First published in League Express, Monday 2nd Sept 2013
When we get into September the temperature begins to drop.
But not as far as Rugby League is concerned where, over the last week, the temperature has risen by several notches.
It began last Wednesday night, when Featherstone Rovers drew almost 4,000 spectators to their BigFellas Stadium to see a pulsating game against Sheffield Eagles.
Featherstone won the Championship League Leaders’ Shield for the fourth time in a row, although they have only won the title once, when they defeated Sheffield in 2011.
Huddersfield have won the Super League Shield for the first time amid quite emotional scenes. It was particularly good to see the joy apparent for Huddersfield Chairman Ken Davy, who probably should have an award all of his own for having done so much for the Huddersfield club since he bought it in 1996.
It’s great to see hard work and dedication getting its reward.
And, with great respect to those clubs that have won the League Leaders’ Shield before, it’s wonderful to see a new name on that particular trophy, particularly when you think it’s 81 years since Huddersfield last finished at the top of the league.
But, like Featherstone, the Giants now have to put the celebrations to one side, and their coach Paul Anderson has to work out a way of beating their rivals for the Super League title.
But one club that doesn’t have to do that is the North Wales Crusaders.
After beating South Wales on Sunday the Crusaders are the Champions of Championship One. They gain automatic promotion to the Championship, without having to take part in any play-offs.
It’s been a remarkable season for the Crusaders under their astute coach Clive Griffiths. They have risen phoenix-like from the debacle of the old Crusaders club, and their Chairman Jamie Thomas and his colleagues from Wrexham deserve tremendous credit for putting a club together after the former Super League club went into liquidation in 2011.
The stories of Huddersfield, Featherstone and North Wales Crusaders are genuinely inspiring, and I’m delighted for each of them, their players, officials and supporters.
The importance of the bonus point
The clash between Featherstone and Sheffield last Wednesday was a battle that would determine which of those two clubs would finish with the League Leaders’ Shield in the Championship, and the intriguing thing about it was that the bonus point played a significant role in the way the crowd perceived the game.
Featherstone needed to beat the Eagles while preventing them getting a bonus point so that they would enter the last round of games on Sunday in the driving seat, knowing that a win against Hunslet would secure the Shield.
It meant they had to beat Sheffield by more than twelve points, and, as the game ebbed and flowed, the Featherstone fans willed their team on to reach that target.
If the bonus point hadn’t existed, the game would effectively have been over after around 60 minutes, when Rovers took an unassailable lead.
But Sheffield, well aware of the bonus point situation themselves, fought back, and reduced the lead to ten points. And that was the situation as the game went into the last minute, only for Will Sharp to score the try that took Featherstone beyond the 12-point limit.
The crowd went barmy, and I hope the lesson isn’t lost on all those RFL officials and officials of Super League clubs who may have been watching the game.
Bonus points are designed to make the result of a game more exciting, and they certainly did that in this case.
From 2015 we will apparently have two leagues of twelve teams, and both leagues will need to have the same points structure.
After watching Wednesday night’s game I hope the Super League clubs will see the advantages of the bonus point system, and will think about how it can help promote the game.
A flawed media strategy
The RFL needs a media strategy that is designed to avoid some of the problems that arose for journalists at last week’s Challenge Cup Final.
After the game at Wembley, some journalists are able to go down to what is called ‘the mixed zone’ to carry out interviews with players.
Unfortunately, the players hardly seem to be aware that they are supposed to speak to the media, and there appeared to be no one there from the RFL whose job it was to ensure that the players carried out their commitments.
Eventually those journalists who were still hanging about outside the dressing rooms were asked to leave by the stadium managers, after they had been unable to speak to more than a few players.
With the World Cup coming up, the RFL really needs to get its act together, and the respective teams need to know before the game precisely what their responsibilities should be.
Rugby League needs all the publicity it can get, so it’s a shame when the game shoots itself in the foot by not insisting that players are available to speak to the media.
Reds set for relaunch
Salford City Reds will become the Salford Red Devils this Thursday, when the club is relaunched by Dr Marwan Koukash at the Salford City Stadium.
The Reds will announce a host of signings who they have not yet officially confirmed, and they are expected to include Rangi Chase from Castleford and Tim Smith from Wakefield.
The Reds have already announced the signing of Adrian Morley, and I suspect that Adrian will be the key signing for the club, even if he doesn’t play many games for them.
Adrian is such an iconic, charismatic figure, and I reckon the Reds could double their gates simply by saying that Adrian would stand at the front of the stadium before every match and offer to shake the hand of every supporter who turns up for the game.
If the Red Devils are to be reborn, he will have a massive role to play.
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