On Friday night Castleford Tigers nearly toppled engage Super League leaders Bradford Bulls with a second-half comeback. On Sunday Widnes Vikings led Wigan Warriors at half time, and were unfortunate not to come away with the win. This shows how well the National Leagues’ top sides can perform.
In rugby league, the lower divisions are often ignored by the mainstream media. But Super League would surely benefit if more people knew that the teams in the top flight were at the head of a league system encompassing thirty-or-so clubs that all want to make it to the top.
That is British sporting culture. Unlike in Australia and the US were they prefer and elite competition above all others, in Britain a league system is the preferred way to go; just look at football and rugby union.
That is why more coverage being given to the National Leagues is undoubtedly a good thing (starting with Widnes v Leigh on Sky Sports 1 tonight – see our RL on TV section for details).
It will help give the National Leagues a higher profile, and bring quality rugby league to the TV viewing public; it will also give strength to Super League by giving the elite league a solid foundation and keeping the promotion race in the public’s mind throughout the year.
However, it’s not all good news just yet. The weekend’s Challenge Cup fixtures also saw many one-sided results against the smaller National League clubs.
But this has to be put into perspective. York City Knights may have shipped seventy points to Huddersfield Giants, but it is not so long ago they shipped that many points and more on a regular basis to clubs in the same division as they. This is a positive improvement.
Batley Bulldogs’ 78-14 loss to St Helens is not really such a disgrace; London Skolars’ 54-4 loss to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats is almost a success story for a side that a fortnight ago lost 66-0 to National League One Widnes, and were a RL Conference club just five years ago.
There will always be a significant gap between Super League sides and the lesser lights of the National Leagues. But that should not detract from the fact that the gap I playing ability appears to be lessening, and top National League clubs can now go toe to toe with Super League opposition.
Maybe the TV coverage will be the first steps in turning first NL1 and then NL2 into viable rugby league competitions. That can only be healthy for the game as a whole, and will mean that relegation from Super League does not have to be the irreparable disaster it is seen as today.
Fans of Wakefield must be breathing a sigh of relief that their inspirational scrum-half Jamie Rooney has returned to fitness ahead of schedule. While there is more than one quality player at the Wildcats, Rooney has been the stand-out figure in the club’s resurgence so far this season.
Originally expected to face a six-week lay-off, Rooney may now be able to help Wakefield take on Huddersfield Giants tomorrow. This is bad news for the Giants though, who are still without a win to their name and look increasingly the favourites for relegation.
Good news however for Salford City Reds, Hull FC and Harlequins who sit joint-second bottom of the league with a five points apiece, and will want to see another defeat for the Giants. The news on Rooney must have not only brought relief at in Wakefield, but also in Greater Manchester, East Yorkshire and London.
While I personally thought that the BBC’s on-screen coverage of the Widnes v Wigan Challenge Cup tie was well presented and thoroughly professional, the listings given in this week’s Radio Times was distinctly amateurish and would have made me laugh if it wasn’t so pathetic.
The listing read: “Widnes Vikings v Wigan Warriors – Live coverage of this fourth-round tie in the Challenge Cup from Halton Stadium (kick-off 2.30). Local rivalry will be fierce as Northern League One Widness try to prove a point against their Super League opponents.”
I don’t expect perfection, and I make mistakes myself. But to get the kick-off time wrong, get the name of a league wrong (effectively regionalising a national competition) and to get the team’s name wrong when, firstly, they are one of rugby league’s famous names and, secondly, it is written correctly above? Come on.
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