First published in Rugby League World, Issue 389 (Sept 2013)
I came away from Northern Rail finals day at Halifax with profoundly mixed feelings.
On the one hand, we had seen two magnificent matches, crammed with enterprise and energy. That could be taken as evidence that these four clubs are doing very nicely on the field, thank you, and should be left to get on with it.
On the other, you can look at the meagre crowd of 4,000 and take that as evidence that nobody much cares about lower division rugby in its current form.
This was the first final, of course, since the move from Blackpool. Perhaps the Costa del Calda just doesn’t have the same appeal in 80 degree temperatures.
You still see the odd thing that makes it a special day. Take Jono Smith for instance.
The burly forward, who looks for all the world as if he has been dragged out of a pub on the way, did a quick change from playing for the North Wales Crusaders in their Bowl win over the London Skolars into the red and white hoops to support Leigh against Sheffield.
At least, I have it on very good authority that he did. I scanned the Leigh end with my field glasses and could see nothing but characters who looked like they had been dragged out of the pub and then played in the Bowl final.
But that’s Leigh for you.
Don’t knock Premier Sports to me.
No matter how often they forget to order the satellite truck, or start late because of Linfield in the Euro Fizzy Pop Cup.
No matter how many commentators called Dave Woods they summon up to confuse us, I won’t hear a word against them.
Not when they can serve up a banquet of delights like they have these last few weeks. Not only wall-to-wall vintage State of Origin, but also the cream of Aussie Grand Finals. Can life get any sweeter?
It gave me the chance to see again the game that might just be my all-time favourite – the 1989 decider between Canberra and Balmain.
You know the one. The Raiders dead and buried until a brilliant try from John Ferguson (Still the best winger to play for Wigan in the last 40 years? Discuss) took it into extra time.
An equally good try from Steve Jackson – a complete flop at Warrington two years earlier, despite an impressive mullet – won it for Canberra, but there was just so much else in it.
Andy Currier, with his famous “milk bottle” legs, doing great things in attack and horrible ones in defence.
Warren Ryan, the supposed master of these matters, taking Steve Roach and Paul Sironen off too early and bringing on a Tousle-haired Shaun Edwards too late.
The thing that really struck me, though, was the pace at which it was played; not, as you might expect, slower than the present day, but even faster.
I can come up with a couple of reasons for this. In 1989, we didn’t convene a debating society after every decision and defences weren’t as good at slowing down the play-the-ball.
Progress? I’m not so sure.
Anyone under the misapprehension that we live in an era of harmony between the two codes of rugby should cast a look in the direction of Morocco.
The Student Pioneers’ tour there was subjected to harassment and obstructiveness of the most blatant kind from the rugby union authorities. Strange that, when we’re all supposed to be the best of pals.
The answer is that we’re pals when it suits them. When it doesn’t, they revert to type very quickly.
The dirty tricks department is still very much open for business and operating, it appears, out of Casablanca.
You quite often hear things on the sidelines of amateur games that would have been better left unsaid.
Take the referee at one of our recent matches, for instance. At half-time, he sidled over and asked whether the changing room were unlocked.
“You see, I need to change my glasses,” he said. Cue much hilarity among the throngs of spectators you get at North West Men’s Division Four matches these days.
“If I’d have been you,” said one of them, “I’d have said I needed the toilet.”
It was too late. He had to endure a second half during which he was told repeatedly that he should have gone to Specsavers.