Last weekend, some 39 hours before the game was set to kick off, I set off on the longest of away journeys to Toulouse – the team that put the Championship in to the National Leagues.
Many see them as a Super League side in waiting with the RFL’s undoubted expansion policy, and a French side being the logical next step to create at least some sort of derby for Catalans. Of course, they have to satisfy the criteria of appearing in a Championship Grand Final (do they?!) to make that possible.
William Hill revealed over the weekend that Widnes are firm favourites to return to the game’s elite in 2012, but perhaps the most surprising odds were those on the league increasing in number, possibly to 16. It comes after the infamous letter of the previous week which saw Castleford, Celtic, Salford, St Helens and Wakefield warned about the standards of their grounds.
Will an increase in teams give the RFL a convenient excuse not to kick anyone out? Considering Saints’ profile and their success on their field, it would be unjust to kick them out on the basis of their stadium, but on that basis, the other clubs could argue that if it’s good enough for Saints, it’s good enough for them. Either way, the 2011 licensing decisions process is set to be even more controversial than it was back in 2008 – let’s just hope this time it isn’t as painful for Leigh and Widnes fans.
Back to Toulouse then, and on the subject of stadiums, their home ground wasn’t even good enough to stage the clash with Widnes, which was televised on French TV station Orange. Instead the game was played at Blagnac RU, a tidy little ground although probably a far cry from being Super League standard (if you forget the famous five of stadium promise fame).
Although I still find it hard to comprehend a French team in our league (particularly when trying to convince football fans that our sport isn’t a joke for doing so), I don’t mind Toulouse. They have a number of French lads in their side, and the all-round spirit at the club seems great.
But there just didn’t seem to be that many people bothered. There was no indication that the sport of rugby league even existed in the city centre, and even at the game, I think I clocked about five replica Toulouse shirts (heck, I even spotted a Halifax shirt!).
Speaking of numbers, I nearly choked on my frogs legs when I discovered the attendance had been given as 3,209. We were discussing at the game that the Widnes fans nearly outnumbered the locals, and when the Vikings probably took 400 tops to the game, we struggled to see where such a figure had been derived.
Didn’t attendances used to get lowered for tax purposes?! We seem to have gone full cycle and gone the other way. I seem to remember people commenting on two sides doing a similar thing last year as part of the Super League licensing process, but for the life of me I can’t remember who they were. They were both promoted to Super League though!
So the controversy of rugby league rumbles on. Still, it gives us something to talk about. What? There’s a game on? Really?!