SOME say it’s panic buying, some say wise recruitment when it matters. It might simply have been a case of right time, right place.
Either way, Hunslet signing a raft of players before yesterday’s registration deadline in Championship One signals an intent to be better in the play-offs than in the regular season and turn up the heat in the battle for promotion.
But is it a case of playing the system, knowing full well that having a good team to start the year is far less important than having one at the end?
The Hawks followed the recruitment of James Duckworth (London Broncos), Luke Briscoe (Leeds, loan) and Ross Peltier (Keighley, loan) with that of Richard Moore, the veteran Super League prop released this week by Wakefield, and then ex-Knight Luke Hardbottle.
Will it disaffect players who have put the work in all year? Will it lift everyone? Will it backfire with little time for the side to gel, or prove a masterstroke? Time will tell.
What it does highlight, though, is the folly of giving the sole promotion spot to the winners of a couple of games in the play-offs, not the team that has proved the best over a season by topping the table.
On the face of it, this is a similar argument to that applying to Super League, where the champions are not the table-toppers but the Grand Final winners. Leeds previously being champs having finished fourth is a case in point.
It applies in other major sports, too, of course. There’s American football, for example, with triumph coming via the Superbowl, and, lest we forget, football’s two biggest competitions, with Champions League and World Cup glory coming through victory in a one-off final. Being able to perform on the biggest stage is, of course, the sign of a true champion.
The difference here in Championship One, though, is that teams can sign players right up until August 15, with just a few games left in the regular season, and they can bolster play-off line-ups with loan or dual-reg players (assuming they’ve played the requisite number of games) from Super League clubs.
Therefore, the team that goes up could simply be the team that does the wisest business late in the season, even if they only scrape into the top-five play-offs - perhaps even having lost more games than they’d won all year. Can that be right?
Hunslet, to be fair, probably aren’t the best example with which to criticise the system, as they could still finish top. But if York beat them for a third time this season and finish clear ahead, yet the Hawks win the grand final, with Moore scoring the winner, will it be a hollow victory or one of which they can be justifiably proud?
Either way, playing the system is not the same as playing the game, and it shouldn’t be made possible.
• THE play-offs nevertheless do provide thrills, spills and excitement up until the end. And the format to be used in Championship One does at least give some advantage to the team that finishes top.
Critics call it convoluted (isn’t everything in rugby league?) but, in mitigation, it needs to be to provide reward for hard efforts over the course of the year. So here’s how it works.
Basically... *deep breath*... if you finish top you have a week off and then play the winners of second v third for a place in the grand final. Second v third meet for the right to play at first for a place in the final, with the losers playing the winners of fourth v fifth. Fourth host fifth, meanwhile, for the right to play away to the losers of second v third, with the winners of that going on to meet the losers of first v the winners of second v third. The losers of fourth v fifth are out.
Clear so far?
The winners between the losers of second v third and the winners of fourth v fifth meet the winners of second v third in the final semi-final. The losers between the losers of second v third and the winners of fourth v fifth are out.
The winners of that last semi-final between the winners between the losers of second v third and the winners of fourth v fifth and the winners of second v third go to the final to meet the winners of the match between the team that came first and the winners of the initial tie between second and third.
Got that? Me neither. Here’s how the league explain it:
Week 1 (September 14)
Qualifying play-off: 2nd v 3rd (winner to qualifying semi-final, loser to elimination semi-final).
Elimination Play-Off: 4th v 5th (winner to play away in elimination semi-final, loser eliminated).
Week 2 (September 21)
Qualifying semi-final: 1st v winner of qualifying play-off (winner to Grand Final, loser at home in final eliminator).
Elimination semi-final: loser of qualifying play-off v winner of elimination play-off (winner away in final eliminator, loser eliminated)
Week 3 (September 28)
Final eliminator: loser of qualifying semi-final v winner of elimination semi-final (winner to Grand Final, loser eliminated).
Week 4 (October 5)
Kingstone Press Championship One Play-off Grand Final: Winner of qualifying semi-final v winner of final eliminator.
Much clearer. To put it simply, York need to finish top, win their play-off semi-final and win the Grand Final.
• THE Knights’ presentation ceremony will take place before all these play-offs. The ‘Blue & White Ball’, which doubles up as a fundraiser for the Knights Foundation, will be on Friday, August 29, at Park Inn Radisson, in the city centre.
Tickets for the black tie event, to include drinks reception, three-course meal, raffle, auction, awards ceremony and disco, cost £40 from the club on 01904 767404. Sponsorship opportunities are available on the same number.
• NO wonder Knights boss Gary Thornton has lauded his wingers - after one went top of the club’s try-scoring charts while the other shot up The Press Player of the Year leaderboard.
Ben Dent notched his 19th try of the season - in only 19 appearances - last week in the win over Gateshead. It took him one clear of Jack Lee, himself a try-scoring record breaker this year.
On the other wing, James Saltonstall bagged two to help him win the man-of-the-match accolade that brings with it three Player of the Year points. He was also named in the Championship One Team of the Week, alongside half-back Pat Smith.
Dent’s scoring rate of one per game pretty much sums up his rapid development over the last few years from a green novice to bit-part player learning his trade to a strong, quick winger of Championship quality, never mind Championship One.
Boss Gary Thornton said: “Ben was close to being a regular last year but had a few things to develop and learn - and he’s done that. He trained really hard in the off-season and came back strong. The way he’s been finishing chances is terrific. He also works hard and his all-round game is good.
“He’s a quality Championship winger now. He’s one of the best in Championship One and if we go up, he will more than handle that level.
“James is another quality winger. They have contrasting styles but both have been consistently good, keeping other good players out.”
Other Player of the Year points this week went to Jack ‘Mr Duracell’ Aldous (2pts) as our second-best on the day, and in-form back-rower Ed Smith (1pt), our third best. It’s a particularly big deal for Aldous as he draws level with Lee at the top of the table.
The Press Player of the Year standings: Lee 18pts, Aldous 18pts, Reynolds 14, P Smith 11, Haynes 11, Saltonstall 11, E Smith 8, Roche 7, B Dent 6, Paterson 5, Brennan 4, Presley 4, Morrison 4, Day 4, Pickets 3, Bell 3, B Hardcastle 2, Minikin 1, Mallinder 1.
• TOMORROW’S match at Hunslet is York’s last of August. Vote for your player of the month here or email peter.martini@the press.co.uk
The award will be presented at the last game of term, against London Skolars, on September 7, along with the July award to Colton Roche.