A League of its own – third tier thrills

GARETH WALKER, the Championship correspondent of League Express, acknowledges a great competition outside Super League and the Championship.

FIVE rounds into the new Betfred League One season and the competition is shaping up to be one of the best the third tier has ever seen.

Just five matches in there is already no undefeated side, and just two points separate first from seventh.

The vast majority of clubs in the competition – perhaps right down to 11th-placed North Wales Crusaders under new coach Anthony Murray – will believe they have a chance of making the top five and mounting a promotion push.

It’s also a league littered with terrific rugby league stories.

Last weekend was dominated by an off-field spat between Workington and Bradford Bulls that preceded a terrific match on the field that Town snatched 17-16 with a late Jordan Tansey drop goal.

Whichever side you stood on over the debate as to whether the Bulls’ media partner should have been allowed to stream the game live (they eventually weren’t), it undoubtedly added to the build-up to the game, which attracted a 1,366 crowd after extensive promotion by Workington.

It was League One favourites the Bulls’ first loss of the season, and leaves Doncaster currently top of the league on points difference with four wins from five, a record also shared by York City Knights.

Elsewhere there was a significant shock at relegated Oldham – conquerers of Championship Halifax recently – when they went down 16-24 at home to improving Hunslet.

That leaves the Roughyeds down in tenth at present, but expect them to rise again under experience coach Scott Naylor, although this weekend’s home clash with Keighley is now a massive one for them even at this early stage.

Hunslet meanwhile host Workington in what looks another cracking clash, while the Crusaders’ hopes of joining the play-off race will be severely tested against a Newcastle Thunder side that made the top five last year.

The competition has come into public focus for the wrong reasons this year in the wake of Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan’s proposal to cut its funding and make it amateur.

For the good of the sport overall, it’s to be hoped that’s all it remains – one man’s proposal.

There is so much to be admired in League One from the top to the bottom of the league, and if anything the sport should be looking at ways to better help and promote it to give it the standing it clearly deserves.

Read Gareth Walker’s Championship Focus column every Monday morning in League Express.