Ready made replacements: will more Championship players will step up to Super League in 2020?

If you’re a fan of sports documentaries, the ESPN 30 for 30 series is unmissable.

It covers a wide range of primarily American sports stories which can capture a viewer’s interest with minimal or no prior knowledge of the subject.

In series three – what was originally panned as 30 documentaries has now exceeded 150, such has been their success – there’s an episode entitled Year of the Scab.

It focuses on the 1987 NFL players’ strike that resulted in a host of replacement players coming into the league for up to three weeks, looking specifically at the Washington Redskins during that period.

While their regular players refused to cross the picket line, a host of men desperate for an opportunity to play at the top level stepped into their shoes for a short spell, and in the Redskins’ case, were remarkably successful at a club that eventually won the Super Bowl that year.

Several of those called-up players grasped their unlikely chance with both hands and went on to earn permanent NFL deals, either in Washington or elsewhere.

The events also loosely inspired the 2000 Hollywood film The Replacements, starring Keanu Reeves.

And while the circumstances are certainly different in Rugby League at the moment – there are no picket lines, scabs, or any comparable animosity – it might be that a handful of players get their own unexpected chance to shine at the top level between now and the end of the year.

The Covid-19 shutdown of Championship and League 1 has left literally hundreds of players without an on-field outlet this year.

At the same time, the demanding new rules and fixture schedule in Super League – added to a steady stream of positive virus tests – has created a significant burden on players in the top-flight.

Some of those clubs have already looked towards the Championship to bolster their squads.

Wakefield have signed London Broncos prop Eddie Battye (pictured) – a man who had to wait until his was 28 for his first crack at Super League – on a month’s loan, and he made his Trinity debut against Huddersfield on Thursday afternoon.

Battye told Sky Sports before the game that he had been helping out on his parents’ farm in South Yorkshire while the Broncos remained in hibernation, and was praised for his fitness levels by Chris Chester before the game.

Last month Leeds brought in Featherstone forward James Harrison on a month’s loan.

Richard Agar said the Rhinos had been monitoring Harrison – who has impressed in the second tier with Rovers and Batley – for some time, and this provided him with an opportunity to impress.

At the same time Brett Ferres returned to Leeds from Featherstone, although given he has played virtually his entire career at the top level, his circumstances are different.

Dan Fleming has had a brief taste of Super League with Castleford and is now back at the Tigers on trial after having left Halifax.

So should injuries and midweek matches bite in the coming weeks, who else could make the step up if needed?

Common sense would dictate that top-flight clubs would look initially to full-time players, avoiding possible complications with daytime employers.

As such, other London Broncos players could be realistic targets, with the likes of forwards Greg Richards, Josh Walters and Warrington-bound Rob Butler not long out of Super League and fully capable of returning.

Similarly, Leigh Centurions players such as Jarrod Sammut, Alex Gerrard and Danny Addy might be attractive short-term targets for clubs.

Should Catalans hit a mini injury crisis, could they give Johnathon Ford or Mark Kheirallah a long-awaited shot at the top-flight?

Or would a long-standing Championship figure such as Dane Manning, another former Super League player like Danny Craven or a promising youngster such as Owen Farnworth get a chance?

It’s very hypothetical, but given that top-flight squads are likely to be more and more stretched as matches come thick and fast, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more Championship players given a chance.

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