AFTER a very long season, two of the competition's most consistent performers face off in the first major semi-final under the new Championship play-off format.

A red-hot Toronto Wolfpack face a determined French outfit in Toulouse Olympique.

We know from having played both teams in the last two months, just how good they both are.

One thing about the McIntyre play-off top five system, the winner of this clash enjoys a week off and books their spot in the Grand Final.

The loser, though, gets to play the winner of either York v Featherstone for another chance to make the Grand Final and earn promotion to Super League.

We all know that the popular London Broncos joins the Championship in 2020 after rightly earning Super League promotion at the end of 2018 courtesy of the now defunct Million Pound game.

I’m not convinced that if the old 'middle eights' format had been played, that London would have been the relegated team.

Having looked at the bottom of the Super League table, certainly any of four teams could have landed on the relegation trap door, such was the closeness of the competition.

More importantly I think that Toulouse, Toronto, York, Featherstone, Halifax and Bradford would have been ultra competitive against the bottom four ranked Super League clubs in Huddersfield, Wakefield, Hull KR and, of course, London Broncos. And why wouldn’t they?

Watching Leigh Centurions playing Featherstone last week, reminded me just what a great entertaining product Championship rugby league is.

A very high standard, with what were clearly tough physical collisions.

Certainly Toronto has a great opportunity to edge one step closer to the Super League Show, but win or lose, remember as long as Toronto make the Grand Final, it will be held in Canada. A quirk of the RFL’s determination around home advantage being based on the finishing positions of the regular season.

York v Featherstone will be an interesting match-up. Forget rankings, expect Featherstone to be a dominant finals contender, who have overcome their mid-season wobble, to maintain strong form in the back end.

A Featherstone win will probably see them head to Toulouse, assuming Brian McDermott can get his Toronto charges to deliver at Lamport Stadium this weekend.

It was disturbing to see the Super League chief Robert Elstone reportedly suggesting that Toronto would have different entry criteria to Super League than other overseas clubs.

I certainly agree that English-based RFL members should have a different set of rights from overseas non-members, but fail to see the justification for having different criteria for all overseas clubs.

It appears that Toronto and Ottawa will be asked to forgo central distribution, and be asked to bear other financial burdens in order to participate in the RFL’s competitions. Doesn’t seem very equitable.

The Championship and League One clubs certainly voted to support expansion of the competitions and unless the business models being offered about are sustainable, then potential club owners might well walk away from opportunities. The key question - does inclusion of off-shore clubs enhance the value proposition of the overall competition?

Does Ottawa represent a greater value proposition than say Hemel or even Liverpool?

It’s a simple answer. New markets, new TV audiences, new sponsors, new players.

We are rugby clubs yes, but we are also businesses that need to survive in tough economic conditions, especially in the pre-Brexit austerity-battered economy.

We can’t expect Sky to continue to shell out at the current levels when their very own business model is under pressure.

After all we are just one product in a crowded entertainment sector. Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie and NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg declared in March this year that expansion and growing the game’s footprint is at the top of the NRL’s agenda.

But the rugby league world looks very different now to when Nigel Wood struck a five-year - £200million TV rights deal.

When you look at the fundamentals it looks like big Nigel secured a pretty good deal.

On a cost measured by content hour, it looks like around 200 broadcast hours per annum.

That looks like a cost of £200,000 per broadcast hour, or £400,000 per game, based on a £40 million media rights cost per annum (excluding production costs). Not as expensive at the NRL mind you.

The NRL negotiated a five-year broadcast deal, currently in its second season, worth $1.8 billion AUD, with Channel Nine and Fox Sports sharing the load across free-to-air and pay TV. The cash component is in excess of $300 million a season. By my calculation that’s around £450,000 per broadcast hour.

The key point, though, is free-to-air and pay TV are under siege from streaming platforms.

Television executives are vocally concerned by the trend. Viewers are making their own choices.

It’s not going to slow down. Rugby league rates highly in the southern hemisphere, and with a broader cocktail of media rights partners, I have no doubt the same could apply in the UK, but if the traditional networks and broadcasters don’t have the cash to keep paying more for it, they won’t. They can’t.

It’s a warning for the RFL and Super League as well as the game as a whole. Adapt or risk failure.

No sports club is immune from this changing environment. Bradford Bulls included.

If we don’t adapt and evolve to our changing environment and circumstances we all risk extinction.

Talking about adapting, we are still waiting to confirm our budget for 2020 with the RFL, based on occupation at our new stadium.

We will continue to work towards finalising these requirements and expect this to be resolved very soon, allowing us to complete our squad.

I mentioned last week that our pre-season fixtures programme is almost settled, which we will announce once the existing Super League play-offs are completed.

Let’s see if the crystal ball is right this week.

Featherstone and Toronto to win their play-off matches, and Salford to clean up Wigan. I think the Red Devils are heading for a Grand Final.