The “new era” is undoubtedly upon us and, in all fairness, it has done what it said on the tin. Bravo the RFL.
Heading into the final regular round of the campaign, very little is confirmed as this is written.
These words are music to the ears of the governing body’s powerbrokers; we still don’t know who will finish first, who will make the top four, which teams will complete the crucial leading eight and who will be consigned to the perils of the bottom four.
Wakefield Trinity. of course, are at least one of that quartet having long been doomed as wooden spoonists but, still, that matters little now; their real battles will come in the seven weeks of Qualifiers action when their season essentially begins in earnest.
They said the new structure would bring greater excitement and they were right.
Admittedly, whether that also equates to more quality is debatable. Does anyone feel Super League has raised the bar since reducing from 14 clubs to 12 this season? Probably not
Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a real appetite for the forthcoming Super 8s when the top division and Championship performs its controversial three-way split to decide everything for not only this term but 2016, too.
Seeing the likes of Wigan, St Helens, Leeds, Huddersfield and Castleford routinely play each other for the next seven rounds is just the sort of rise in fixture gravitas that the sport needs at this time of the year.
It is a fascinating to contemplate who will emerge in that top four at the end of it all. Granted, the sides that finish seven and eight will have a real battle on to reach them and, therefore, secure a place in the semi-finals for a place at Old Trafford.
On a personal level, selecting which games to watch is going to be the biggest challenge.
With Bradford Bulls and – in all likelihood – Sheffield Eagles and probably Halifax knocking around, there are some quality second-tier sides from the region to watch against Super League opponents in the two months ahead.
Bradford will relish facing the likes of Wakefield, Salford and Widnes as they bid to plot their way back into the elite. They are all relatively familiar foes given the Bulls were only relegated last year but, for the likes of Sheffield and ‘Fax – if they do qualify – it will be a welcome throwback to the early days of the summer era.
Although all the money is on reigning champions and Championship leaders Leigh plus fellow full-timers Bradford being the ones who will cause those Super League strugglers the biggest problems, do not rule out Mark Aston’s side putting a cat among the pigeons.
Sheffield have faced top-flight opposition regularly in the Challenge Cup of late and often, if not for a full 80 minutes, have competed hard.
Those experiences will leave them in good stead now to ruffle a few feathers of teams lacking confidence at the bottom of the top division – especially if those sides have already been ripped into by a Leigh team who I, like many, fully believe will push on and earn their place at the top table.
The new fixtures for the remainder of the campaign will be published on Wednesday, July 29.
Curiously, there is likely to be more anticipation and excitement surrounding that announcement than the traditional fixture launch date ahead of the new season.
This, perhaps, proves this concept is working. So far, so good.