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Last weekend saw the completion of the National League playoffs in the UK, with a three game grand final day. The six competing teams drew a near capacity crowd of 20,814 to Headingley Carnegie Stadium in Leeds where it ended up a big day for West Yorkshire teams.
First off, Featherstone Lions defeated Bramley Buffaloes in the Rugby League Conference (amateur) grand final by the tune of 42-30. It was Bramley's third consecutive grand final appearance having won last year's title, but the Lions were too good on the day racing to a 30-4 lead by half time.
In National League Two, Welsh club Celtic Crusaders had finished the regular season on top of the table, earning automatic promotion for next season without having to compete in the playoffs. This means that the ambitious club has kept its goal of earning a franchise in the 2009 Super League competition alive.
So the National League Two Grand Final came down to second placed Featherstone Rovers facing an Oldham RLFC side who had won 11 of their last 12 outings. Oldham led for much of the first half following a try against the run of play, but Featherstone scored three tries within ten minutes around the half time break to take the momentum, and from there Rovers were never headed and ran out 24-6 winners.
Rochdale Hornets and Doncaster Lakers are relegated to the 12 team National League Two competition for 2008, while Celtic Crusaders and Featherstone Rovers take their place in the 10 team National League One competition. Having finished last in Super League this year, Salford City Reds will also compete in National League One for 2009, but will be holding out hopes of claiming one of the Super League franchises on offer for 2009 despite this setback.
Which brings us to the battle for Salford's vacant Super League place which saw Castleford Tigers face Widnes Vikings in the National League One Grand Final. Both teams having had recent Super League experience, Cas were keen to avenge their relegation last season and Widnes for theirs the season before, when along with Leigh Centurions they dropped a division.
But on this Grand Final day it was all Castleford Tigers, as their early dominance eventually opened up into dominance on the scoreboard as well as the second half opened right up. Former Hull FC halfback Danny Brough orchestrated most of the Cas attack, and Awen Guttenbeil who honoured his contract with the relegated Tigers scored the final try for a 42-10 win that ensured Terry Matterson's side will be back in Super League next year.
The sad news for Widnes Vikings following this loss was that after two seasons of operating full time professional in the hope of regaining a place in Super League, the club has been put into administration. The hope is that the administrator can achieve a prompt sale of the club to ensure that professional rugby league is kept alive in the Cheshire area in 2008 and beyond.
There is only one remaining club game in UK professional rugby league for this season - tomorrow evening's Super League Grand Final between St Helens RLFC and Leeds Rhinos, from Old Trafford in Manchester!