Oh, isn’t this stage of the rugby league season exciting?
Are reigning Super League Champions Leeds Rhinos going to find themselves fighting in the Middle 8s Qualifiers for the second time in three years and are Huddersfield going to continue their resurgence under the guidance of Simon Woolford and firmly embed themselves in the top eight, perhaps even top six?
With Widnes and Salford already consigned to battling it out to secure their top flight futures, everything is close to being decided in the next two weeks.
But what about the Championship sides who are bidding to compete with top division opposition to overthrow them and claim a spot in the promised land?
In English rugby’s second division, one of the most tightly-fought battles in many years is taking place, with second all the way down to sixth separated by just three points.
Toronto Wolfpack are the only Championship side to confirm their top four spot thus far, with 160 minutes of rugby over the next two weeks set to decide who will join them. It is one of the most intriguing battles in modern rugby, with part-time teams hoping to outmuscle full-time professionals, yet we aren’t given the opportunity to witness what is taking place through our TV screens?
Last Sunday, London Broncos secured a dramatic, nail-biting 20-18 victory over Halifax, leapfrogging their opponents into the final qualifying spot. For most fans, this kind of tight, tense spectacle is what makes rugby league so special.
However, rather than having the opportunity to see up-and-coming players and teams with big aspirations battling for a shot at Super League, the games that we have been given on TV are of those whose fates are all-but secured.
Take Castleford vs Huddersfield for example; it would take an incredible shift in form for the Giants to drop out of the eight, while Castleford won’t get to their crunch games until the Super 8s split actually happens. Why then, are we as rugby league enthusiasts not given the opportunity to see those in the second tier producing high-quality rugby league and competing to make the step up?
Sky have the rights to show Championship action until the end of 2021 and, aside from a cameo from Toronto and Toulouse, the only other real action we have seen from the Championship has been the Summer Bash, which showed the highs, lows and tension that the Championship offers in all its glory.
Of course, Toronto have a TV deal in place with Premier Sports, who show each and every one of their games. This shows that there is some recognition of the talent on display lower down, yet it is hard to appreciate the division as a whole if we are only seeing the same team every week.
Aside from the Wolfpack’s televised games on Premier Sports, Sky have only showed 6.66% of the remaining Championship games. If they are series about improving the recognition of the sport as a whole, shoving all the sport’s eggs in Super League’s basket is not the way to go.
As any Championship fan will tell you, the second tier is a competition of intrigue, excitement and spell-binding tension on occasions. With quality operators like Jarrud Sammut, James Ford, Ben Reynolds and Tom Holmes, amongst others, there is a wealth of entertainment and talent that rarely get the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of a big audience.
If Sky only wants to broadcast Super League games, that’s fine. What needs to happen if that is the case is for the Betfred Championship to look elsewhere once the current TV deal runs out. A broadcaster like Premier Sports would be more inclined to broadcast matches, and the TV deal would likely be a fraction of the cost of having Super League rights.
In a new era of rugby league, the opportunity to grow the sport and make it appeal to the masses is something that needs to be embraced if it is to have a long term future.
However, the powers that be need to remember that top-quality, exciting rugby league still takes place away from the English game’s flagship competition.
What do you think?