Before the 2018 season started the Championship had attracted a great deal of interest. League 1 winners Toronto were hopeful of taking their fantastic 2017 form - where they won 20 games out of a possible 22 - into the second tier, whilst fellow expansion side Toulouse were also in the hunt for a top four spot following an agonising fifth-placed position last season.

They would be joined in the race for the top four by demoted Super League side Leigh, the ever-consistent Featherstone, Halifax and London as well as the dogged and Championship-experienced Batley and Sheffield. Even the remaining four sides - Barrow, Dewsbury, Rochdale and Swinton - could hardly be classed as pushovers.

And, so far, the second tier has lived up to expectations.

Entertainment

Whilst some Rugby League supporters have lamented the lack of thrills and spills in Super League games that have so far been broadcast on Sky, spectators that have flocked to Championship games have often experienced rip-roaring entertainment. As far back as round one, Dewsbury edged out Sheffield 20-18, newcomers Toronto shocked Leigh 12-34 and Featherstone beat Halifax 20-4 - the latter two results already had implications for the end-of-season run-in for those all-important top four spots.

The belief that Barrow - promoted alongside Toronto - were going to be mere cannon fodder was somehow lost on the Raiders as they have already thrown up three shocks, drawing against the Wolfpack 8-8 in round two, beating Leigh 24-20 in round three and Sheffield 36-22 in round four.

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Batley's 46-22 victory over Toulouse in the Bulldogs' ninth game of the season certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons too.

More recently, Toulouse and Toronto played out a fascinating fixture in round nine with the Wolfpack just edging it 22-24. In fact, the game was only over as a contest once the final whistle blew as Toulouse came incredibly close to clawing back a 6-24 deficit. Though there have been some blowout scores - not least against bottom side Swinton - Championship supporters have generally been given their money's worth in almost every round so far. Anyone can beat anyone and that's what makes the Championship so exciting.

Competitive

The Championship is, at present, the most competitive it has been for a number of years; just nine points separate the top seven sides - and this gap could close with sixth-placed Halifax and seventh-placed Batley having two games in hand. Though Toronto are currently top with 19 points, Featherstone and Toulouse are breathing down their necks just a point and three points behind respectively with London fourth on 14 points having played a game less.

In fact, the Championship is so close at the minute that to correctly predict the top four would take some doing.

Just Rochdale and Swinton appear marooned at the bottom of the table with the Hornets and Lions four points behind ninth-placed Barrow and the Lions struggling with just a point on the board. However, even Rochdale managed to push Halifax and Toronto all the way in round four and seven respectively, narrowly losing to Fax 20-26 and the Wolfpack by a mere point, 17-18. Nine points separated first-placed Hull KR and fifth-placed Toulouse in 2017 and this season's gap could be even closer.

Quality

There has been a definite improvement in quality within the second tier too; a few seasons ago, Super League players would generally only make the step down if they were getting on and couldn't get another top-flight club. Now though, the Championship is full of Super League-quality players, raising the level of the second tier to a point where all of the top four could genuinely compete for a Super League place when the Middle 8s return. The likes of Tom Holmes, Gareth Hock, Joe Westerman, Bodene Thompson, Harrison Hansen, Stanislas Robin, Constantine Mika, Jarrod Sammut all have NRL or Super League experience and the Championship is benefitting from it with some superb rugby being produced.

Put it this way, whichever four Super League teams finish in the bottom four, they are in for a tough ride. The Championship has made a number of important strides in recent years with more sides putting the work in on and off the field to get their club ready for a shot at Super League. And, if the 2017 season has been anything to go by so far, there are more Championship teams than ever before that can make that step up.