Workington, Barrow & Whitehaven eager for Championship promotion

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport

Cumbria's three professional clubs are gearing up for a triple assault on the Championship if they all manage to achieve promotion this season.

Barrow, Workington Town and Whitehaven currently occupy three of the four promotion places in Championship One, with nine regular season games remaining.

"We want all three Cumbrian teams to go up," Town coach Gary Charlton told BBC Sport.

"We need to play Barrow and Whitehaven in a higher division, and it can only be good for Cumbrian rugby league."

It is a view shared by Haven boss Gailer, who appreciates the value of local derbies to the club, the fans and the league in general.

"Individually, it's important for all of us, we all set it as a goal of going up. Collectively, it's important for Cumbria, because the home derbies would remain," Gailer said.

"In the Championship we'd still have Workington versus Whitehaven, Whitehaven versus Barrow and Barrow versus Workington, so it's important from a gate point of view.

"Collectively and individually we are all trying to achieve a goal but there's only four spots.

"We've got to hold our nerve, keep staying in control of what we're doing."

With the glass ceiling imposed by the Super League franchise system, Championship rugby league remains the highest level to which the three clubs can aspire.

However, playing at that level would not only mean higher-profile derby fixtures, it would also mean games against other sleeping giants such as Leigh, Featherstone and Halifax.

Despite the shared view about the significance of promotion, Workington and Whitehaven remain fierce rivals, separated by just eight miles in west Cumbria, which remains one of the game's heartlands - passing through towns such as Flimby and Maryport on the way into Workington you are likely to find as many rugby posts as football on the recreation grounds.

Both clubs, and Barrow to the south, have previously enjoyed success at the sport's highest level.

As recently as 1996, Workington were a Super League franchise, while throughout the 1950s and 60s Cumbrian clubs were regulars in the Challenge Cup final.

The intensity remains strong - 1,954 supporters packed into Derwent Park for the most recent derby - that Town edged by 30-28 to maintain pressure on Barrow in top spot.

Such passions have impressed Gailer, who arrived to replace head coach David Seeds in pre-season.

Back in his native Australia, he witnessed the State of Origin series, the famous tussle between Queensland and New South Wales, and the week-in, week-out battle of the world-class National Rugby League.

However, the cross-town rivalries between the Cumbrian clubs have been an eye-opener.

"In the Origin, the NRL and Queensland Cup, there's intensity on the field and some fairly good rivalries but I haven't seen two towns get at each other like they do over here," Gailer added.

"You can understand it, a lot of them work together every day of the week and they rag each other.

"The crowd get into it and we get a fair bit of heckling."

BBC Radio Cumbria has coverage of all three Cumbrian sides on their Rugby League Show, with online commentaries updated weekly.

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