RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood believes the 2013 season is developing into the most compelling and memorable year across all competitions since the sport switched to summer in 1996.
With more unpredictability of outcome than ever before in both Super League and the Kingstone Press Championships, and winning margins at historically low levels, 2013 is already becoming a year to remember.
The emergence of the new Championship One clubs has also given the sport a vibrant new geographical footprint which is already seeing awareness of the skilful and exciting nature of Rugby League reach previously untold levels.
“The Good Friday programme demonstrated why Rugby League is the best team sport in the world,” said Wood. “The skills on show in both Super League and the Kingstone Press Championships were simply outstanding and the actions and outcomes suggest we are entering our best season to date.
“The average winning margin in Super League and the Championships was less than 10 points this weekend, when we have also witnessed what in the past might have been considered surprise results. That is no longer the case.
“The result at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on Thursday night offered further evidence that the 2013 Super League season is tighter than it has ever been – the 18-18 draw between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls was the seventh occasion that the spoils have been shared this year.”
Only one Super League season – 2003, when eight matches were tied – has seen more draws and 2013 has already equalled the season total for 2011, when the seventh draw came in Round 17.
With nine rounds played, the gap between Wigan Warriors and Castleford Tigers at the bottom is just 10 points, which officially makes 2013 the tightest Super League season since records began.
In the Kingstone Press Championships and Northern Rail Cup, the competitions have proved equally cutthroat and unpredictable, with irrefutable evidence that the sport is entering a bold new chapter in its history.
London Skolars have already qualified for the first final in their history, the Northern Rail Bowl, by virtue of topping their group in the early stages, and are likely to be joined by North Wales Crusaders in the fixture’s inaugural outing at Halifax later this year.
“The new-look Championships are a great cause for celebration for everyone in the sport,” added Wood.
“The entry of Hemel Stags, University of Gloucestershire All Gold and Oxford has reinvigorated Championship One and the early indications are very positive.
“All three clubs have made winning starts so far, most recently Oxford in their first ever fixture on Good Friday, which was a terrific achievement.
“Those clubs have brought a tangible elevation to the public profile of both the Championships and the wider sport: more people across the UK are sitting up and taking notice of Rugby League now, which is just what we need in a World Cup year.
“I have no doubts that the chance to be involved in the Rugby League World Cup is inspiring players across Super League and that tournament is critical to the sport’s long term success.
“We said at the start of the year that 2013 would be a pivotal year for Rugby League and it is heartening to see that players, coaches, match officials and administrators across the whole sport are rising to the challenge.”