GARETH WALKER of League Express
The Kingstone Press Championship is hotting up – and not just in terms of the weather.
With so much at stake in the Championship this season, we expected some fine margins between success and failure. But few could have anticipated them being as fine as the ones that are developing now.
Going into this weekend’s matches, just six points separated fifth placed Dewsbury with Keighley Cougars in tenth.
The scenario that was painted before the start of the season, whereby one win – or even a bonus point – could be the difference between still being able to win the competition and relegation, could still play out.
With the top eight making the play-offs and with it a chance of the Grand Final, and five clubs going down in line with the sport’s restructuring, the margins for error between now and the end of the season will now be tiny.
All the little variables in Rugby League will be magnified in the coming weeks.
Bonus points look certain to play a part. Workington had accumulated nine from 11 defeats going into the weekend, while local rivals Whitehaven collected just three from nine losses.
Injuries will be crucial. Clubs at this level cannot afford the luxury of a big squad, and as such, the loss of a key player or two could have a massive impact on a club’s season.
Run-ins will also be important. For example Batley still have to travel to Sheffield and Whitehaven and host Leigh and Doncaster. Keighley have three of the bottom four still to play
Finally, dual-registration could yet hold the key too. Which clubs have the most access to Super League squads could be decisive, although sensibly there is a rule in place that stops established top-flight players from dropping down for single crucial matches late in the campaign.
The RFL rule that covers that reads as follows: “Dual registered players who have a salary cap value of £20,000 or more, i.e. those who receive a category A, B, C or D classification, must have played in at least three league or league cup fixtures for the Championships club that season before the end of season registration deadline (18 July 2014), which applies in that competition in order to play in games which fall after that deadline whether they be regular season or play-off games.”
The rule, thankfully, would prevent for example Whitehaven fielding James Roby and Luke Walsh for a crucial relegation decider, or Workington naming Matt Bowen and Blake Green in their team. It’s all to play for in the final six rounds of the season – hang onto your hats.
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