THE BAD news for the Kingstone Press Championship was hidden within the good.
Last weekend’s Summer Bash at Blackpool attracted a record total attendance of 16,444. That was a respectable figure over two days of action and the Saturday gate of 11,557 was excellent and the best figure for a single day at the event.
However, deduct 11,557 from 16,444 and you get 4,448 which was the crowd for the second day. On Saturday the Super League Magic Weekend’s loss was the Summer Bash’s gain as thousands of Bradford Bulls and – in particular – Hull KR fans flocked to the event, swelling the gate and creating a superb atmosphere for the television audience.
Another well-supported team, Featherstone Rovers, were also in action on Saturday, when they faced London Broncos. That day began with the League One Cup final between Barrow Raiders and North Wales Crusaders and also featured a feisty derby between Rochdale Hornets and Oldham.
Sunday was the problem, when Sheffield Eagles played Swinton Lions, Halifax took on Toulouse and the event concluded with a Heavy Woollen derby between Batley Bulldogs and Dewsbury Rams. Three interesting fixtures, but with only limited crowd-pulling power.
The RFL say: “A full review of this year’s event will now take place before any arrangements for 2018 are made.”
Like the Magic Weekend, the Summer Bash is an extra fixture and potentially distorts the final table.
For example, Hull KR faced the bottom team – who would only be mid-table had they not been deducted 12 points – while the rest of the top-five met each other. That was an advantage for the Robins, though as it turned out they were pushed all the way by a resurgent Bradford outfit – and Rovers are virtually certain to finish top anyway.
The second-day crowd last weekend did not justify the event continuing and there is a chance the big crowd pullers, Hull KR and Bradford, won’t be there next year, while Toronto Wolfpack – with no travelling support – will be.
But it would be a shame if it was scrapped. There is more of a case for continuing with the Summer Bash than there is for Super League’s version. Championship clubs are starved of opportunities to play on a big stage in front of television cameras and the Summer Bash provides that as well as a mid-season day or weekend out for supporters.
The Championship is European rugby league’s hidden gem. Naturally, most attention focuses on Super League, but the standard in the second tier is improving year on year.
Relegated Hull KR, having remained full-time and arguably improved last year’s Super League squad, are running away with top spot, but an intriguing four-way battle has developed for the other places in the Qualifiers with Toulouse Olympique, London Broncos, Featherstone Rovers and Halifax all in the hunt.
Former Castleford favourite Andrew Henderson is developing a reputation as one of the game’s top young coaches and has done an outstanding job at London.
They produced probably the most impressive performance of the Summer Bash to demolish Rovers 42-16. Featherstone have a poor record in Blackpool and let themselves down on the big stage, but have made big strides – on and off the field – this season.
Toulouse were promoted last year and have made an excellent job of adapting to the higher competition and there is a real possibility of a French ‘derby’ against Catalans Dragons in the middle-eights this term.
Halifax have also made good progress under another highly-rated up-and-coming coach, Richard Marshall, and all of them will fancy their chances of giving Super League’s bottom-four a scare, if they get an opportunity.
Of the Six Championship matches at the Summer Bash, two were decided by a point, one by six, two by 10 and there was only one one-sided contest. That is good entertainment and it is a shame the competition is not televised more regularly.
Sky have the rights, but choose not to use them. It would be a boost to the sport if the RFL could encourage them to either have a rethink or pass them on to another broadcaster.