That’s the league season over, now for something completely different – a good old promotion battle.
After the barren franchise years the door to Super League has been prised open and it’s into the not very imaginatively titled Middle Eight Qualifiers. And for once more than a silver plate is at stake.
For outsiders Sheffield Eagles it’s likely to be a trial run for future tilts at reaching the top flight (after they go full-time) but a couple of big performances could change that.
Mark Aston’s squad will go into the mini-league on the back of a more than satisfactory third place finish after 23 rounds of the Championship.
They have a weekend off before stepping into the unknown as the Super League’s bottom four (Hull KR, Widnes, Salford and Wakefield) put their status on the line against the top four from the second tier.
Finishing third means Sheffield to play four away games: Bradford (9 August), Widnes (16 August), Leigh (6 September) and Salford (13 September), with three at home: Halifax (23 August), Hull KR (18 September), Wakefield (27 September).
As always ‘home’ can be a moveable feast with suggestions that Bramall Lane could offer a rare trip back to the city for a couple of games, especially for the games against Hull KR and Wakefield.
The top three in the Middle Eight series will automatically play in the Super League next season but the carrot is the ‘£1million game’ between fourth and fifth for the final place.
“We deserve a break,” said Aston. “We have a bit of form and we can go into the Middle Eight with the pressure off. We go into a new era and we’re excited to be part of that.”
The games will be a massive test with the Eagles and Halifax the only two none totally full-time squads.
The nightmare that their Super League place is in danger has cost a couple of coaches their jobs and promoted panic additions to squads in recent weeks.
Bottom of the table Wakefield have gone for broke with a change at the top and a pre-deadline trolley-dash signing eight players.
The Eagles made sure of third place with a 22-14 win at London Broncos to round off the league season with three straight victories.
They trailed 6-0 at half-time but with London suffering injuries that reduced their options off the bench came back with two tries from reserve winger Ryan Miller on his first team debut. Top try scorer Menzie Yere with his 18th and hard-working prop Eddie Battye with his first of the season, plus three goals from Patch Walker, rounded off the win.