It was what we expected but it still hurts. The Super League clubs have stacked the deck in their favour and the likes of Sheffield Eagles are the losers.
The past weekend was a dismal one for the supporters of Championship clubs as lingering hopes were ground in the dust.
The second tier clubs suffered chastening losses with the Eagles experiencing back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
The Middle Eight Qualifiers held out the hope of promotion but there was a good deal of sleight of hand by deciding it through play-offs and not automatic promotion for at least one Championship club.
Maybe that sage and conjuror Paul Daniels had a hand in devising the system with the suits at the RFL assuring us: “You’ll like this – not a lot!”
Any Super League club that has the odd ‘slip up’ even has the fall back of the million pound game to settle fourth place.
In a way we have to blame Leigh Centurions. Their wins in the Challenge Cup (against Salford and Wakefield) made the Super League stragglers sit up and take notice. Squads were boosted by late season signings (RL’s version of quantitative easing) a luxury not available to budget conscious Championship clubs.
There are still five rounds to play. Hopefully there will be an upset but increasingly it looks like it’ll be just that, an upset. A day to remember for a Championship club’s fans but it won’t change the big picture.
After two crushing defeats the Eagles have a chance to heal a few wounds when they face Halifax, the only other largely part-time squad in the play-offs.
It’s tempting to bill this as a crucial game with the loser being established as favourite to be awarded the wooden spoon – it will certainly be competitive.
Sheffield have conceded 90 points and scored 22 in their two games. Fax have faced Widnes and Hull KR and have been much tighter in defence conceding 48 points but scoring only two tries. In the league both won their home games.
Coach Mark Aston will be looking for a much tighter performance at the Keepmoat on Sunday (kick-off 4.15pm) than in the 48-12 defeat at Widnes.
Eagles lacked pace and made poor choices, particularly on the final pass. They couldn’t match the power of the Vikings as they plundered 10 tries against scores in either half from winger Scott Turner and hooker Keal Carlile’s first for the club.
Aston’s options aren’t great although expect the usual switching around at half-back – an area of uncertainly all season.