Will Sam crack the NRL?
First published in League Express, Monday 30th Sept 2013
The news that the New Zealand Warriors have signed Sam Tomkins on a three-year contract was hardly surprising, given the way it has been telegraphed for much of the season.
Sam has made it clear that he sees the NRL as a better competition than Super League, and he wants to test himself at that level.
I admire him for wanting to do that, and even more so when we consider that playing rugby union might have been another alternative, and possibly better paid.
But the size of the transfer fee, £700,000, is surprising.
There is an enormous amount of talent in New Zealand, and the Junior Warriors side will be playing in their third Grand Final in the last four years as a curtain-raiser to the NRL Grand Final on Sunday, suggesting a steady supply of young New Zealanders coming through the ranks.
For them to pay £700,000 to being a player from the other side of the world would be like Wigan paying a similar amount to bring a player from New Zealand when they have the greatest nursery in England.
Sam, of course, has been building up a significant media profile in this country in recent years.
When he first burst onto the scene he was a shy young bloke, for example when he won our Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year Medal in 2009.
But now he is confident and eloquent, and is a regular in various parts of the media.
For him to give that up to head to Auckland is a big risk for him, particularly when you think about the risk that he could face resentment from other players about the size of his contract over there.
I hope he has a storming season in 2014, and that he makes the sort of impression that the Burgess brothers have made with South Sydney.
I also hope that he goes to New Zealand as a World Cup winner.
Brits really were the Dream Team
It was funny to hear the Sky Rugby League team wondering aloud last Thursday night why Warrington winger Joel Monaghan had not been selected in the Super League Dream Team.
The Dream Team, you may remember, is selected by the members of the Rugby League media, who vote for the best three players in each position, giving them 5 points, 3 points and 1 point respectively.
The two wingers who made the Dream Team were Josh Charnley of Wigan and Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year Tom Lineham from Hull FC.
The Dream Team this year was made up entirely of British players, and the Sky team asked whether that might be because of the impending World Cup.
I’m glad to say that the RFL Communications Manager John Ledger has clarified the voting, in response to those suggestions, however light-hearted they may appear.
John confirmed that in the voting Joel Monaghan received 52 points, Tom Lineham received 56 points with Josh Charnley receiving 153 points.
Joel Monaghan is a very fine player, but on this occasion he didn’t quite make the cut.
And the Dream Team was genuinely British.
Super League whacks
Last week Premiership Rugby, the organisation that represents the Aviva Premiership rugby union clubs, put out a press release about the viewing figures for its matches broadcast on BT Sport.
“Premiership TV Viewing Figures On The Rise” was the headline.
BT Sport screens all Aviva Premiership matches, and anyone who has BT Broadband can tune in without having to pay any additional fee.
“BT Sport and Premiership Rugby have confirmed a healthy increase in TV viewing figures for Aviva Premiership matches,” the press release said.
“There has reportedly been a 130% rise in the average TV audience in the first two weekends.”
Various media outlets repeated the news uncritically.
What they didn’t mention was the contrast between the viewing audience of a recent Premiership game, which was 61,000 on BT Sport, when it was up against the Super League play-off clash between Leeds and St Helens, which drew an audience of 245,000, effectively a viewership of four to one.
Premiership Rugby commercial director, Dominic Hayes, said: “Aviva Premiership Rugby is booming. The first two weekends with BT Sport were a big success. The figures prove the huge interest in Aviva Premiership Rugby and we are delighted to see all of the hard work delivering results.”
You have to hand it to the rugby union authorities.
The glass is always full to the brim as far as they are concerned.
All change at Hull
I’m delighted to see Hull FC Chairman Adam Pearson appointing a British coach at the KC Stadium in Lee Radford.
Lee is relatively inexperienced, having worked for only two years as an assistant coach.
Some people suggest that you need to be in place for five years as an assistant to be ready to take over the top job.
But you don’t turn down a job offer when it is made to you, and I can see the logic in Lee’s appointment.
Everything about him suggests that his roots are in Hull, and that is bound to have an effect on everyone he comes into contact with.
The only slight concern I would have about him is the fact that he is also an enterprising bloke who has a number of business interests of various sorts in Hull.
Coaching is a single-minded occupation, and there isn’t much room for a coach to do a lot else.
So that will be a challenge for Lee.
While he’s at it, Adam Pearson to look at the way his club deals with the media.
These days, Hull FC are desperately difficult to deal with, and are generally unresponsive to media requests.
It isn’t surprising that their attendances have been falling.
Welcome to Specsavers
It was good to see the national optician chain Specsavers getting involved in Rugby League last week.
Specsavers will sponsor the World Cup referees, so of course there is plenty of room for jokes about our match officials needing to wear glasses.
But, as someone who wears glasses myself, I’ve thought for a long time that opticians are a perfect sponsorship fit for spectator sports, and I hope the RFL will be able to extend Specsavers’ sponsorship beyond the World Cup.