15th February 2019, 15:00
'BEWARE THE EAGLES NEST' - ANDREW CHALMERS
READ CHAIRMAN, ANDREW CHALMERS' COLUMN - IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE BRADFORD TELEGRAPH AND ARGUS.
AS unbelievable as it may seem, round three this weekend will see the top four teams in the Championships lock horns.
Incidentally, they are the only four unbeaten teams, respectively winning both of the opening two fixtures, so we will get an early indication of the runners and riders for this year.
Tonight sees your Bradford Bulls team venture down to the Olympic Legacy Park to play the Sheffield Eagles, while tomorrow, the Toronto Wolfpack hunker down to take on the Widnes Vikings in a Toronto home game scheduled for Newcastle. Both games are televised live, with tonight's game available on the RFL’s Our League app, and tomorrow's match in Newcastle, live on Sky Sports.
The Bulls head to Sheffield to face an Eagles side who demolished Swinton Lions in round one and followed this up with a last-gasp penalty victory at Barrow, never an easy place to win.
The rout over Swinton was, unfortunately, better remembered for the chaotic medical arrangements surrounding the young Swinton player Will Hope.
Ralph Rimmer, RFL chief executive officer, has confirmed to me directly that the ensuing review by the RFL, has determined that the delays experienced by the young player, were directly as a result of the pressures and prioritisation assigned by the ambulance service at the time.
The RFL position is that while the delay was unacceptable, it was also unavoidable.
We all wish Will Hope a speedy recovery. Rest assured, the Bulls do have a back-up and contingency plan in the event of a medical emergency where an unacceptable delay affects the ambulance service. Home or away. Uber.
It will be interesting to see what lessons have been learnt.
I’m told the facilities at Sheffield are basic in any case, and to assist us to understand this, we sent our stadium manager and ground safety officer Mark Leadbeater to meet the Sheffield Council on Monday and run through the facilities and the various safety management issues, to get as much understanding and comfort for our travelling BullsNation.
Hopefully our away travel guide published with the T&A and online is a helpful tool to assist everyone travelling to have a safe and enjoyable experience today.
The RFL have confirmed that this new ground has been approved for use, and that while it does not pass all the minimum standards necessary to play at this level, the RFL have exercised its discretion and provided a dispensation to the Sheffield Eagles.
I understand the desire to have the Eagles return and play within the city boundaries, and this is part of that transition. But, this is a club that is arguably taking more out of the RFL than most at this level and it is certainly not using these funds to provide spectator comfort.
Rather they are using these central funds to hoover up some good Championship talent by paying overs and raiding the likes of Dewsbury and Batley season after season.
The new return on investment measures being applied to the Championship clubs will certainly start to find out, quite rightly I may add, those clubs making a little to zero contribution overall to the sport.
I think it’s important for all clubs to collaborate to improve the overall position of our great sport. The highly-successful Yorkshire Cup is a good example of what can be achieved by cooperation between like-minded stakeholders.
As a consequence, therefore, on the field Sheffield will be a strong side and on a 4G pitch will provide undoubtedly our sternest test yet.
Coach and club CEO Mark 'Tubby' Aston is an experienced campaigner, backed by the equally shrewd owner in Chris Noble. We certainly are venturing down the M1, with our eyes wide open.
Importantly our football department, led by John Kear, know this will be a tough fast encounter with a weather forecast which says dry and a temperature around seven degrees. We expect this one to be extremely close. Tubby and his team of Eagles will be working hard to knock the Bulls out of the eyrie.
The following day at Newcastle, we see Widnes play Toronto. I appreciate that Toronto is frost-bound this time of year, but I do have an issue with their opponents Widnes effectively side-stepping the onerous trans-Atlantic away trip later in the year.
Doesn’t feel equitable. The race for the Championship is already tough enough without the draw being tipped to favour some of the leading contenders. I am not going to bang on about it, but it is another issue that needs sorting out in the overseas inclusion of foreign teams debate.
This match will be a good indicator of these two league heavyweights.
Toronto were held by York Knights until the final quarter in round one but put the cleaners through Rochdale last weekend, as most people expected.
The crowd at Rochdale was officially declared at nearly 700. What complete tosh.
The match was covered by television, only one stand was opened and some of the shots were very revealing. I’d be surprised if there were 200 in the crowd, unless there were all hiding out of sight in executive boxes.
As I said last week one accidental by-product of the return on investment concept places some incentive on inflating crowd figures, and if the experience of Rochdale last week is anything to go by, I think our Odsal record of 102,000 may be under some pressure later in the year.
The real attendances of the low hundreds and inadequate medical transportation protocol, and below minimum standards stadia, does make you question the RFL’s decision to expand Championship to 14 clubs. From the Bulls perspective it is even more ahem, 'perplexing', with Rochdale receiving more central distribution than ourselves, despite being clearly 'relegated' and despite the Bulls being promoted which gave Rochdale and Swinton an unexpected reprieve. Rochdale then ranked above the Bulls for central funding based on the RFL’s application of its late season rejig. Is it fair?
The RFL has waved play on. It clearly doesn’t matter now, unless you’re the Bradford Bulls. But play on we must and will.
In next week's home game we welcome our new foes from York, in what should prove to be another classic.
A fierce and mutually-respectful rivalry has emerged between ourselves over the last two years and they are a credit to the league.
They are also a fine team as the near miss to Toronto followed by a narrow win at Dewsbury amply testifies.
With a new stadium on the close horizon, actually being delivered, they have already done more than some other larger clubs who repeatedly promise but never deliver in advancing the sport’s facilities.
The clash we had last summer with a full terrace and a loud, vocal support was one of the highlights of last season and a reminder of what we are capable of if we get it right. So please come along and bring a friend next Sunday 3pm Bradford Bulls v York City Knights at Odsal Stadium.
Finally can I extend our best wishes to Wigan who are playing the Sydney Roosters this weekend in the World Club Challenge.
Whatever the behaviour of their chairman over the past 12 months and the division this has brought to our sport, they were worthy and rightful champions and deserve fully their role in this game.
I do hope the Roosters play a full and sincere part in the match and think their coach Trent Robinson will treat the occasion with more respect that some of his predecessors given his previous career over here.
It is also good that the game is being played on a weekend when the other code do not have a round of Six Nations, so the media landscape is less cluttered for rugby league this weekend, to make a big impact.
Anyway, good luck to Britain’s champion club and I hope they do the sport a great service and win.
See you tonight at Olympic Legacy Park, Sheffield. Kick-off is 7.45pm. Remember it’s ticket only, and don’t forget the folding beach chair and bulls blanket
Head to www.bradfordbulls.co.uk/tickets to secure your ticket as only a LIMITED number remain.