Talking Rugby League: Why are Yorkshire clubs struggling to match Lancashire?

WHY do the clubs on the western side of the Pennines seem to be so much more successful than those on the east?

After eleven rounds of the Super League competition, of the five clubs based in the traditional county of Lancashire, three of them are sitting joint top of the league alongside Catalans Dragons with 16 points.

Salford are two points further back in sixth place, while Leigh line in ninth place with seven points.

Of the five Yorkshire clubs, only Hull KR are in the top six, lying in fifth place.

Then we have Leeds, Huddersfield, Castleford and Hull FC occupying four of the bottom six places.

And that broad pattern has been apparent for several years.

A Yorkshire club hasn’t won the Grand Final since Leeds beat Castleford in 2017.

And Leeds were the last Yorkshire club to win the Challenge Cup when they defeated Salford in 2020 in front of an empty stadium at Wembley.

At the weekend, of the three matches between Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs, Warrington defeated Hull KR, Castleford were hammered at home by St Helens and Huddersfield were easily beaten at home by Wigan. Of the other two Yorkshire clubs, Leeds lost 26-0 at Catalans and Hull FC gave London Broncos their first win of the season. The black and whites are remarkably fortunate that there is no conventional relegation this year. How crazy is that?

With all five Yorkshire clubs suffering defeat, unfortunately the Super League competition looks to be severely imbalanced geographically.

Are the Lancashire clubs better organised? Do they have better players? Do they have better Academies? Do they have better recruitment policies?

I don’t know what the reason is, but I can’t see it changing in the near future, especially when you consider the weekend’s results.

Can Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants win the Challenge Cup semi-finals this weekend to tilt the balance back towards Yorkshire?

Or will we see Wigan and Warrington win though to contest the Challenge Cup Final once more between two Lancashire clubs?

The latter looks more likely than the former.

Can we generate new audiences?

I was interested to see a new initiative by Warrington Wolves to try to generate new fans from the town’s growing Hong Kong community.

There are believed to be around 6,000 residents from Hong Kong who have made Warrington their home as part of a resettlement scheme.

The club recently welcomed around 200 members of that community to the Halliwell Jones Stadium as they hosted Catalans Dragons in Super League as part of their ‘Kid 4 a Quid’ ticketing scheme, with the Super League club having run social media adverts in Cantonese prior to the game.

Rugby League has virtually no presence in Hong Kong so it’s fair to assume that most people coming from there to the UK know nothing about our sport.

But the Wolves apparently have a five-year strategy to grow their fanbase via their links with the that community.

Warrington have always been innovative in terms of the club’s marketing strategies although its crowds don’t seem to be increasing significantly.

It will be interesting to see whether any former Hong Kong residents become long-term supporters of the club.

More on the Challenge Cup

Regular readers will have seen my recent articles in this column in which I set out a plan that in my view would begin to restore the faded magic of the Challenge Cup.

Inevitably not everyone agrees with my proposals although I haven’t yet had a response, either positive or negative, from the RFL.

I proposed playing the Challenge Cup Final the week before the Grand Final to generate a big end of season with massive matches on successive Saturdays.

Here are some of the potential objections to my proposal.

1 Would Wembley be available in October? At the moment there are no events scheduled for Wembley Stadium throughout October this year.

2 The loss of the amateurs from the Challenge Cup. The presence of numerous amateur clubs in the competition is a relatively recent phenomenon and undoubtedly adds romance to the Challenge Cup but not a great deal of monetary value. A national Cup competition for community clubs would be an alternative route to go down.

3 The restriction on overseas players that I proposed (only three quota players allowed in the round of 32, increasing by one for each round to the final). As I have already pointed out, we need to re-create a clear identity for the Challenge Cup and a limitation of overseas players before the Challenge Cup Final itself would help to achieve this objective.

4 It would be difficult for any team to win the Challenge Cup and then the Grand Final when they are only a week apart. This is obviously true, but that is one major reason why this structure should be introduced. Winning the double should be difficult and it will be a tremendous achievement for any club that succeeds in doing it.

In the post-war era before 1973, when Rugby League moved to two divisions, the only teams to win the double were Warrington in 1954 and St Helens in 1966.

In 1954 the Championship Final was played between Warrington and Halifax at Maine Road on 8 May, three days after the epic Challenge Cup replay at Odsal. Warrington defeated Halifax 8-7 after having beaten the same opponents 8-4 at Odsal.

In 1966 St Helens won the Challenge Cup Final, beating Wigan 21-2 on 21st May. A week later St Helens won the Championship Final when they defeated Halifax 35-12.

Reactions from Vegas

According to the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Danny Weidler, “the NRL is not resting on the success of its Las Vegas adventure as it strives to make year two even better.”

The NRL held its first American double-header on Saturday 2nd March at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

A survey of around 1,500 attendees came up with some interesting findings.

Among them, 31 per cent had never attended an NRL match before.
On a scale of one to five (one being extremely poor, five being extremely good), 77 per cent of people rated the overall experience a five.

49 per cent of respondents said they would be returning for the 2025 Las Vegas matches (an additional 30 per cent said they would return if their club was playing).

How good would it be to see some Super League clubs taking part in that event?

First published in League Express newspaper, Issue 3,430 (May 13, 2024)

Click here to purchase a digital edition of League Express.

Click here to purchase an online edition of League Express through

Click here to listen to our new League Express Podcast.

League Express is widely available from local newsagents across the north of England.