Doesn’t the dawn of a New Year fill us all full of optimism, as we look forward to brighter days and nights ahead, and think about what the fledgling year will bring.
In Rugby League it’s good to look ahead and wonder who the star clubs and star players will be as the new season gradually unfolds.
We are coming off a year in which we witnessed the greatest World Cup tournament in the history of the game.
And, our readers are guardedly optimistic about the future, no doubt continuing the positive feelings that the World Cup generated.
Everyone is looking forward to the next World Cup in 2017 and to the international action that will take place between now and then.
But there’s only one problem.
When and where will those international matches take place? And who will be playing?
It’s the time of the year when calendars are published by all the leading newspapers and other media outlets for all the major sports over the New Year period.
So if you wanted to find out about all the international events involving English teams in a whole variety of sports for 2014, you only had to look down the list.
But with one exception.
You couldn’t find anything for Rugby League.
There are literally no major international matches anywhere in the world whose date and venue is known as we enter the New Year.
The Aussies face New Zealand in the Anzac Test on 2 May, but that game doesn’t appear to have a venue. Similarly, Fiji and Samoa will face each other on that same weekend, with the winner going through to the Four Nations. Again, we don’t know where that game will take place.
In this week’s League Express we have a tentative story about this year’s Four Nations tournament to be held in Australia and New Zealand. But we still can’t be sure about the dates and venues.
When all that enthusiasm was generated by the World Cup, it’s such a shame to see it all being dissipated simply because the Rugby League authorities seem unable to organise dates and times for international matches.
New kids on the block
In this week’s issue of League Express we reveal the results of our Readers’ Poll.
We have highlighted the votes for players, coaches and clubs, and we feature the results of the poll about the current state of the game.
For the RFL there is good and bad new in our poll results.
On the one hand, there seems to be a sense of optimism among many of our readers, no doubt inspired by the success of the World Cup.
On the other hand, our readers don’t seem to appreciate some of the ideas that the RFL puts forward, including the two-twelves, three-eights league structure and the ClubCall, which the RFL has struggled to give legitimacy to.
Less controversial, perhaps, is our list of winners set out on pages 12 and 13, with Danny Brough winning the most important vote as the League Express Player of the Year.
It’s been an extraordinary year for the Huddersfield and Scotland captain and he thoroughly deserves to win the vote. Many congratulations to him.
And you’ll note that our vote for the young player of the year was the closest of all the votes, with Leeds star Liam Sutcliffe just edging his rivals.
At the start of 2013 few of us would have heard of Liam, so he also deserves our sincere congratulations.
And if you want to know who might be in the running next year, then check out next week’s League Express, when we’ll be revealing the names of the rookies to watch out for in 2014.
It’s a feature we run every year at about this time, and it’s one of my favourites. There is surely nothing better than seeing bright young talent coming through the ranks and demanding to be selected.
On a sad note, I would like to pay a tribute to the Leigh Centurions club photographer Maurice Jones, who sadly died last week after a long illness.
Maurice had worked with the club for many years, and he also had many photographs published in League Express and in Rugby League World.
As the Centurions Director of Football Derek Beaumont commented: “This is a very sad day for Leigh Centurions and our thoughts are with Maurice’s family. For as long as I can remember Maurice has been capturing the photographic moments for the club and he always acquired the best action shots.”
“I am personally saddened as I had a good relationship with Maurice from his generous time entering the then Hilton Park suite to take pictures of the sponsors receiving their presentations from the man of the match. Maurice was a genuine honourable man whose talents and friendly nature will be sorely missed by everyone associated with the club.”
The Centurions will hold a minute’s silence in Maurice’s honour when they play Wigan later this month.
My condolences to Maurice’s family.
On a happier note, I would also like to pay tribute to Stuart Cummings, Martin Coyd and Malcolm Kielty.
Stuart and Malcolm have been awarded the MBE for services to Rugby League and to Wheelchair Rugby League respectively, while Martin will receive the OBE for services to Rugby League generally in a wide range of fields.
As for Stuart, he has been a fixture in Rugby League for as long as I can remember.
A former International Referee of the Year, he officiated in four Challenge Cup finals, two Super League Grand Finals and two World Cup Finals before being appointed to head up the RFL’s Match Officials’ department in 2002, and overseeing the successful implementation of a panel of full-time referees in 2007.
That is a very demanding job, when you think about the degree of scrutiny that referees face, and having a job in charge of referees is probably the most thankless task in Rugby League.
Stuart retired from his role as RFL Match Officials Director in March last year, though he continues to work with the RFL on a consultancy basis and of course can now be heard as part of the Sky Sports team when he advises on whether referees are getting it right on the pitch.
All three recipients fully deserve their awards, and I wish them all the best when they go to Buckingham Palace this year to be presented with their medals.