Lee Gaskell, Richard Mathers, Jamie Langley and Paul Clough.
Four players who have all appeared in the historic Super League Grand Final – the likes of Mathers and Langley have even won it during their illustrious careers. Yet next year, all four of these stars – and many more, for that matter, won’t be playing in Super League. They’ll be playing in the Championship.
This season, the prospect of Mathers – an ex-England full-back who has had a good season with Wakefield and is only 30 – playing in the second tier would have been unthinkable. The same applies to Gaskell, who is still one of the most talented half-backs around.
But the lure of the Championship has had an effect, and next year, we might just be in for the most exciting Championship season ever – and, whisper it quietly, but it might even be more exciting than Super League.
It’s almost felt like the division has stumbled along over the last few years, dragging itself along to the day when the prospect of promotion finally reappears. This year has been almost the lowest point for the league, without any TV coverage to speak of.
But anyone who has been to a Championship game this year will know it is a thrilling division, with plenty to offer the game. It’s become a bit of an afterthought in 2014 without any exposure – but next year, that will all change.
When you re-open the door to the promised land, everyone will suddenly become a bit more interested in life in the Championship. Super League clubs will cast a watchful eye over those chasing the dream of promotion, whilst players, fans and coaches alike will all be giving it their all to ensure they are in the mix for a future in Super League.
The arrival of Bradford and London into the league will shake everyone up, and will certainly see more coverage for the Championship than perhaps ever before. And with Bradford and London come a clutch of players who will light up the division on a weekly basis, including the likes of Gaskell and Mathers.
But it isn’t just Bradford and London who are making big noises ahead of 2015. Sheffield today (Friday) announced the signing of former Great Britain forward Jamie Langley, which is a massive coup for Mark Aston’s men. And with Leigh going full-time next year, they promise to be a strong outfit, too.
Crowds will be up, and with a host of top stars coming into the division, the quality of play is only going to increase too. Bradford have recruited heavily and strongly ahead of an attempt to get straight back into Super League, but irrespective of how they do, the presence of a club the size of the Bulls in the Championship can only do good things for the game at a lower level.
When the leagues split midway through the season next year, there are going to be four Super League clubs that are in for a real shock when they enter the Super 8s. No longer is the Kingstone Press Championship a secondary thought to those at the top end of Rugby League – the league is set up nicely next year to be one of the very best around.