A week on from the EGM which decided the future make up of rugby league in the UK, the Betfred Championship’s representatives in the soon-to-be-departed Qualifiers demonstrated the quality that prevails in the second tier and, perhaps, indicated just why Super League clubs were so keen to return to a more conventional promotion and relegation system.
Saturday afternoon saw three Championship teams play host to Super League opponents; London faced Salford, Hull KR travelled to Toulouse and Widnes visited Toronto. All three of those matches ended with the second tier team winning, the most remarkable of which saw Toulouse come from 19-0 down after 25 minutes to win 34-23. Widnes’ relegation was confirmed in Canada after Toronto inflicted the latest loss on the Vikings’ abysmal season and, earlier in the day, London stunned Salford – top of The Qualifiers table going into the weekend – in a low scoring affair, beating the Red Devils 11-8.
The three results saw each of the Championship teams’ causes for promotion boosted further. Toronto leapfrogged KR into the third – and final – automatic promotion spots while Toulouse and London both moved onto six points, just two behind the Humberside team. As it stands, Tim Sheens’ side will have home advantage in the Million Pound Game but, with one fixture remaining for all the teams, that could yet change.
What this year’s installment of The Qualifiers have shown is the strength in the second tier. While many would have tipped Toronto for promotion from the start of the season, the impact Toulouse and London have had – the latter of whom have now beaten two Super League teams – have no doubt raised eyebrows.
While the Super League structure has been decided for 2019 and the foreseeable future, if – and it is a big if – the teams in the second tier can keep at their current level and sustain their quality, a growth in Super League numbers may only be a handful of years away.