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Despite a range of drug scandals, a club in financial ruin and a quality player defecting to Rugby Union, English Superleague continues to thrive with crowds improving greatly in the first four rounds this year.
While some of the ?Big Four? (St Helens, Bradford, Leeds and Wigan) have consolidated growth, it is the next rung of teams that have impressed so far. Compared to last year?s averages Widnes? crowds have increased by 30%, Warrington and Hull?s by 20% while Huddersfield has gained another 90% through the gate.
Huddersfields growth can largely be attributed to their newly built 24,000 capacity stadium, however it is surely the quality of the football and closeness of results that is getting bums on seats.
The ?Big Four? are not the untouchable teams they once were and fans of once lowly teams can now go to a game and expect (rather than hope for) a contest. It seems ?Big Four? teams are also benefiting from the tightening of the gap between the haves and have-nots. In 2004 Leeds attracted 13,419 fans to their game against Widnes, while 17,367 attended the Round 3 clash this year. Such a rise in figures is no doubt a result of Leeds fans being heartened by Widnes? strong defeat of Bradford the previous week, and proves that total dominance in sport will only get so many fans through the gates.
In the first four rounds 56,000 more people have attended Superleague fixtures compared to this time last year. This statistic all the more impressive considering Castleford (who averaged 7,034 last year) have been replaced by Leigh (who have averaged an encouraging but modest 4,112).
While controversies abound in Britain, Rugby League supporters prove once again; if the footy is fierce, that?s all that matters.