WITH last weekend’s Carnegie Challenge Cup duties tended to, Super League resumes this weekend, with two very different, but equally intriguing ties taking the eye.
The first is a top of the table clash between two sides that have made excellent progress in a controlled and sustained fashion over recent seasons; Stobart Super League leaders, Huddersfield Giants take on fourth-placed Catalans Dragons at the Gilbert Brutus Stadium.
The two clubs, whilst miles apart geographically and historically, share a number of similarities; one in particular that is essential for long-term success both on and off the field.
Both Catalans and Huddersfield have built the strength of their playing squads slowly, over a number of seasons - there have been no quick fixes, and importantly both teams have looked to sign young, local players, either from their academy systems or from the surrounding areas.
By making such singings, a club develops a sense of identity, one which the players, as a collective, can buy into and will fight for, and one which the fans feel representative of them and will support through the bad times as well as the good.
This is particularly important to a relatively new Franchise in a foreign country such as that of the Dragons.
Catalans is now predominantly a French team, for the French people, one which they can relate to and get behind, and this is evidenced by their steady, if not meteoric, increases in attendance figures over several seasons.
Another similarity between Catalans and Huddersfield is that in a game as physically demanding as rugby league, they stand out as possibly the two most athletic groups of players, from one to 17, in Super League, no mean feat in itself.
And what is especially pleasing about their current success is that both sides play the game in the right way; they like to attack and to throw the ball around, and their expansive style of football – directed by the superb half-back talents of Danny Brough (Huddersfield) and Scott Dureau (Catalans) – is being rewarded, with both sides scoring some breath-taking tries in the process.
Towards the other end of the table comes the weekend’s second intriguing tie between London Broncos and Bradford Bulls.
Bradford’s off-field problems have been well documented and they still need to find somewhere in the region of £500,000 to clear their outstanding debts, despite the incredible generosity of the rugby league fraternity in raising a similar figure to that already.
The Broncos problems, however, lie elsewhere, namely on the field. London has had a Super League franchise, in one form or another, since the inception of the competition but it has never really been what one would called successful, either on the field or off it.
But despite their poor run of form recently, I predict that the Broncos are on the verge of turning a corner and I feel that they have the potential to start regularly achieving a top eight finish and more, within the next five seasons.
My reasoning for this is the exact reasons I’ve stated above for what I consider to be Huddersfield and Catalans’ current success.
The Broncos appear to have come to the realisation that sustained progress comes from developing their own, local players over time and not through importing aging Australians looking for a big pay day as they were probably guilty of in the past.
The Broncos have a number of good young Londoners breaking through into their first team who will get better with age and experience, and if the Broncos continue that trend for producing their own quality talent the next five years or so could see a turnaround in their fortunes, much like Huddersfield and Catalans have seen.
After negotiating a tricky Challenge Cup tie against Batley Bulldogs last weekend the Broncos will go into their game with Bradford with confidence and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them edge a close but dogged encounter.