Bradford’s unthinkable omission from the Qualifiers has been a hot talking point this week, with many still questioning how a full-time club in a predominantly part-time division could miss out on a spot in the top four.
However, it isn’t just the Bulls that have felt the true force of the Championship’s top part-time outfits since the beginning of the current league structure.
Sport, as a whole, has some fairly negative connotations of part-time teams. They’re allegedly not as fit or as talented as their full-time counterparts, and as a result, it makes some people believe that when the professionals come to town, it’s going to be a walkover.
However, the Championship has rubbished those opinions in the last two years.
Of the eight Championship teams that have occupied places in the Qualifiers since the Super 8s inception, four of those clubs have been part-time, and they have all made it ahead of full-time opposition. Halifax and Sheffield made the top four in 2015 at the expense of London, and this year, Batley and Featherstone earned the right to play against the bottom four Super League clubs over Bradford and the Eagles, who when full-time at the start of the season.
The plight of the Eagles has been well-documented this year. Having won back-to-back Championship Grand Finals in 2012 and 2013, the club decided to go full-time for the first time in its history when they made the top four of last year’s Championship and the financial rewards that come as a result. The decision was initially met with scepticism by a certain section of Rugby League, and as of now, the decision has yet to be rewarded, with the club going from one of the Championship’s top teams to relegation-threatened this year, falling way short of last year’s third place finish and currently five points above the bottom two going into the Championship Shield.
When Sheffield announced they were going full-time, a number of their key players left the club. Most notably, John Davies and Misi Taulapapa went to Featherstone, while Dom Brambani, Patch Walker and James Davey all went to Batley. They will all play in the Qualifiers for a second successive season.
Batley’s remarkable rise has in part been put down to their recruitment of the former Sheffield trio. However, all three wanted to remain part-time.
That point is crucial, there are some players that have lifestyles that suit playing part-time. Whether that be because they have well-paid jobs outside of the game, because their body can’t take the demands of full-time training or something else, but that doesn’t mean they are less capable than those in full-time clubs. There is enough evidence to make a case that the top part-time players are actually better than the lower-end full-time athletes.
It is a predicament that many clubs have to consider for their long-term futures. For clubs like Halifax, widely rumoured to be considering going full-time, they would have to consider how many of their players they would need to replace if they went down that path.
Long-term, it’s hard to imagine how a part-time club could ever be sustainable in Super League, which is a major reason clubs like Sheffield make the leap, but what the last two years have done for Rugby League is add a great deal of respect for our part-time teams.