Dave Craven: Championship contenders can scent blood in Qualifiers

Halifax RLFC and Bradford Bulls - who met last week -  are two Championship sides who have the potential to upset Super League opposition in the Qualifiers. Picture: Jim Fitton.
Halifax RLFC and Bradford Bulls - who met last week - are two Championship sides who have the potential to upset Super League opposition in the Qualifiers. Picture: Jim Fitton.
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THERE remains the odd person who still questions just how it all works and why it’s all even happening.

However, that is to be expected given the sheer size of change that has occurred.

Nevertheless, most people I have spoken to this week have nothing but love for the Super 8s and excitement in anticipation of the action getting underway.

Undoubtedly, the “new era’s” new way of completing the season’s business has got people talking.

Ask 10 people who they think will be promoted, relegated and make the Million Pound Game from the Qualifiers and you are more than likely to get 10 different answers.

Certainly, though, there is a growing belief that Salford Red Devils – with all their outlandish shouting from the rooftops and big-spending – could be the ones to fall through the trap door.

What a story that would be; Marwan Koukash’s bunch of increasingly not-so merry men destined for the Championships when, not so long ago, he was demanding a top-four finish from whichever coach was in charge at the time.

It is hard to keep track of just who is doing what now at Salford.

For all those Salford players disgruntled by what’s going on both on and off the pitch, however, relegation would have one benefit; their contracts instantly become null and void so they could leave with little drama and no need to employ the services of a decent solicitor.

There is plenty of water to run under the bridge, first, though, not least seven rounds of action as Hull KR, Wakefield and Widnes join those Red Devils in battling to maintain their top-flight status.

Wednesday’s fixture launch hit just the right note in the way it revealed who will be playing whom and, crucially, when, in the coming weeks as the battle for glory/survival – delete as appropriate – gets into full swing.

It was hard not to notice a little glint in the eye of all the Championship candidates.

That’s because Bradford Bulls, Sheffield Eagles, Halifax and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Leigh Centurions fully understand the pressure is not on them but the Super League sides in that mini-division.

Hull KR, in particular if they lose today’s Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington, will be under all sorts of duress given it would mark a fifth successive loss ahead of their Qualifiers opener – a trip to Championship League Leaders Leigh who have not lost at home this season.

That is a terrific fixture to get the competition up and away and the fact Sky Sports will televise live a Qualifiers game each week in a regular Saturday 3pm slot is a real boost for the competition.

With most Super League fixtures occurring Thursday and Friday it also means the likes of Halifax, Bradford and Sheffield can potentially command bigger interest in their Sunday afternoon fixtures, too.

Halifax, looking for a 10th successive win when they host Widnes next Sunday, is the game I will probably attend with Bradford v Sheffield and Salford v Leigh an early repeat of familiar foes.

But Bradford heading to Wakefield on Saturday, August 15 followed the next day by Sheffield at Widnes and Halifax venturing to Hull KR also appeal.

There is plenty to get your teeth stuck into and, over those seven rounds, I fully expect all the Championship clubs to knock off at least one Super League side which will really set the cat among the pigeons.