FORGET the Euros and Wimbledon, there is just as much drama, action and intrigue expected in the Kingstone Press Championship tomorrow.
Granted, it is not reaching its definitive endgame like the two aforementioned and more famous competitions.
There are three regular rounds to go in rugby league’s second-tier division.
Neither might it have the glamour of Paris, where hosts France seek to douse Portugal’s lone threat – the preening Ronaldo – or SW19 where Andy Murray seeks to lift Britain’s mood with a second men’s title win.
No, instead, some of the outposts of these battles are Odsal, Mount Pleasant and Workington, cracking rugby league strongholds but hardly the most alluring of venues. Nevertheless, so much is poised and so much is at stake, that the potential for heroics and heartache is undoubted.
For Featherstone Rovers, for instance, time has almost run out.
They know defeat at Batley Bulldogs – one of the Championship’s surprise packages in 2016 – will all but end their hopes of making the top-four and ruin their long-standing promotion dreams yet again.
Jon Sharp’s side are sixth, three points behind Batley who, ahead of the West Yorkshire derby at Mount Pleasant, occupy that final place in the all-important top-four.
“We can’t afford to drop the points if we want to make the four,” he admitted.
“If we win it gives us an opportunity, but we have to beat Batley – it is a must-win for us.”
That is easier said than done, though.
John Kear, in his final season at Batley before returning to Wakefield Trinity, has forged together a fine side that, despite its part-time status, is now on the brink of facing Super League champions Leeds Rhinos in the Qualifiers. He will not, though, let his squad get ahead of themselves – Featherstone and Bradford Bulls can still usurp Bulldogs – and the need to retain composure now is crucial with the prize so near.
Kear is also aware of Rovers’ threat.
He said: “Featherstone are a very cohesive team.
“I’ve looked at their game against Workington last week and they played really well. We’re certainly prepared for a very difficult game of rugby league.”
Bulldogs won 44-22 at Whitehaven last Sunday to stay on course for their primary goal.
If they defeat Featherstone, it is hard to imagine them being caught but Kear said: “I wasn’t completely happy with the performance and neither were the players.
“We defended really well which is pleasing, but there’s other aspects of the game we can certainly improve upon, like our smartness with the ball in hand and our kicking game.”
Fifth-placed Bradford, meanwhile, are also three points adrift of Batley and, therefore, in dire need of victory against visiting Whitehaven.
Bulls almost defeated leaders Leigh Centurions last week before cruelly losing out 22-20 to leave their top-four hopes increasingly unlikely.
They have included new signing Dane Chisholm, the ex-Hull KR and France stand-off who arrived from Canterbury Bulldogs this week, in their squad as the former World Club champions face their own do-or-die moment.
Coach Rohan Smith said: “There is definitely some belief to take from that game and obviously plenty of talent, so it is a matter of starting again and going through the process of performing well on Sunday.”
Third-placed Halifax are on a seven-game unbeaten run so will look to go one step further than Bradford when they host Leigh – incredibly, undefeated in 19 league games since losing at Batley in February – at The Shay tomorrow.
Any positive result for Richard Marshall’s side would almost confirm their place in the Middle Eights for a second successive season.
Meanwhile, Dewsbury Rams head to Workington, who, have not won since mid-May, looking to avoid being dragged into the relegation battle where Sheffield Eagles, who visit high-flying London Broncos, are already in the thick of it.