League Express MAILBAG, Monday 27th July 2020

“I truly feel sorry for David Argyle, the owner of Toronto Wolfpack after all the money he has ploughed into establishing a Rugby League team in North America.
A foothold for Rugby League into a new, enormous sports market; a chance to extend the game’s reach on the global stage thwarted by circumstances beyond Argyle’s control as his team withdraws from this year’s competition.
Looking back, the Wolfpack were made as welcome into Rugby League in this country as a turd in the swimming pool! They have been treated disgracefully. The RFL, the Super League, and all the game’s supporters have been a disgrace. So much for the notion that our sport is all-embracing regardless of race, creed, country, or colour.
One saving grace should be that the Wolfpack will not be relegated but will resume in the 2021 season and Argyle has affirmed that they would like to be back.
He is a gladiator, a glutton for punishment in a game that has been plagued on and off by Johnny-Come-Lately club owners who thought they could make a quick buck.
Marwan Koukash laid out a lot of money for no return, though nothing to compare with the millions of dollars it is costing Argyle. And then there is Bernard Guasch, the owner of Catalan Dragons; he too complains of selfishness in the attitude to his club of fellow Super League club owners.
I find all this unbelievable at a time when the sport should unite and act as one. The government has not granted £16 million to the game to watch the antics of the governing bodies. I assume the big pigs have got their snouts in the trough, knocking the little pigs out of the way.
Moving on, it seems possible that next year will see a large influx of southern hemisphere players here, thereby blocking our own young players’ progress to the top level. So we should reach agreements with Australian clubs whereby we can loan our players to them for, say twelve months. Players then could only benefit. What can they lose by experiencing a different lifestyle, diet, attitude, and way of playing?
Watching the NRL on Sky Sports, I see no hope of our winning next year’s World Cup. They are fitter, faster, more skilful, bigger, and, most importantly more disciplined.
Scrums, real scrums, have not existed since at least the 1960s. Even then they were feeding into the back row and getting away with it, so basically they are a waste of time. Do we really want to copy Rugby Union, with its mind-numbing set and reset of scrums? A complete waste of time!
We are Rugby League. We are different and must be different to the other code. What is wrong with that? We need, as a sport, to ask, “Who are we, what are we and what do we stand for?”
Will Rugby League in this country be happy to `sit it its own midden’? We are northerners. So what?
John Wheeler, Sandbach

Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column [20th July) was particularly pertinent, following the news of Toronto’s withdrawal from this truncated 2020 season.
Along with other keyboard warriors, Martyn has supported a lot of top-down management initiatives since the inception of Super League, most of which have ended in abject failure. The admission of Paris St Germain in 1996 (to the exclusion of heartland clubs) is one example.
Keighley were permitted to sign Daryl Powell, when the authorities knew the club was not going to be promoted. The late Maurice Bamford described that as unethical and unforgivable.
The Gateshead venture was lauded as a major expansion move and then aborted within twelve months to bail out Hull FC. Sheffield won the Cup in 1998, a marvellous achievement for a debt-laden club, but relatively few spectators to parade the Cup in front of. And thence the ill-fated merger with Huddersfield, who could not be relegated, season after season despite finishing bottom of the League, because their ground was ‘fit for purpose’.
More recently, the North Wales Crusaders venture was lauded as a breakthrough, with Keith Senior allowed to sign for them though both the club and the RFL knew they could not support a franchise bid. Stevie Ward and Richie Myler were being lauded as key signings for Toronto when ‘those in the know’ knew that ‘house of cards’ was ready to fall.
The Test Match in Denver was hailed by Sky, the literati and the armchair expansionists alike, but the scepticism of those who had seen it all before was soon vindicated. The bills remained unpaid and people paid ridiculous salaries to guide the game forward were left with egg on their faces.
Now Toronto has pulled out of this truncated season, embarrassing the game yet again.
When are we going to listen to the fans who pay good money at the turnstiles? My association with Rugby League spans six decades. I have friends and acquaintances at many different clubs – most of whom attend matches – and not one of us was energised by the dubious venture in Toronto.
Why do highly paid administrators keep getting it wrong? Do we need two governing bodies when the game is facing an existential crisis and the grassroots and heartland clubs continue to wither away? The likes of Featherstone, Leigh, Halifax (and probably Toulouse) have been hung out to dry by this crass attempt at expansion in Toronto.
Even the inclusion of French clubs in the UK leagues is worthy of debate. The main reason for including a French team in Super League was to bolster the French international team, but that has deteriorated since Catalan Dragons joined Super League. The number of professional clubs is in retreat and the standard of play seems to be below what would match some of the top amateur sides in Britain. The French game might be better served by Catalans and Toulouse playing in the French Leagues and raising standards of play there.
The domestic game here is in crisis. For a variety of reasons schools Rugby League at secondary school level is not in great shape and the amateur (community) game continues to struggle, even in traditional heartlands like Hull.
Martyn Sadler points out that Super League is not progressing; it is deteriorating in its administration and management. The overseas quota has been increased. Our ‘A ‘ teams have been aborted due to the pandemic. With relegation now off the agenda, playing exhibition games for Sky money so that few elite clubs, run by benevolent chairmen, can add to their trophy cabinets is not going to solve the problems of the game. How can the two governing bodies justify their positions when the game is in such great need of attention?
Long term planning is urgently required. We need sustainable development, weaning clubs off dependency on a small group of individuals who act in their own interests rather than for the game as a whole.
I am not sure the American soccer road, highlighted in his column by Martyn Sadler, is the one to go down, but the game is badly in need of leadership. Like politicians, the administrators will blame the problems facing the game on the pandemic, including Toronto, but all the pandemic has done is bring to the fore fundamentals that have been ignored for too long.
There is much talk of the World Cup next year. All who have the game at heart will hope that is successful with healthy attendances.
Having watched the NRL games on TV since their resumption, however, I believe that neglect over many years of our own grass roots and heartlands, and a game top heavy with Antipodeans in key positions, will come back to haunt us when, yet again, England struggles to match the standards of the southern hemisphere.
Gerry Wright, Bradford

Martyn Sadler’s insightful and challenging perspective on the future structure of Super League (20th July) has certainly stirred some heated discussion among the Foster family.
What progress has our game made at the top level since 1996? What changes need to be considered before there is crisis beyond repair? Martyn’s comparisons and analysis accurately weigh up the massive financial issues for Rugby League brought into sharp focus during this lockdown period.
There is no doubt that the sad and sudden ‘surrender’ by Toronto Wolfpack from this season’s remaining fixtures, whatever the circumstances, does not reflect well on the game.
Perhaps now is the time to consider strategically where Super League should be heading and to make some radical changes. Embrace perhaps some of the vision and marketing methods that have been applied successfully in, for example, American and Australian sport.
There are many conflicts of interest that seem to prevent Super League from fulfilling its potential.
There is an urgent need for all Super League clubs to work in a fully cooperative manner (as they have had to during the pandemic emergency), and to deliver a more cohesive approach where common rather than individual interests are the priority.
Simon Foster, Beverley

What a shambles our great game has become with recent events.
Whilst the RFL has shown some decent leadership, I am left wondering what exactly the Super League clubs get out of having their own Chief Executive Officer.
Rob Elstone is threatening Toronto with sanctions for refusing to participate in the remaining matches of the 2020 season.
How does he expect them to compete when they have no current income stream, no potential income for the rest of the season, in the short term can play no home games and with half their players having been obliged to leave Canada due to COVID Visa restrictions?
The RFL admitted a Canadian team to the UK leagues knowing full well there would be problems in admitting a transatlantic team into a European competition. I now question whether the admission of Ottawa next season is wise.
I am all for expanding the geographical spread of the game, even including a second French Team in Super League – Toulouse maybe.
But that aside, our expansion efforts should be focused nearer to home in places like London, Newcastle, North Wales and places with a previous recent Rugby League tradition like Carlisle.
P J Watson, Pocklington

Utter farcical mess!
Here we are in another laughing-stock situation with Toronto. Oh, how this game continues to shoot itself in the foot.
At a time when virtually every club is struggling financially – cutting its cloth in order to survive, knowing that the season is to start without crowds and therefore without revenue coming in – there is no choice but to get on with the situation as it stands. And Toronto are able to say: “Sorry you lot, we’re not bothering.
“Excuse us screwing up 2020 even more and causing havoc to the game. Don’t worry!
“You lot struggle on through and we’ll join you again next season when we’re alright.”
In the meantime, I believe, they continue to sign players for 2021.
Struggling? We have our clubs wondering if they can afford to hold onto players. It’s a farce, but I’m sure Super League will look sideways and excuse their little pet.
Michael Wright, Hull

I notice that in last week’s edition, in the Super League news section by Mathew Shaw, we appear to have two new members of the ‘elite’ division, namely Leigh Centurions and Toulouse Olympique.
Does our worthy scribe know something we don’t? Has the makeup of Super League been decided during lockdown or is it just wishful thinking?
Please enlighten us all.
Tony Sutcliffe, Sutton-on-Sea

At last Toronto have thrown in the towel?
I think not, but a Canadian team was a problem waiting to happen. What will happen next? Relegation and a twelve points deduction as Widnes and Bradford have had to undergo?
Why not let the Championship ‘Probables’ play a round robin like the Middle 8s to secure the missing place in Super League?
In future, North American clubs should be required to have super dome facilities to cover the winter weather until they can play outdoors, and they should play the same fixture regime as everybody else.
There should be no special treatment for any new club.
Jeff Bunting, Hull

My point about scrums, to make it again for Mr Sandford (Mailbag 27 July), is that ours are not currently fit for purpose and have not been for years.
We would all like to see CONTESTED scrums brought back, but I can’t see that happening, which is why I suggest getting rid of them. And yes, a tap restart IS better than the current joke scrums, which make the game look silly.
Are scrums really a threat to players’ health when the whole game involves playing in very close contact? Who makes these decisions?
As for the game generally, we are now in danger of becoming the biggest laughing stock in sport, in the history of the world, if we aren’t already. What do Toronto bring to Super League, even in normal times?
Nobody could have predicted the pandemic but, as Garry Schofield pointed out, there will always be problems with a team based on the other side of the world. Toronto’s fixture list was a joke prior to lockdown.
Of course we all wanted them to succeed once the RFL gave them the green light but, as always, the RFL made a monumental error. Now we have a problem with the league fixtures and another even more interesting, which is what to do about the Challenge Cup with Toronto gone? Add Leagues 1 and 2 cancelled and what a disaster!
As for the restart, how can Catalans think it fair to play home fixtures in France when all the others are playing on neutral grounds? Oh, hang on a minute! Leeds are playing some games on their own ground.
You couldn’t make it up.
What would we give for a well-run administration?
Geoffrey Bagley, Leeds

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