GARETH WALKER of League Express pays tribute to the clubs in Kingstone Press Championship One from outside the so-called heartlands.
In what is understood to be a first in Rugby League history, last weekend saw clubs from expansion areas win every single game in a professional competition, Kingstone Press Championship One.
South Wales Scorpions set the ball rolling by recording their first win of the season, 46-18 against London Skolars on Saturday afternoon.
Then on Sunday, Gloucestershire All Golds earned arguably the result of the weekend by beating promotion-chasing York City Knights 24-22.
At the same time, Hemel Stags were beating Oldham 44-32, while improving Gateshead Thunder won 36-22 at Oxford.
If that isn’t a clear indication that the Rugby League message is spreading effectively in a semi-professional environment then I’m not sure what is.
The RFL took a bold step when they decided to introduce three new clubs into the competition in 2013 in Hemel, Oxford and the All Golds.
With outpost clubs London Skolars, Gateshead and South Wales already in the league, it left only three established clubs from the sport’s heartlands.
But all three newcomers had reason to feel positive after their debut campaigns, and each appear to now be kicking on.
With South Wales adopting a different approach this year under rookie coach Mike Grady and focusing almost entirely on local players, it has taken them a little time to find their feet in 2014. But they have been improving in recent weeks, and Saturday’s capital triumph was their first win in 342 days.
Skolars have found things tougher this season after losing several key players, but they continue to be a major asset for the sport in North London and will doubtless come again.
And after several seasons of struggle, Gateshead Thunder now have as many reasons as anyone to be positive about the future. They were already on the rise under Stanley Gene and with the vastly experienced Jamie Rooney on board, when they came under the umbrella of rugby union club Newcastle Falcons, opening up a host of possibilities for the future.
Not everything has been perfect with any of these clubs, of course, with questions over some facilities from rivals, and low crowds at times.
But Championship One now provides a genuine platform for fledgling clubs to grow, and for this writer’s money, the positives of that competition far outweigh the negatives.
Next year it will grow to 14 clubs, hopefully including Coventry Bears.
Had the trio of newcomers struggled badly since their introduction last year, there may have been fears that they would be swamped when five “traditional” clubs come down next year.
Instead each of them can relish the challenges that lie ahead – and the sport as a whole should benefit from that.
Gareth Walker writes about the Kingstone Press Championship every week in Rugby League Express.
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