s final will also draw a sizeable crowd, but overseas, with Toronto heavy favourites to make it through to the Grand Final which will be hosted at the Lamport Stadium in Canada should they make it.
Perhaps most interesting though, is that only Leigh stand in the way of a new name joining Super League – which would be the first time a new team has joined the competition since Celtic Crusaders in 2009, and the first new face via on-field promotion since Leigh in 2005.
Toronto Wolfpack (1st)
It would almost be a disaster if Toronto didn’t make it up to Super League at the second attempt. They have lost just three regular season games in their two seasons in the Championship, and it cannot be denied that they deserve promotion.
But such is the system in place, that their hopes will come down to 80 minutes at Lamport Stadium – and the other four sides will relish the Wolfpack’s scalp, as London did last year.
Pressure will be high on Toronto, but in coach Brian McDermott, they have a man experienced in getting his team up for big games and through the final.
Toulouse Olympique (2nd)
Guaranteed at least a top three finish, save for a huge points difference swing from Leigh, the French side will be desperate to grab second spot, which would give them home advantage in any play-off games they face that don’t include Toronto.
They are the only side to beat the Wolfpack this season, thumping them in France earlier this season, and will use the experience garnered in The Qualifiers last year.
It would be a huge boost for French rugby league to have a second side make the step up to Super League, just 12 months or so on from Catalans’ historic Challenge Cup victory; especially as a deal to ground share at the superb Stade Ernest Wallon from 2020 has been agreed.
York City Knights (3rd)
One of the most incredible stories of 2019 has been the continuing rise of York, who are remarkably still in contention for a second successive promotion, having shown Bradford the way to do it this term.
James Ford is building a reputation as one of the sport’s hottest prospects as a coach, and his side will not fear anyone going in to the play-offs – and that is dangerous.
With a new stadium on the horizon and set to be ready for the start of next season, while the City Knights may concede they aren’t necessarily fully ready for Super League just yet, they certainly wouldn’t shirk at the challenge.
York can’t finish any lower than fourth, and need a win at Halifax on Sunday to guarantee top three.
Leigh Centurions (4th)
The only side with previous Super League experience are Leigh, who have put behind them the events of 12 months ago to reach a play-off spot, which has triggered more investment from owner Derek Beaumont, particularly the eye-catching signing of Kevin Brown.
They managed to earn promotion via the Grand Final in 2004, and then again via the Super 8s in 2016, so they know how to get the job done.
Whether they have enough to win on the road in successive weeks, especially if that includes trips to both France and Canada, remains to be seen – and their home defeat to York on Sunday was a big blow to their hopes of top three, and a potentially easier route to the final.
Featherstone Rovers (5th)
Ryan Carr has enjoyed a stellar first season as a coach in the Championship, and at times his Rovers side have been one of the stand out teams in the competition.
They boast the third best points difference in the league, and may well thrive from the do or die scenario that the play-offs present.
They host Toulouse at the weekend as a possible early play-off dress rehearsal, but they’ll need to win that and hope Leigh lose against Toronto if they are to play at home in week one.
It would be a shame not to give Peter’s efforts of explaining the Championship play-off format the coverage it deserves.
Wrote this out on kitchen roll the other week, been hanging up in the galley ever since..! ? pic.twitter.com/2Xhauqjx3q
— Peter Crawford (@hmspete) August 29, 2019