National League: Whitehaven the unlikely key to relegation riddle

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The Independent Online

It is not just in West Cumbria that they will be cheering on Whitehaven in this year's National League One play-offs.

Wakefield and Castleford went into their Super League show-down yesterday knowing that the only realistic thing that could save the losers from relegation would be for Whitehaven to win the National League's Grand Final, as the club have been told that, unlike their rivals at the top of the league, Hull KR, Widnes and Leigh, they would not qualify for promotion to Super League.

Despite that, their coach, Dave Rotheram, does not quite accept that ruling as the last word on the subject. "My opinion is that if you win it on the field you should go up," he says. "Whether the club would want to pursue anything legally I don't know."

For the moment, Rotheram has put the issue out of his mind to prepare for today's crucial game against Rochdale, the winners of which are likely to meet Leigh next week. The winner of that will then play Hull KR or Widnes for a place in the Grand Final. It is a long, hard road through the play-offs, but one Rotheram believes his team are capable of negotiating. "We feel as though the pressure is off us," he says. "Our main competitors have full-time squads. Two of them came down from Super League, and have been left in no doubt that their job is to get back."

Barring any sudden official about-turn, Whitehaven have no Super League place to lose and just £100,000 prize-money to gain. That would enable them to complete their new stand and present a more compelling case next time around.

On the field, Rotheram feels a strong case has been made this season by the likes of Steve Trindall and Scott McAvoy. Trindall, the former London Broncos prop, has been what his coach calls "the cornerstone of the pack". He likens McAvoy, signed last winter from a local amateur side, to a young Chris Joynt. "He will play for Great Britain," Rotheram says.