While the Rugby League world recovers from an epic NRL Grand Final, and looks forward to possibly one of the closest finishes of all time in ESL, a decider with arguably more at stake will be fought out at Widnes on Sunday. The Castleford Tigers will play the Whitehaven Warriors in the National League 1 Grand Final that will no only decide the 2005 champions, but also determine who will be elevated to the English Superleague in 2006.
While the financial benefits of winning NL1 are impressive (the winner banking 850,000 pounds and a stake of the thousands of pounds of sponsorship in the ESL) both teams have much more to play for. Castleford were surprisingly relegated from the ESL last season, and have waited almost a year to get the opportunity to return to where they believe they rightfully belong. For Whitehaven, on the other hand, playing in the elite national competition has been a long term dream that they have come so close to achieving. Five years ago the Warriors were nearly bankrupt, playing in National League 2, and were considering a merger with fellow Cumbrians Workington. Last year Whitehaven led the competition for much of the season only to be defeated by Leigh in the Grand Final, and see gaining ESL promotion not only as opportunity to play at an elite level, but as a financial windfall for the whole community. The Whitehaven business leaders have argued that the potential revenue from traveling fans will significantly boost the local economy.
Cas. and �Haven fans will watch Sunday�s clash knowing the winners are assured of their spot in Superleague. The RFL requested that NL1 clubs submit a business plan prior to the finals series to ensure they will meet strict criteria regarding the quality of ground facilities and the state of their finances. While Castleford were confident they would meet the criteria, there were concerns Whitehaven�s application would be denied due to the poor state of facilities at their home ground. However the Warriors have gained funding for a brand new 1,000 seat stand, and if they win on Sunday, will play the first 3 home games of the 2006 season 40 miles up the road at Carlisle while construction is completed.
Castleford have some injury concerns leading in to the Grand Final with 8 players having to sit out of training early in the week. Coach Dave Woods told Castleford Today that four Tigers played with injuries in their 15-12 defeat of Halifax on the weekend. Whitehaven have enjoyed a weekend off after their 32-22 defeat of Castleford.
Former Warrington player Nathan Wood and NRL Grand Final hero Mark O�Neill will watch the Grand Final with particular interest, as it will decide where they are next year. If the Tigers win O�Neill has agreed to join them for the 2006 ESL season, while the Warriors have signed Wood pending their promotion. Either way the hard work will begin as of Monday for Castleford or Whitehaven officials to put together a competitive team for an ESL onslaught next year.