Bradford’s unthinkable slip from the Championship’s top four struck a new level of reality at the weekend, as their defeat to Leigh saw them move three points adrift of Halifax and Batley with just three games remaining in the season.
It’s been a bitterly disappointing year for the Bulls, with many inside the club believing they would kick on following their disappointment in the Million Pound Game. However, that hasn’t been the case, with their part-time counterparts from West Yorkshire within touching distance of claiming a top four spot ahead of them.
While it is very easy to lambast Bradford’s shortcomings this year, the major factor in Bradford’s troubles this year are down to the significant development at the three clubs that have overtaken them in the Championship at this stage.
London, Halifax and Batley share very different stories, but their progression since the beginning of the Super 8s concept is fantastic.
Since Richard Marshall’s arrival at Halifax, the club has drastically improved their fortunes, culminating in their sixth-placed finish in last year’s Qualifiers.
But Fax’s success doesn’t just come down to an enhanced playing squad. The money earned from last year’s finish was then invested into the club’s infrastructure, aiding their strength behind the scenes. Their reserve squad has seen numerous youngsters sign professional contracts while they have made efforts to improve their marketing department.
In under two years, they’ve gone from being a sleeping giant to a club that is seemingly on a path towards full-time status and genuine Super League contenders.
As for the Bulldogs, their long-term progression is a year behind Fax, but their meteoric rise is more remarkable. 12 months ago the Bulldogs were threatened with relegation, yet they are now closing in on the opportunity to fight for promotion to Super League.
Should they invest the prize money they receive from a potential top four spot wisely, it could be a monumental season for the club.
Beyond that, London’s rise to second in the Championship is equally impressive, given their awful first year in the Championship last year.
What all three clubs have in common is progression, on and off the field.
Fax’s aforementioned investment has been pivotal. Batley’s decision to significantly invest in their playing squad this year has paid dividends while London’s decision to go to one base in Ealing has brought harmony and stability to the Broncos for the first time in years.
There is, of course, work to be done, With Halifax still to play Leigh, Featherstone and London while Batley must still win two of their last three matches to gain a spot, and they still have Rovers and the Broncos to play. It is not a foregone conclusion that Bradford won’t make the top four.
Bradford’s current position is staggering. Forget the full-time status and the larger playing budget, this is a club that was crowned the world’s best team ten years ago.
But although financial problems and questionable recruitment decisions over the years have played a part in Bradford’s current position, the real emphasis should be on the rise of the clubs in the Championship.
Hopefully, the fortunes of Halifax, Batley and London inspire others to follow suit in the next few years.