The Big Night Out
The East Yorkshire side successfully built on what was an excellent performance at Knowsley Road the previous week, and if they can build again on this one they will grace the big stage.
However, it will be now walk in the park even for a side of Hull’s quality. There can be no doubting that Saints are the best team in the country at the moment, as exemplified by their Powergen Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Trophy wins.
In my opinion – and with all due respect to the other play-off teams – this is the best Grand Final we could have hoped for. Both sides have been taken to a whole new level by their coaches Daniel Anderson and Peter Sharp, and have been the best two teams over the course of the year.
People often question the Grand Final. While I agree that Saints deserve the credit for finishing top of the table, I feel that the Grand Final is unquestionable. Any rugby league event which can sell out Old Trafford can’t be bad, and the publicity that the game brings is vital.
And this year there is every chance of a new record attendance as the capacity at the Manchester stadium has been increased to around 75,000.
I think we’re in for one of the great Super League Grand Finals; and as a neutral there’s nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it.
Hull of a Derby
The upshot of Hull Kingston Rovers’ promotion to Super League is that people are already looking forward to the return of one of rugby league’s greatest derbies. The Hull derby – now annually played as a pre-season game – is likely to be a cracker of an encounter as a Super League fixture.
The reason for this is something that you don’t get with Bradford versus Leeds, Saints versus Wigan, Castleford versus Wakefield or Warrington versus Widnes. Two teams from the same town. That ensures a bitter rivalry, with families and friends split apart twice a year.
This is in the tradition of all of the great soccer derbies, Liverpool versus Everton, Man Utd versus Man City and Celtic versus Rangers. Such a game will light up the next Super League season.
To my mind true derbies are those where the two teams are from the same town. Of these there are only three in professional rugby league: Hull FC versus Hull KR, Leeds versus Hunslet and Harlequins versus London Skolars.
And hopefully it can help boost Super League attendance figures, when getting for 20,000 fans squeeze into the KC Stadium on derby day.
Toulouse for the Big League
Could it be that Toulouse are heading for Super League in 2009? The news comes as no shock as along with many others I have long felt that the incoming franchise system is there simply to make Super League spread geographically.
As always there are two sides to the argument. A league of 14-16 teams with the two French sides, the current 11 Super League sides and the best from NL1 seems like an attractive option.
It is only natural to have a second French side to go along with the Catalans, and the two teams together. And the two teams together may help the French national side to strengthen ahead of the 2012 World Cup.
And in the light of the above section on derbies, imagine the boost for French rugby league of a Super League “French derby” (for want of a better term).
However, it could be argued that bringing French clubs into Super League only damages the credibility of the French leagues. Surely bringing the best players in France to play in England will only weaken those leagues.
And if this is the way the RFL want to go, is it possible that the likes of London Skolars or Celtic Crusaders could also be lined up for the 2009 franchises – clubs that are clearly not yet ready.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Maybe Toulouse’s chances depend more on how Les Catalans fair over the next couple of years.
Keep Your Eye On Rugby League