19th September 2019, 13:34 | championship
Sky Sports will feature two contrasting faces of the Betfred Championship as the battle for promotion to the Betfred Super League hots up this weekend.
On Sunday night, Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique renew their trans-Atlantic rivalry, in a mouthwatering Canadian clash in which the first place in the Championship Grand Final will be at stake.
The losers will have a second chance on Sunday week, at home to the winners of Saturday afternoon’s elimination semi final – a much more traditional all-Yorkshire affair, between York City Knights and Featherstone Rovers.
This promises to be a fitting climax to another memorable season at Bootham Crescent, where the City Knights have followed last season’s Betfred League 1 title-winning campaign by stepping up to another level in the Championship.
With James Ford continuing to build his reputation as one of the brightest coaching talents in the game, York finished third in the table, behind only Toronto and Toulouse – and although they were heavily beaten in the first round of the play-offs in Toulouse last weekend, they will surely be a different proposition in more familiar, and cooler, conditions in the Minster City.
But they are braced for a formidable challenge to carry the baton for Yorkshire, and England, into the third round of the play-offs, from a Featherstone team who have so much experience of this business end of the season – and who were so impressive in winning at Leigh last weekend.
Rovers have won two of the teams’ three previous meetings this season, scoring 40 points on each occasion – on home territory at the LD Nutrition Stadium on Good Friday, and then in the Blackpool sunshine as part of the Betfred Championship Summer Bash in May, when the mercurial Australian half-back Dane Chisholm stole the show.
But York gained revenge in the last clash at Bootham Crescent in August, a 22-18 thriller in front of a 3,115 crowd.
That attendance lifted York’s average for the season to 2,167, a 42% increase on their title-winning League 1 campaign in 2018 – while Featherstone’s average has also climbed above 2,300, and they are renowned for the volume and passion of their travelling support.
The two clubs have a good working relationship off the field, as they showed this week in a variety of joint promotions for the match, aiming to attract the bumper crowd this contest deserves.
There was further evidence of the appeal of the Betfred Championship from the viewing figures for Sky’s coverage of the Leigh-Featherstone Play-Off last weekend – their highest for a Championship game this season, taking the cumulative total for Championship matches in 2019 beyond 1.1m.
With this weekend’s double-header from York and Toronto, and then two more huge matches to follow, those figures should be in for another big lift between now and the Million Pound Game on October 5.