As we approach the back end of the regular season, Bradford Bulls and London Broncos look dead and buried. Both teams have had miserable seasons, following even more miserable off-seasons, with the Broncos yet to register a win in 2014.
With this season seeing two sides relegated from the competition, both clubs have already begun the rebuilding process for next season in the Championship. It is perhaps fair to say that traditionally, it would be expected that both London and Bradford will be locked in a two-way shootout for next seasons promotion spot back into Super League, however despite recruiting well, both sides face stiff competition to win their top flight places back.
This seasons Championship is as strong as the second tier of European rugby league has been for some time. Strong Challenge cup performances, most notably from Paul Rowleys impressive Leigh Centurions side, who pushed Leeds Rhinos close, and remain unbeaten in the league, have shown that the gap between the Championship and Super League is not as vast as it once may have been.
Champions Sheffield Eagles, and last year’s minor premiers Featherstone Rovers are also looking like possible contenders for next years promotion spot, and have both shown glimpses of their pedigree in recent years challenge cups.
There is also no lack of Super League experience in these Championships hopefuls, with Featherstone signing impressive Australian Half-Back Jarrod Sammut on a dual-registration deal with Wakefield, and Leigh boasting a number of experienced ex-super league players such as Oliver Wilkes and (Huddersfield, Wigan, Wakefield, Harlequins) and Mat Gardner (Huddersfield, Salford, Harlequins, Widnes).
All three clubs have also developed impressive coaching structures over the last few years, Leigh have recently announced that their coaching team of Paul Anderson, Neil Jukes and Simon Finnigan have all been given full time deals, a clear statement of intent from a club with clear Super League ambitions.
Indeed, across the board Leigh have developed an infra-structure that would already rival a number of Super League clubs and in the case of Leigh Sports Village, the Centurions have a stadium, that far out-shines Londons Hive, and is arguably more deserving of Super League status than Bradford’s famous Odsall Stadium.
If both London and Bradford can a retain a core of their Super League players for next season, I would still expect them to be front-runners for promotion straight back into the top-flight, however with the standard of Championship rugby league perpetually rising, if either team fails to return at the first time of asking, it could be a long time before they hit the heights of Super League rugby again.