Nick Westby: County rivals on cusp of return to elite

Abbeydale plays hosts to Rotherham Titans v Bristol today.
Abbeydale plays hosts to Rotherham Titans v Bristol today.
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A county the size and tradition of Yorkshire has gone too long without top flight rugby union.

That two clubs are fighting for the honour of restoring that status is a credit to the White Rose and underlines Yorkshire’s re-emergence as a force in union.

Leeds Carnegie and Rotherham Titans are one win away from setting up what would be an unprecedented and mouth-watering county battle for a place in the Aviva Premiership. They are three wins from completing the journey.

For Leeds, with their infrastructure and recent history, a place in the Championship promotion play-offs should be the very bare minimum of their expectations.

But having reached this stage for the second successive season, in what is their third year since losing their place among the elite, they look far better equipped to go in the very least, one step better and reach the final.

Rotherham would have been happy with a sixth-place finish this season. For them to have sustained a promotion challenge over the course of a full season, battling established teams with greater budgets, underlines the strides they have made.

Both clubs gambled on untested head coaches last summer; Leeds trusting a man in James Lowes steeped in rugby league tradition, and Rotherham empowering a 30-year-old in Lee Blackett.

Each man has produced a team carved in his own vision of how the game should be played.

This weekend – and beyond with any luck – they have a golden opportunity to continue that fight and end this county’s exile from the elite.