First published in League Express, Monday 26th Aug 2013
North Wales Crusaders coach Clive Griffiths made a very pertinent point in last week’s news pages of League Express.
Griffiths has called for more consistency in the fixture list for Kingstone Press Championship One in 2014, and it’s something that is much needed.
Griffiths pointed out how his side still had three matches to play (at the time) while table-toppers Oldham had finished their league campaign.
It’s a situation that isn’t great for either club.
In the aftermath of their recent derby win over Rochdale, the Roughyeds found themselves in a position where they could have won the league – and with it automatic promotion – or they could have to prepare for a play-offs campaign that will define their season.
There was a gap of four and a half weeks between that Spotland win and the start of the play-offs – a situation that has left coach Scott Naylor talking of arranging mid-season friendlies to keep his players match fit.
Would that happen in any other professional sport?
Crusaders have also had big gaps in their fixture list during the season – they had a clear three weeks between beating Rochdale in the league and then playing the Northern Rail Bowl final.
And it’s a situation that certainly isn’t unique to either club. Other clubs have had big gaps in their fixture lists, which makes several things difficult, especially consistency on the field and the ability to gain any kind of momentum in terms of supporters coming regularly to games.
Potential new supporters especially could struggle to come to grips with the erratic fixture list, and long-standing regulars find it very frustrating.
It should be noted that it isn’t an easy league to plan. With the new Northern Rail Cup structure, the Championship One clubs needed to start early, yet still try to finish in-line with the 14-team Championship.
The absence of Northampton left the league with just nine teams – hardly an ideal number – and just 16 league matches, spread over the course of five months.
Next year there remains hope of another new addition, probably in the shape of Coventry, which would automatically provide two additional fixtures for each club.
But it still needs more – playing each other three times would provide 27 matches, just one less than the Championship and the same as Super League in 2013.
Is that just too straight forward?
It is to be hoped that the RFL and the clubs can get together and find a more sensible fixture list for 2014.
And sort out what is going to happen to the third tier of the professional game from 2015 onwards at the same time.
The Championship relegation battle will finally reach its dramatic conclusion this weekend.
Bottom club York City Knights now have a huge mountain to climb after their latest defeat at Workington on Thursday, with only two wins from their last two matches giving them a chance of survival. They have Doncaster (away) and Sheffield (home).
Above them, just two points separate four teams – Keighley, Swinton, Hunslet and Barrow.
Remarkably, each club’s fate still lies in their own hands.
Two of them play each other, with the Raiders hosting Paul March’s Cougars at Craven Park. The winners will be assured of safety.
So too would Swinton, if they could win up at coach Gary Chambers’ hometown club Whitehaven, or Hunslet, if they can beat title-chasing Featherstone at home.
One of those four will have to go down though, making it an intriguing final day of league action.
It’s what professional sport should be all about.