Seeds of optimism in France and Cumbria

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 11th Oct 2021

There’s been plenty of talk, not least in this column, about the resurgence of Rugby League in France, and the attention garnered by Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique this year.

And after the Grand Final and Million Pound Game – both, of course, covered in this issue – many eyes will be on the Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan on Saturday week, when Shaun Wane’s England and Laurent Frayssinous’ Tricolores clash.

It’s the first meeting of the old rivals since a 44-6 home win at Leigh Sports Village three years ago, when Tom Johnstone scored a hat-trick of tries and Jake Connor crossed once and kicked five goals, and it will be interesting to see whether the outcome is tighter this time around.

It’s great that the game is flourishing across the Channel, especially with the delayed World Cup taking place next year, when France, the runners-up in both 1954 and 1968, will maintain their record of taking part in every tournament and feature in the same group as England.

And closer to home, it’s also good to be able to give credit to Cumbria, a proud Rugby League county that will have three clubs competing in the Championship next season.

That’s after Workington Town beat Doncaster in the League 1 Promotion Play-off Final at Derwent Park to join champions and therefore the automatically promoted Barrow Raiders in being elevated to a division which already includes Whitehaven.

And what an encouraging season it was for the Recreation Ground (now LEL Arena side), who having at one stage been too close to the foot of the table for comfort, made the play-offs thanks to a fine run of eight wins in their last nine regular-season matches.

Now they will aim to build on that achievement under Jonty Gorley as he takes over the coaching reins from Gary Charlton, to whom he was assistant, with Charlton becoming director of rugby.

Barrow won 13 out of 17 en route to the title under Paul Crarey, while Workington, coached by Chris Thorman, were 36-12 winners over Doncaster in their big play-off showdown.

While Thorman is noted for his association with Huddersfield, he is in fact a Geordie, and along the A66 from Cumbria in his home city, Newcastle Thunder are in the process of going full-time as they continue to build towards what they hope will be a genuine bid for promotion to Super League at some stage.

All four of our friends in the North will be competing in a division which has just attracted a deal with Premier Sports, which will mean far more regular coverage on that pay TV channel.

While we congratulate St Helens on their third successive Super League title, there’s also plenty to look forward to in the Championship in 2022.

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