"Down the Line" blog by Andrew Henderson


23rd February 2009

DOWN THE LINE - WEEK 3 asset 1

In modern Rugby League’s it’s the little things that make a big difference.

And with one week remaining of the qualifying stages of the Northern Rail Cup it’s amazing to see that no one club is yet 100 per cent sure of qualifying for the Quarter Final.

In both Pools there are six clubs chasing the four qualifying spots and that’s got to be great news for the fans.

So it’s fair to say that those clubs who make it to the Quarter Final draw are those that have made the little things count the most.

A look at this week’s two qualifying Pool tables reveals that it’s the bonus points and points differences that are making the real difference.

In Pool One both Keighley Cougars and Oldham have picked up bonus points as well as the match points and just two teams outside the top four, Widnes Vikings and Blackpool Panthers, have achieved that feat.

And in Pool Two three of the top four Leigh Centurions, York City Knights and Featherstone Rovers are holders of bonus points.

That shows that the teams who are putting in the effort, even when they’ve lost games, are being rewarded and if they keep producing that kind of form they’ll be set for the next stage of the competition.

I reckon that this must be the most exciting Northern Rail Cup competition yet. Just look at it – two Pools with well matched teams and Quarter Final places are still up for grabs.

Another outstanding feature of the Pool tables this week is that both of them are showing two Championship and two Championship One clubs in both top fours.

I’ve no doubt that most Rugby League pundits would have been saying before the start of the competition that the Championship teams would blow the Championship One clubs away.

But that’s just not happened. Look at Pool One where Keighley Cougars and Oldham from Championship One are setting the pace. While in Pool Two York City Knights and Dewsbury Rams are also in the mix.

That must be really encouraging for the sport of Rugby League because it shows that those clubs in particular have not been wasting their time during the close season. They’ve prepared well and recruited the right kind of players.

That’s the beauty of trans-divisional competitions. It gives the ambitious clubs an opportunity to test themselves against opposition from a higher grade league. It allows their coaches to make judgements about their players and see what they need to do to progress to the next level.

Of the Co-operative Championship clubs it looks like Halifax are going to be the team to beat. Matt Calland and Martin Hall have put together an impressive team and it’s difficult to see them being denied a place in the Quarter Finals.

Widnes Vikings are still rebuilding and although they beat my club Gateshead Thunder on Saturday I think that they’ve still got some way to go to equal Halifax.

Sheffield Eagles’ win at Oldham shows that they’re running into form in Pool One while Whitehaven recovered from that shock mid-week 36-6 defeat at York City Knights wwith a win over Cumbrian rivals Workington to stay in contention in Pool Two.

For me the result of the third round of games was Dewsbury Rams’ 28-26 win at Featherstone Rovers. The Rams certainly ripped the form book up with that result because the Rovers would certainly have started favourites in that fixture.

The message to the players and coaches is clear. This year’s Northern Rail Cup is like a like a boxing bout and you need to win on points.

It’s that close that bonus points and points difference will eventually decide who makes it through to the Quarter Finals.

The players know that they just can’t take their foot off the gas because even if they’re losing the chance of a bonus point could make all the difference between success and failure in reaching the Quarter Finals.

And with that incentive always on offer it ensures that there’s a reason to play and keep putting it in. Because of that the fans win, the competition wins and, most important of all, the game wins.

What a fantastic bill of fayre for the Northern Rail Cup!