Whitehaven’s phenomenal season, winning the League One title, will go down in local folklore, as one of the area’s finest sporting achievements.

Not quite in the Leicester City range, when they won the Premier League, it was nevertheless a triumph for the outsider.

In a league of only 11 clubs, Haven were quoted as fifth in the betting when the pre-season odds were published.

For them to force their way to the top of the table fairly early on, and stay there until it was all over with just three defeats in 20 games, was a terrific effort.

It was a triumph for togetherness, commitment, self-belief and a natural determination to upset the odds.

Head coach Gary Charlton and his management team of Jonty Gorley and Scott McAvoy always had belief in the squad they had put together.

Charlton told me very early in the campaign: “We might not win it, but we will give it a very good go and be totally committed right through to the end.”

He later said: “I don’t think any of us started the season believing we would win the league but we all knew that the squad was capable of giving everyone a good game.”

So it proved, with the championship within their grasp and in their own hands as long as they kept on winning.

There had been setbacks - notably an early 36-12 defeat at Oldham and, later in June, a 24-22 home reversal to North Wales - rapidly becoming a bogey team.

A 12-2 draw with local rivals Workington Town on August 4 might have been a serious check, but the momentum had been built in the four previous games.

Charlton’s men won 28-6 at London Skolars and beat title rivals Oldham 16-10 at the Recreation Ground before two outstanding away victories.

They won 22-12 at Doncaster and then 19-12 at Hunslet to underline they were going to take some shifting from top spot.

“I think the win at Doncaster was the best performance and result of the season, and the to follow up with a win at Hunslet just emphasised the determination in the squad,” said Charlton.

The 12-12 draw with Town, wasn’t one of their better efforts, and inevitably the suggestion was being aired that the players didn’t really fancy Championship rugby.


Town had risen to the occasion, producing one of their better performances of the season.

And to shut up the doubters, Haven finished the season in style with convincing victories over the bottom three - 48-19 at Keighley, 74-6 at home to West Wales and the clincher, 72-0 at Coventry Bears.

So a memorable season was ended in style and with the championship trophy heading for the Whitehaven boardroom.

In many ways Whitehaven haven’t a star-studded team, just a number of very good players with hard-working, honest support from their team-mates.

If ever there was a triumph for team-work as opposed to individual star quality then this was it.

Skipper Marc Shackley, who picked up a barrow-load of trophies at the club presentation night; Dion Aiye, frequently used as an impact player off the bench and chosen as the League One Player of the Year by his peers and Jake Moore, blossoming into a quality second-rower when given a regular start, were three of the stand out performers.

But there was plenty of high-class support through the likes of the Phillips brothers, Callum and Brett, new kid on the block Sam Forrester and the two travelling ‘Marras’, Chris Taylor and Dave Thompson.

It’s now onwards and upwards, and what a challenge lies ahead - back to the Championship and what it entails with matches against some full-time opposition and some capable part-timers.

Charlton and Co have put together the squad they feel is capable of competing well and rising to the challenge posed by rugby league’s second tier.

They have retained the players from the 2019 squad they wanted, and several of them have even extended their contracts beyond 2020.

Among the newcomers is highly experienced and much travelled forward Jamie Thackray, whom Charlton signed for Town.

Thackray, a former Great Britain international is 40 now, but he has been training the house down, proving he is still as fit and committed as ever.

Tom Walker, Glenn Riley and Brett Carter are joining from Barrow, so all have valuable experience of the Championship.

Walker and Carter are joining that elite band of players who are completing a full house of playing for all three Cumbrian club.

Charlton can beat that, having played for all three plus Carlisle Border Raiders when they were in existence. He knows a thing or two about what is required to survive at a higher level and without making any rash predictions is looking forward to what 2020 has to offer in the Championship.

“We shocked a few people in 2019 and I think we are capable of surprising a lot more next season,” he says.