Dave Craven: Championship can only benefit from return of promotion

New season: Batley coach John Kear, Sheffield's Mark Asdton, and Bradford Bulls' James Lowes.
New season: Batley coach John Kear, Sheffield's Mark Asdton, and Bradford Bulls' James Lowes.
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IT would not be unfair to suggest Leigh Centurions v Bradford Bulls tomorrow is the biggest game of the weekend.

That statement would have been met by incredulity 12 months ago given there is a full programme of Super League action.

But now, as the Championship season gets underway, it is certainly a credible argument.

The domestic game’s ‘New Era’ with all its restructure and extra financial clout has not just given the top flight a lift but, perhaps more so, the second tier, too.

The sense of anticipation ahead of tomorrow’s fixture at Leigh Sports Village is palpable and that is not just from the masses of supporters expected to descend on the ground.

Such is the demand for access from the media to attend, the club’s press officer, Mike Latham, had to send the RFL an urgent missive for its weekly bulletin In Touch that is sent to all journalists.

Situated just under a message about accreditation for the forthcoming World Club Challenge between super-powers St Helens and South Sydney, it read that the press area was closing in on “capacity” so email requests quickly.

It is not often any Championship club has the need to do that.

However, it illustrates just how intriguing the game is deemed to be as Leigh – dominant champions when losing just one game all last year – prepare to take on four-time Super League winners Bradford Bulls, such a famous club that less than a decade ago was lifting the World Club Challenge trophy.

Just how will Bradford, relegated from the elite for the first time in 40 years, adapt to life in the lower echelons and, likewise, how will Fuifui Moimoi, the enigmatic, firebrand Kiwi monster, take to the English game in Leigh colours?

His capture from Parramatta Eels has clearly already added plenty of gravitas to what is a perfect opening fixture for the competition given it involves two of the favourites to perhaps upset the status quo and gain promotion when the Super 8s start in July.

In fairness, the RFL would probably welcome a classic contest to start things off; for all last weekend’s opening round of Super League games delivered some vintage stuff and rightly got plenty of positive coverage, Salford Red Devils’ embarrassing televised 52-6 home capitulation to St Helens on Thursday prompted an all too early test of the governing body’s “every minute matters” slogan.

As of yesterday, Leigh had already passed the 6,000 mark in terms of ticket sales so there is every belief they will surpass their biggest gate yet at the stadium which was 6,457 for the friendly with Wigan six years ago.

Furthermore, the club’s record gate outside the top division – 7,027 v Barrow in 1978 – is also firmly in their sights with all their corporate deals and executive boxes sold out weeks ago.

History suggests Bradford will be favourites – Leigh have not beaten them at home in 25 years while their last win at Odsal was in 1994.

All of that matters little tomorrow when the visitors know they have to overcome a squad so well-drilled and well-versed in Championship life.

Fittingly, John Woods, the ex-Great Britain stand-off who was a wonderful servant for both clubs, playing more than 300 games for Leigh from 1976 to 1985 before switching to Bradford, is guest of honour for the occasion.