League 1 Round-up
As you saw in my preview from earlier in the season I was one of those fans looking forward to a more competitive League 1 this and, as in my Super League and Championship reviews, I’ll look back again here at the questions I raised in that first post.
ARE TORONTO YET ANOTHER FANTASY CLUB?
I would like to say that as a club, no they are not, but looking at them as a team each week, yes, as the strength that this side have is far too strong for League 1 and everyone knows it. Their closest challengers for promotion looks like it will be Barrow Raiders, a team who have prided themselves on their defence in the early weeks of the campaign, and know they will have to be at their very best come 20 May when the sides meet at the Lamport Stadium.
It’s a shame for the Barrow fans that this game will be played away as if they would fancy themselves to beat the Wolfpack even more if the game was being staged at Craven Park.
Anyway, moving back to the question at hand, another intriguing point has been raised lately as will the side be a victim of their early season domination? Since narrowly overcoming Siddal in the Challenge Cup in their first ever competitive game they have strolled to some huge victories in their first five league matches – a 76-0 score in the opening round and 82-6 and 80-0 victories in the latest two games.
If they are winning games just as comfortably, plus more, against this level of opposition at home will their sports-mad Canadians be willing to come along and support them if they know it’s a foregone conclusion anyway? Chances are that won’t happen but it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.
Looking back at their results, they have played seven games so far including their two Challenge Cup matches and it is the results in those games which have given them their biggest tests. Whitehaven and Keighley Cougars stood up to them well in their respective matches but the Wolfpack’s ultimate ability to keep up the intensity for a full 80 minutes made those games secured. But a 30-26 victory over London Broncos in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup will have confirmed to some of their critics that they might just be here to stay and their match this weekend against Salford Red Devils will be another that the neutrals will be keeping an eye on.
WILL THERE BE A CUMBRIAN REVIVAL?
Most fans outside of League 1 and who are concerned about the standard of rugby league in Cumbria would be forgiven for thinking that both Whitehaven and Workington would be up there towards the top of the pile from the off having been relegated from the Championship last season. But in reality there’s not much difference between the bottom of the Championship and the top of League 1 anymore.
As both clubs have stated neither are expecting to bounce straight back up to the Championship at the first attempt and both are using this first season to rebuild their squad and, in some areas, their club. Both have also admitted that Barrow are by far the strongest of the three clubs and are much better equipped at having a crack at promotion this year having spent the last two seasons doing what these two are now planning and have built their squad into something that would probably be able to hold its own in the league above barring a couple of tweaks here and there.
Results aren’t lying either as after the first five rounds the Raiders are keeping the pace with Toronto with a 100% record of their own. Barrow are a full four points ahead of their nearest rivals Hunslet with Whitehaven sitting fifth with six points (having played just four games) and Workington currently ninth with four points.
While Toronto are ahead on points difference Barrow are also matching them with some hefty victories of their own which includes an 82-0 drubbing of Hemel Stags (which saw them top the league for a week after Round 3) and their closest margin of victory coming from a 26-10 home win over Workington.
As for the Cumbrian ‘mini league’, the other game between the three sides so far saw Whitehaven snatch a narrow 24-20 victory on Good Friday.
Also, Barrow are enjoying a great start to the season which includes an unbeaten pre-season, a trip to York City Knights to come this weekend in the Challenge Cup, and are favourites for the League 1 Cup with that competition already at its Semi Final stage.
CAN WE AVOID ANOTHER NORTH/SOUTH DEVIDE?
This is a question that has been ongoing for a number of years. In my preview I changed it slightly to could an ‘expansion club’ break the mould of the more traditional northern clubs and break into the top eight?
With Workington and Whitehaven coming down from the Championship and the introduction of Toronto to League 1 this looked to be an impossible task once again for the British non-heartland sides. Including Newcastle Thunder and North Wales Crusaders, who both spent time in the Super League under previous guises, there are eight expansion sides in England and Wales. London Skolars broke the mould slightly last season by sneaking into the top 8 but ultimately couldn’t win another game and I predicted in my preview that Newcastle would be my favourite to do so this year.
Both are going ok after five rounds with London in sixth and Newcastle in eighth, both with six points from three victories. London recovered very well from their opening day drubbing by Toronto and have since gone on to beat Coventry Bears, Gloucestershire All Golds and Hemel. Newcastle on the other hand won their opening three matches – impressive victories over Workington, London and South Wales Ironmen saw them occupy third place and level on points with Toronto, Barrow and Doncaster but have since fallen away after two defeats.
That means that the other heartland team that is currently occupying a League 1 Shield place after Workington is York who have had a terrible start to their league campaign. The City Knights have lost to away at Barrow, at home to North Wales and surprisingly away to Oxford. But narrow wins over South Wales and Doncaster currently sees the side occupying twelfth place with just four points. Their Challenge Cup successes on the other hand have been very pleasing for their fans.
I will be very intrigued how the next few weeks will pan out for all the sides as just two points separate third from thirteenth! And, at the foot of the table, it looks like we could see another shoot-out between South Wales and Hemel for the wooden spoon as both have lost all five of their opening matches.
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