Editor’s Verdict: We need to make more of rugby league’s drama

It would appear that only two matches in the entire rugby league season really matter – the Super League Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final.

Castleford have taken the battle for top spot in the table to the final weekend, knowing that a defeat for St Helens and a win for them against Catalan will earn them an unlikely league leaders’ shield triumph.

That itself is drama. But it’s likely to be played down next weekend, just as it was when Huddersfield won it last year, given that the big-boys have ultimately decided it’s not worth the hassle.

Warrington were the last one of the so-called top teams to make a concerted effort to finish top of the tree, but having done it and then failed in the play-offs, Tony Smith acknowledged that it was about the bigger picture, and mapping out the best path to the Grand Final.

Hopefully, that will be something that changes under the re-structure next season. With only the top four making the play-offs in 2015, clubs may no longer to be afford to be below-par in games – would Leeds have lost to London if they had to guarantee a top four place to stay on the road to Old Trafford?

With all the focus on trying to sell rugby league’s two big days out, we’re forgetting that the sport should be about drama all year round.

We’ll see the final weekend of the season pan out over four days. No see-saw drama, no live television coverage switching between the games.

Instead, we’ll know by 10pm on Friday night whether St Helens are to finish top, or whether Castleford can snatch it by beating Catalan on Saturday.

Even if the powers that be did want them to be played on the same day, logistics stage otherwise. You can hardly re-arrange a trip to France, while Huddersfield Town are playing at home on Saturday meaning re-arranging the Giants match is out of the question.

It’s a shame.

There’s also the fact that the staggered kick-off times and days mean those in the play-offs can try and manipulate their final position. With the most successful play-off team ever, Leeds, guaranteed to be 6th, will Catalan or Widnes be pushing that hard to beat each other to 7th and face a trip to Headingley.

It’s also a shame that more hasn’t been made of the race for the top eight. That is, after all, why there are so many teams in the play-offs – to give the bottom half something to play for.

Both Catalan and Widnes secured their places at the weekend, but very literally coverage appears to have been given to it.

The Championship has effectively had a TV blackout this year, and it doesn’t sound like that will change next year either – save for the Summer Bash and the play-offs.

That’s a Championship season that ended in the most dramatic of fashions on Sunday, with Keighley relegated after a late Featherstone try.

For me, this season has gone remarkably quickly. Next season is a new dawn, and one can only hope that the ambitious promise of “every game matters” at least removes the complacency that has almost created a state of disillusionment and disinterest around the regular season.

How many memorable matches have there been in Super League this season?

Langtree Park was a sombre place on Friday, following the heavy home defeat to Warrington the previous evening and the video of the league leaders’ shield being put back in its box.

Saints have been top of the league for a while, and it’s been theirs to lose for several weeks. Surely they won’t chuck it away?

Despite sitting top, there are calls of “Brown out” from fans almost every week. Saints fans aren’t the only ones, even Brian McDermott, coach of Challenge Cup winners Leeds, has his opponents.

People are entitled to their opinions of course, but it seems bizarre, and makes you wonder whether it is a consequence of the current league system.

It makes you wonder whether rugby league fans will ever be happy.

If Saints do chuck it away, then what a story it will be for Castleford. A well-coached, well-drilled team who play rugby league the way it should be.

We’re always told the game must shed its northern roots to get anywhere, we even tried a franchise system that had it worked as intended long term, would have probably shed Super League of Cas.

But you tell me why we shouldn’t be proud of Castleford and what they’ve achieved this season, and why we shouldn’t shout about how a small town team has taken it to the big boys.

Let’s shout about we’ve got, and not try and fit in with what we think we should have.

 

Love rugby league.

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