It has taken just one round of fixtures for people to question the concept of the Qualifiers.
Heavy defeats for Featherstone and Batley at the hands of Leeds and Hull KR respectively have somewhat punctured the excitement surrounding the Qualifiers, with the Super League clubs convincingly asserting their dominance over their part-time counterparts in round one.
There will always be an inevitable fear that the four Super League representatives in the Qualifiers will be too strong for their Championship opponents, so to see two one-sided scorelines early on isn’t the ideal start.
But a more telling indicator of this year’s Qualifiers is most certainly, as Leigh take on Salford.
The Centurions are the most viable threat to those chasing survival, a fact proved by their dominant Championship campaign.
While things didn’t go to plan for Leigh in last year’s Qualifiers, they look in an even better position again to earn promotion to their star-studded squad. Their credentials will be put to the test this week against a Salford side that wouldn’t even be in this position had they not been docked six points.
But if Neil Jukes’ side can put on a performance, and even pick up a victory over the Red Devils, the current negativity surrounding the Qualifiers will soon disappear.
Realistically speaking, many believe Leigh are the only club capable of promotion at this stage, with 13 clubs fighting for 12 Super League spots. That might remain the case for a short while, with clubs such as London, Batley, Featherstone, Halifax and Sheffield currently building their infrastructures before having a real dig at the top flight. These clubs need time, but also the opportunity to build. That is what has happened in the last two years, but we can’t expect sudden success.
For Featherstone and Batley, the challenge now is to respond this week in tough games against Huddersfield and London.
Although Leeds Rhinos brutally dispatched of Rovers, the Championship’s best defensive team, there is little doubting that, playing like that, the Rhinos are more like a top four team in Super League, nevermind the Qualifiers. Yes, they have had a torrid year, but this is the first time that their squad has been so injury-free. Don’t forget, this is a Leeds team that defeated Hull FC and Wigan in the final rounds of the regular season.
As for Batley, while they didn’t do as well as some may have predicted, they put up a spirited showing against a Hull KR team that can play some good stuff on their day. Realistically, promotion is a long-shot for the Bulldogs, and this was just an indication of where John Kear’s side need to get to moving forward.
Whichever way you look at it, writing off the Qualifiers already isn’t the wisest move.