After missing out in the Northern Rail Cup final, Barrow met the on-field criteria for a Super League licence application with their win over Halifax.
Their attention can now turn to building up the other areas of the club to meet the stringent needs required in the top flight. It eases the pressure on the coaching and playing staff, and means work can be done in the community, on the stadium and on the youth set up.
Jamie Rooney was a key man in the win over Halifax which sealed Barrow’s Grand Final spot – and the subsequent right to apply for a Super League licence in 2012 – and it will be interesting to see whether the Raiders can retain his services. With the ever improving James Coyle as his half-back partner, Barrow could build a team round two very good British half-backs.
For Halifax, it means a high-pressure tie against Widnes or Featherstone next week, knowing that a defeat will mean they have just two chances to satisfy the on-field critera, and while Widnes and Barrow can enjoy a 2010 of building the foundations, Fax will have to worry about what they do on the pitch – and working under pressure is not something they have been good at in 2009.
It will represent a disaster if the Shaymen don’t reach the Grand Final this season. They looked so good for the first half of the campaign, but have alarmingly fell away in recent months. In fact if anything, Matt Calland may wish to direct his “country miles ahead of anybody else” accolade to another team.
Astute businessman and Raiders chairman Des Johnston, like him or loathe him, will relish the task that faces Barrow now. They tick the expansion box like Celtic before them, thanks to the fact there are no rival top flight clubs close by, but they now must work on their youth set up and facilities – particularly as the RFL appear keen to be more ruthless with their selection policy and attitude towards promises this time round.
At present, Craven Park is not a top flight rugby league ground (although are certain others currently in the elite 14?). But Barrow are in a relatively unique situation whereby they own their own ground, and are able to make improvements.
The benefits of reaching the Grand Final at the first attempt also mean that Barrow, like Widnes, can afford to blood any youngsters coming through relatively risk-free (although don’t tell that to Leigh fans, it went very wrong for them this season).
Cumbria has been crying out for a Super League team since Workington’s ill-fated spell in the competition, and with the RFL keen to spread top flight action far and wide, Barrow might well be the face that fits.
Whether or not you agree with the licensing system, it certainly keeps you on your toes – it’s just a shame that the circus appears to detract attention from events on the field, and instead leaves fans obsessed with attendances, ticket prices, academies and finances. Whatever happens, it should benefit rugby league in Barrow, even if they don’t make it to the big time.