Can anybody stop Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers contesting this year’s Betfred Championship Grand Final?
On the evidence of the vast majority of the season to date, the top two have looked a cut above the rest in the second tier.
Ahead of this weekend’s matches – when both faced stern tests against teams in the top four – the French side and Fev had lost just one match between them, Toulouse emerging victorious when the two teams met in Yorkshire.
More than that, Sylvain Houles’ side were scoring at a rate of 46 points per match and James Webster’s 42, illustrating the dominance they have had for much of the campaign.
But all of that counts for little – apart from home fixtures and a more favourable route of course – come the play-offs, and there are undoubted dangers below them if either side shows signs of complacency.
Halifax Panthers have been one of the success stories of the season after a decidedly shaky start to the campaign.
An early away defeat to Oldham was their third defeat from four, but recently they put together a run of ten wins from eleven to surge up the table.
The vastly experienced Scott Grix has proved an influential figure from fullback, with Adam Tangata a tower in the pack during his latest spell at the club and Greg Worthington and James Saltonstall consistent dangers out wide.
It also should be noted that Fax gave Toulouse one of their biggest tests of the year in a 34-44 defeat back in round three, and it would be foolish for any opponents to underestimate them.
Bradford Bulls have also constructed a campaign of consistency, and have been boosted in recent weeks by the man they recruited to help mount a promotion push, Danny Brough.
The veteran playmaker was in imperious form in the recent win at York City Knights, and his combination with Jordan Lilley should worry any defence.
They also have a wealth of experience in a tough pack, including Steve Crossley, Aaron Murphy and Ben Evans.
And that’s before getting to one of the golden rules of Rugby League – never write off any John Kear team.
Doubtless he will relish the challenge that lies ahead.
In terms of overachievement – certainly from a point of view of outside expectations – Batley Bulldogs are right up there in 2021.
Craig Lingard has moulded a dangerous and consistent side in which halfbacks Ben White and Tom Gilmore have been stand-outs throughout.
Any team with Jonny Campbell and Greg Johnson on the wings is likely to challenge opposition defences, while Alistair Leak has been having a major impact on matches off the bench.
They also have a host of unsung heroes in their ranks – including Nyle Flynn – and certainly shouldn’t be written off.
London Broncos look set to secure the final top-six place, despite a season that has overall fallen below pre-season targets.
The capital club has had a change in coach, with Tom Tsang replacing Danny Ward, and the points deduction for not travelling to Toulouse could yet affect their finishing place.
But the club has continued to push talented youngsters that have come through the club’s system, with winger Gideon Boafo he latest to shine.
Chris Hankinson, Matty Fozard and Rhys Curran provide genuine Championship quality and know-how, and the Broncos will be confident of causing a shock or two come the end of the season.
Whitehaven might fall just short of the six, but their season undoubtedly deserves recognition, with Gary Charlton’s side the main rivals to Batley as the competition’s overachievers.
For the other four clubs, the challenge ahead of them is upsetting the accepted applecart driven by Toulouse and Featherstone. It should be fascinating to watch it unfold.
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