Gareth Walker looks at the progress being made by the three clubs that joined Championship One for the first time last season.
Now that Kingstone Press Championship One’s future is almost set, with Coventry Bears poised to join a 14-team competition next season, it’s is a good time to reflect on the progress of the division’s three fledgling clubs.
Hemel Stags, Oxford and the University of Gloucestershire All Golds – to give them their rarely used full title – all joined the competition last year.
Each enjoyed a measure of success – Hemel winning half of their games to finish fifth, Oxford just behind them in sixth, and the All Golds developing as the season unfolded despite eventually finishing bottom.
There were inevitably fears that all three could suffer from “second season syndrome” this time around, with rival clubs more aware of their strengths.
But the opposite has been the case, and each of the trio appears to have developed in a way that will satisfy the commendable officials at the RFL who pushed so strongly for their inclusion at the beginning of last year.
All three look well placed to improve on 2013’s finishes and become genuine forces at this level – an encouraging sign considering five very established Championship clubs will be dropping down to play them next season.
Hemel laid down an early marker by securing a draw at highly-rated Oldham, and despite long-term injuries to key players – most notably two imports in Mitchell Barbera and Ben Thorburn – coach Troy Perkins clearly has a very competitive squad.
Perhaps the best indicator of his coaching can actually be found in Super League.
Look at the impact being made by London Broncos’ Mason Caton-Brown – he spent 16 games under Perkins last year and was already been touted for a promising career.
Oxford recovered from a 0-20 half-time deficit against the Stags last weekend to push them within six points, and have also recorded a head-turning result of their own this year.
In winning away at title contenders York City Knights, Tony Benson’s side showed that they are more than coping with the admirable stance of having fewer northern based players in their squad this season.
The All Golds have already exceeded last season’s win total, and following the departure of Brad Hepi – whose contribution in their early days should not be underestimated by anyone – they now have one of the game’s most experienced coaches at the helm.
Steve McCormack has won almost everything the game has to offer at the level and the one above, having topped both leagues, won promotion from Championship One and the Northern Rail Cup.
His presence should significantly help the ambitious club kick on – they won his opening match in charge at London Skolars before pushing Oldham close last weekend – and his presence will doubtless attract quality players.
In short, all three clubs currently appear to be on an upward curve, which is probably beyond most observers’ wildest dreams after just 18 months in the professional game.
To read full reports for all the Championship One clubs don’t forget to get your copy of League Express, which will be in the shops from Monday morning or available online from 11.00pm Sunday night.