Championship Focus: Seven New Year’s wishes

GARETH WALKER picks out seven personal hopes for Rugby League outside the top flight in 2022.

That Cornwall make a success of their debut campaign

The sport’s newest professional club met with some scepticism in certain quarters, along with criticism of the process that led to its arrival.

But Cornwall is now here for 2022 and hopefully beyond and if those involved can make a success of expanding the sport on the southwest coast then it could yet turn out to be a success story.

In Neil Kelly they have made a shrewd appointment as coach and Anthony Mullally is an eye-catching first signing.

History has shown how difficult it is for new entities at this level and there will undoubtedly be low points, but nobody in Rugby League gains from this bold project falling short.

That the Championship title race extends beyond two teams

On paper at least, the Leigh and Featherstone squads look a cut above the rest in terms of investment, experience and quality.

Fortunately, however, matches aren’t played on paper and there will be a line of ambitious clubs – think the likes Halifax, Bradford and York among others – who will fancy their chances of challenging those two.

The fact that the title, and promotion, are decided by play-offs also helps extend hope throughout the entire campaign, but the gap between Rovers, Toulouse and the rest in 2021 – a full seven defeats – was too big for a compelling league.

That the Premier Sports deal is fully embraced

It’s not free-to-air and it’s not Sky Sports, but regular Championship Rugby League on a channel that has shown its commitment to the sport in the past has to be a positive.

Monday nights might not be ideal either, but some thought that about Thursdays the last time Premier screened this level, and it ended up being so popular that Sky took it on for Super League.

The smart, well-run clubs will make events of their televised matches and hopefully showcase the sport at this level in the kind of light we all know it deserves.

That London Broncos make a success of their move to Wimbledon

Coming after the squad moved to part-time status and the club’s recruitment has been, let’s say sensible, a bold ground switch might not be ideally timed.

But there is much to admire about AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane, and this marks the latest fresh start in the Broncos’ storied history.

The continued development of London players will be crucial in the short and long term, and a few stirring wins from Jermaine Coleman’s new-look side would undoubtedly aid the move.

That the six Cumbrian derbies live up to expectations

Having all three Cumbrian teams back in the second tier together is a major positive for the sport in the county and beyond.

The whole trio had fantastic 2021s, with Whitehaven reaching the Championship play-offs and Barrow and Workington securing promotion from League 1.

The latter two will know how tough it will be to survive and Haven have lost some key figures – meaning the six clashes between them all will take on extra importance and hopefully attract bumper crowds.

That League 1’s six northwest derbies spark a revival in all three clubs

On the flip side of the Cumbrian resurgence, Oldham, Swinton and Rochdale all find themselves together again but back in the bottom tier.

All three have designs on promotion in 2022, and that should again make the meetings between them mouth-watering affairs.

Throw in the fact that former Swinton owner Andy Mazey and ex-Lions coach Stuart Littler are now at Rochdale and Oldham respectively and all the games should be full-blooded affairs.

That Midlands Hurricanes create a storm

In another brave move, the progressive Coventry Bears made the decision to rename the club as the Midlands Hurricanes while moving its base to Birmingham and Solihull Bees’ Forshaw Heath Lane Ground.

Bears founder Alan Robinson is chief executive of the new club with Mike Lomas as Chairman as they aim to spread the Rugby League word across the entire region.

The reappointment of the highly-regarded Richard Squires as coach alongside several impressive re-signings and new recruits should mean that progress on the field continues.

That will only help Robinson – one of the sport’s most realistic and dedicated operators – realise his vision.

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