The future and funding of Betfred League 1 is a hot topic at present, especially among those clubs that will play in the bottom division in 2022.
Some of those are preparing for central funding cuts of around 80 percent, some have admitted that threatens their existence, yet last weekend a match from that level went viral online.
Clips of Doncaster’s stunning last second try and ensuing conversion in their semi-final win at Keighley had views running into the hundreds of thousands across all of the RFL’s online platforms.
The scenes it sparked were of pure sporting jubilation – and on the flip side from the Cougars, devastation – showing exactly how much it meant to those involved.
Yet clubs in League 1 are going to find life as tough as ever next year and must evolve and adapt quickly or suffer badly.
This piece is written before Sunday’s promotion decider between Workington Town and Doncaster, but ahead of the match, coaches Chris Thorman and Richard Horne were asked about what the third tier offers Rugby League as a whole in this country, and what its strengths are.
The pair have over 500 Super League appearances between them but have come to fully appreciate the sport at a lower level.
“It’s quite Rugby League in its rawest state, but that doesn’t make it any worse than Super League,” Thorman explained.
“Especially in Cumbria where I am, people say that Rugby League is on the decline everywhere. But I go to watch community games every single weekend and there’s talent everywhere.
“The thing I’ve tried to do at the club is have a core of Cumbrians, because it gives the club an identity, and it gives something for the fans to buys into and relate to.
“I’ve got a sprinkling of travellers that absolutely contribute for the right reasons, but the Cumbrian players up here are very talented.
“I don’t have the opportunity to get into Super League clubs and bring in players on loan like the clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire do.
“So it’s really important that we embed the right pathways into the professional clubs.
“It’s been really hard work, especially with Covid over the last 18 to 24 months, but there’s a lot of exciting players and a lot of talent.
“You see that with Barrow promoted again and how successful Whitehaven have been in the Championship.
“If you look at their squads, they have a sprinkling of Australians and New Zealanders, but the majority are Cumbrians.
“There’s plenty of talent up here certainly.”
Former Hull FC stalwart Horne has relished his time so far in charge of the Dons.
“It is real Rugby League – it’s very raw,” Horne said.
“With the reserves not being there the last year or so, we’ve given a couple of young lads from Wakefield and Leeds opportunities to come and play against men and see how they can develop.
“If we can develop them along with the Leeds and the Wakefield then that’s great.
“I think it’s shown that it’s a real platform for that at the moment – producing young lads.
“We’ve got young Ben Howe, who’s come through the Foundation at Doncaster and found his way into the team and played a couple of games this year. He’s been close to playing a couple of others.
“The work that Doncaster are doing in and around the town is credit to the Foundation.
“Our fan base is growing every year, and all it probably takes is us getting a result like we did at Keighley for Doncaster to take off as a club.
“I look at is as real Rugby League in League 1, full of drama and intensity.
“The lads like to entertain and they throw the ball about; you don’t have the structured side of it and you have a bit of flair that’s probably not really in the game at the moment.”
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