League Express MAILBAG – Monday 3rd August 2020

Here are the letters that were published in this week’s Mailbag in League Express, with Toronto Wolfpack inevitably figuring highly. If you would like to have a letter published in Rugby League’s leading weekly newspaper, send an email to mailbag@totalrl.com. You must include your full address and a telephone number.

Many fans, including me, are disappointed with the management of our game. Certainly, in the commercial world managers would be expected to do better.
Rather than reiterate the arguments from scratch, however, I would prefer to get answers to a few pertinent questions.
1: Regarding the nature and responsibility of the sport’s various organisations, have I been correct in thinking, to date, that Super League Europe and the Rugby Football League are, or were, autonomous structures, each having sole control of appointments and salaries within their own area of responsibility?
2: A prime management responsibility before embarking on any initiative is to think things through. On that basis, wouldn’t an explanation from on high regarding the state of the leagues in, say, six years’ time, help us all to understand what their aims are?
3: When the decision was taken to accept non-British clubs into Super League, and now potentially also New York and Ottawa, and with some potential Eastern European clubs banging on the door, how did the various managements see the game as a whole working? Did they have in mind a limit on overseas additions? Or should we expect to see regular relegation of British clubs to accommodate an international quota?
4: Was it accepted that Super League is an international competition and, if so, how would the domestic leagues operate after accommodating the relegated British clubs?
I can see that international Super League would be a Sky Sports dream, helping to sustain Sky’s financial input. But it would also cancel any chance of promotion for clubs lower down the ladder. That would certainly dampen local crowd support, which is already hard enough to maintain, although that could be countered by re-setting the domestic game as the ‘British Rugby League Championship’, re-establishing the domestic game structure as Challenge Cup, County Championships, and so on.
My final question, therefore, to Messrs Elstone and Rimmer is, “Where are we going?”
Answers soon please!
Glyn Smith, Runcorn

In defending the position of Toronto Wolfpack and the Wolfpack owner, Mr John Wheeler describes ALL the game’s supporters as a disgrace (Mailbag 27th July).
By any stretch of the imagination that is a big accusation.
On reading his letter I found myself opposed not only to his position on Toronto but regarding scrums as well. And while I do believe he has an absolute right to air his views, I take exception to his autocratic stance against those who feel differently.
Mr Wheeler, speak out when you feel that others are wrong. But please, do not resort to verbally abusing those who do not agree with you.
Tony Winstanley, Castleford

Some people are saying that Toronto Wolfpack have made a laughing stock of the Rugby Football League.
True, and this is the second laughable event. The first was when the RFL invited Toronto to join a UK-based league. The problem is that the RFL has no realistic plans for expansion, so they grasp at anyone who shows an interest.
Most businesses start locally and expand to the next town, then the next county, in logical, incremental stages. Jumping to France and next Canada is laughable. The RFL runs its business like Del Boy and Rodney. Dell’s van claims they operate in New York, Paris, and Peckham; perhaps the RFL is considering making a sitcom!
Apart from the current problems (not paying the players), signing Sonny Bill Williams was poor management. His salary apparently took them to the cap, so they asked for a salary cap dispensation to sign more players. That was poor management; why should any club have a dispensation? But the main problem is distance from the UK. Yes, a Toronto club might be raising the profile of the game, but not always in a positive way.
Given that some supporters cannot afford to add a trip to Canada or France to their normal UK away-game travel, such trips mean fans missing matches here. So rather than being a benefit to the game, foreign teams take money from attendances in England. Clubs lose gate money, sales of refreshments and programmes. That money going instead into the pockets of travel agents, airlines, and foreign hotels.
What a great idea, well done RFL! The finances of the game in England are in a parlous state yet, with a little help from the RFL allowing foreign clubs to join our leagues, we are losing even more. Foreign clubs don’t bring many supporters to England, which is another loss, not to mention the lack of atmosphere at games. It was a stupid idea to expand into any foreign country.
However, given that the Wolfpack committed to playing this season and then cried off, I think they must be penalised. What would happen if other teams dropped out for half a season? It does not bear thinking about.
Toronto will blame Coronavirus, but no other team is dropping out. Yes, they are based in Toronto not the UK, but they knew that before they joined, so it is their problem, not ours. If they are not penalised it could open the gate to other teams flouting the rules. We cannot allow our great game to be treated with such disrespect.
I would kick them out of the league completely and, if it is not already too late, reconsider the Ottawa Aces request to join.
An article in this paper (27 July) suggested that the Wolfpack could be replaced by London (unlucky to be relegated last year) or Featherstone (beaten in the million-pound game). I totally agree with that suggestion, but I’ll bet my house on the RFL doing nothing, or just deducting a couple of points. My minimum points sanction would be no less than twelve, which is what the RFL has imposed on several other teams for going into administration.
Not paying your staff, with the current owner wanting to get out, could lead to administration. Bringing the game into disrepute on this scale has not, so far as I am aware, happened before, but I think a twelve-point deduction would be justified.
I am not against expansion, but it must be part of a long-term plan for the betterment of the whole competition. It takes time to nurture new clubs in the UK and a lot of new clubs have fallen by the wayside. So why did anyone think it a good idea to allow Toronto in when there is no Rugby League in Canada? A lot of your readers may disagree with me, but I am concerned about the future of our own game and our own leagues. Almost every year for the last two decades at least one team from the Championship has entered administration.
We should be looking at ways to protect the teams that feed players into Super League. It is our future. We must ensure we have a strong healthy league structure at home before experimenting with teams abroad.
John Clark, Stockton-on-Tees

Garry Schofield’s byline, ‘Pulling no Punches’ is appropriate in relation to the farcical Toronto situation.
You just cannot have a club pulling out halfway through the season and next season expecting to pick up where they left off. How Elstone and Rimmer could have given the green light to that defies belief.
It was always going to be a tall order; a club bankrolled by only one man expected to play without any financial input from the game or from Sky Television. The timing was also unfortunate. It begs the question, could any of them care less about the mess they leave the game in?
The purchase of Sonny Bill Williams raised eyebrows about how they would afford his salary. How now do they hope to compete next year with few, if any, players left in the squad? They struggled to raise a team at the beginning of this season.
And still concerning Toronto, how can you redraw the Cup without further compromise, with only ten clubs able to compete in a round that should have had sixteen? I do not envy Super League or the Rugby Football League, but they made this rod for their own backs.
For the short and medium term, it must be, “Goodbye Toronto”.
Ian Haskey, Castleford

I keep reading and hearing people in the Rugby League community saying that the recent Toronto situation makes “our sport look like a laughing stock”.
Well, I would ask, to whom?
The implication inherent in the comment is that the people chuckling are the hordes outside the sport or the M62 corridor.
However, from my perspective as a Devonian Rugby League fanatic living in Bristol (and I wish this was not the case but) nobody anywhere else gives a damn, apart from perhaps a small part of Ealing, two French towns and those in Toronto.
This is why the Toronto Wolfpack are so needed in Rugby League and should be fostered and not castigated.
As all major religions have shown over millennia, a gospel needs to be preached to new captive audiences for the its word to spread and thus survive. There is a new and growing congregation ready in Canada.
Please, please, Rugby League, do not close the church door on them!
Charlie Ansell, Bristol

Toronto have thrown in the towel and refuse to complete the season.
They are a disgrace to our great game; throw them out of the Rugby Football League now.
Let’s forget about North America altogether. If Super League wants another team to replace Toronto, why not get one from the Championship, which would be a real Rugby League team from a real community.
Geoff Bullock, Ackworth

Reading Matthew Shaw’s Totalrl.com article on Toronto’s Wolfpack’s withdrawal from Super League, I just wondered what his views would be if any of the rest of the teams in Super League had done the same thing.
I suppose it would not change if Leeds, St Helens, Warrington and serial salary cap offenders Wigan had done so.
However, what would his view be if, say, Wakefield, Hull KR, Salford and Castleford had withdrawn. I think his article would have taken a very different view.
Terry Dudley, Pontefract

In North America every leading sports organisation – the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, MSL – have pulled the plug on their seasons continuing while the Coronavirus pandemic has been raging.
So do all those Rugby League fans raging about Toronto’s withdrawal from Super League really believe that they could have been the only North American sports team to continue?
Obviously not!
The Super League administration should have realised this immediately and announced several months ago that Toronto would forgo this season, rather than allowing the club to make the decision a matter of days before the season was due to restart.
Jim Williams, Scarborough

Most of the press seemed constantly to admire the Emperor’s new clothes, lauding the expansion of Rugby League into Canada while the doubters, those of us on the terraces who said, “Ey up?”, were cast as villains. But did anyone who supports a heartlands club cause the demise of the Wolfpack?
Did we (allegedly) not pay players and suppliers way back to League 1 days?
Did we enter the competition with an agreement that at the last minute was changed to make it unattractive to the original investors?
Did we set up a club knowing that, in the whole of Canada, there was no all-weather pitch available to play games fixed by a conventional draw?
Did we think the public would be taken in by a supposedly Canadian team, based in the North of England?
Did we hire too few players on too high a salary scale?
Let’s face it, more supporters went to Canada than ever came to the UK. Away support is not something they do in North America but it is part of the culture in this sport. If the adventure fails totally and the Wolfpack disappears, it is no fault of ours on the terraces in the UK. The people on the terraces at Lamport know whose fault it is, and the press should help them to get answers.
If the Wolfpack are still around next year, it must be in Super League with a massive fine and points reduction. It is unfair to other clubs if they are just demoted to the Championship or League 1. This is a Super League problem, not a Rugby League one.
David Taylor, Kendal

The Toronto situation beggars belief.
They think they can just give up for this season, then next season be welcomed back into Super League with open arms. In proper sports leagues this is simply not done.
They should be kicked into League 1 and forced to earn their way back up into Super League like any other League 1 and Championship team.
Angie Austin, Chorley

Rugby League will become a laughingstock if Toronto Wolfpack are allowed to play Super League next season, after withdrawing from this season’s competition. Let’s promote a heartland team and forget about teams that bring nothing to the sport.
C Green, Poole

Again, the good name of Rugby League has been brought down, this time by the Toronto farce. We must be a laughingstock among other sports.
There is not and never has been a place for the Wolfpack in British Rugby League, or for the Catalans. They bring nothing to the game, or very little. The whole idea of expansion could only be good if the game were strong in its British heartland, which it is not.
I may be a bit of a dinosaur in some respects but listening to other fans and reading letters from fans, the general tone of opinion is much the same. How are we supposed to attract investors, sponsors and so on, when those running the game behave like headless chickens.
The game at most levels is currently on a downward path. How much stronger it would be if Cumbria were strong, as it used to be; if the likes of Featherstone, Bradford and Leigh were back in Super League, and if all those local derbies were back. Crowds would be back and interest would be back.
Instead, our big-name players go Down Under and in return all we usually get are players from there who are in the latter years of their career, building up a bit of pension money.
They are keeping our home- grown players from getting game time, causing us to lose good young players from the game.
Do we want Toronto back next year, or any year? No! We must realise now that this pandemic situation could happen again, at any time.
Sorry Mr Elstone, but it’s time for you, like Toronto, to leave Rugby League. Garry Schofield got it spot on in League Express last week. Farcical, farcical, farcical!
Deryck Thorp, Leeds

Eddie Waring once wrote that when we look back on games of the past, “goals get longer and tries get better“.
In other words, we look back through rose-tinted glasses, which it seems is what those that are calling for contested scrums are doing.
One writer said that everyone would want contested scrums back. But I for one do not, having supported Rugby League for over 75 years. For far too many of those years I have had to witness the shambolic and unsightly spectacle of the laws governing scrums broken at every scrum.
The change to uncontested scrums today was for the simple reason that they could not be policed. At one period penalty goals from scrums were outscoring tries, which brought in differential penalties, but the problem persisted.
Next they tried sending both hookers off, making games 12-a-side. In the end the Rugby League authorities said enough is enough.
Then why do we still have scrums? Simply to restart the game, which today’s scrum does and quickly too, with no cheating and no players trying to hoodwink the referee, while spectators can see it all.
Over the years many have written to this journal saying how much they admire the scrums in Union.
Well, a few years ago the Union correspondent for the Guardian wrote an article on the Union scrum following a 6-Nations game between Wales and England at Cardiff, when a win for England would have given them a grand slam victory. Sadly for them they suffered a humiliating defeat.
In his opening paragraph the writer asked: “What is the difference between Rugby League scrums and Rugby Union scrums? The ball emerges from the former. Long gone are the days when the 15-a-side game could mock the rival code for a set piece that, while not being a contest for possession, is an effective means of restarting play”.
The writer then went on to say, “The scrum in Rugby Union has degenerated into a mess that vexes referees, perplexes spectators and apoplexies players and coaches”.
He pointed out that there were 12 scrums in the match: five resulted in penalties for Wales, who were also awarded three free kicks. A solitary penalty went the way of the English. There were seven resets and the ball came out of only three scrums, with two in the last 90 seconds when the game was over and both front rowers could not be bothered to contest.
It seems ironic that an experienced and respected Rugby Union reporter should endorse the Rugby League scrum for doing what it is intended to do while at the same time criticising the rugby union scrum for not doing what it is supposed to do.
But at the same time some Rugby League supporters condemn league scrums and call for union-style scrums. Penalties at rugby union scrums are not differential, so can be converted, but in this game we were not told whether the penalties were converted or not. Had those five penalties, gifted by the referee for technical infringements that only he could see, been converted, then Wales would have had 15 points added to their score.
The game of Rugby League today is probably the fairest field team game in the world, with limited tackles and uncontested scrums, meaning that if each side plays out its sets and doesn’t give away penalties, they are guaranteed 50 per cent possession.
But if one side’s play becomes undisciplined, then they give possession to their opponents, unlike in those early post-war games with unlimited possession and contested scrums, when one side could dominate both scrums and possession, making the game a one-sided contest.
Anthony Byrne, Dewsbury

Just when I thought things could not get more embarrassing, up steps the RFL and outdoes itself.
I refer of course to the RFL decision that only ten teams will take part in the Challenge Cup this year, with six of them needing to win only two games to reach the final. What a joke!
I know the earlier rounds involved amateur and second-tier professional clubs, but surely the right decision, in unprecedented times, would have been to declare the season null and void.
There is no point in playing a competition with no kudos to be gained. Who wants to be known as a Cup winner after playing only three games? Even the BBC Floodlit Trophy had more teams competing and the County Cups certainly did.
I am slowly becoming embarrassed to tell people I am a Rugby League fan, so I await what ‘they’ come up with next.
Geoffrey Bagley, Leeds

In the midst of the biggest pandemic in living memory, instead of being grateful and delighted that Rugby League is returning, albeit in a restricted manner, all Steve Rutter can do (League Express 20th July) is obsess about one club’s games.
Before Steve jibes back at me, I am not a Leeds supporter by any means. I just have a sense of perspective on the current situation.
Derek Slater, Stockport

I am somewhat angry that the Championship and League 1 seasons have been cancelled.
As I see it, pandering to Toronto has had a big influence on the RFL’s decision. Their credibility has certainly been brought into question.
Until Toronto announced that they could not afford to finish the 2020 season, there was every chance that all levels would complete it.
The RFL then stated that there would be no relegation from Super League, nullifying promotion from the Championship.
But what if Toronto had won all their first six games? Would the reaction have been the same? Does the RFL intend to impose a twelve-point penalty against Toronto for this failure to compete, making them start the 2021 season with that penalty?
It is a massive kick in the teeth for our lower leagues and lends credence to talk of a breakaway league with a new administration team in place.
Michael Thornton, Barnsley

Once again, the Rugby Football League is in disarray.
For one reason or other, the Toronto experiment has not worked. So, as we seem to follow whatever the Australian NRL does in most things, why not also follow their league structure?
I realise it would be more costly, but it is up to the Rugby Football League to do what they are paid for and come up with the funds.
We could have a fourteen-team league instead of the NRL’s sixteen, without any relegation (giving the so-called lesser teams a chance to bring their younger players through) and giving all teams more security. In time, the so-called lesser teams would become able to challenge the bigger clubs.
Most, if not all, the NRL clubs name more than one player aged 18 to 22 in their team each week.
Finally, on a different subject, if the RFL insists next year on bringing Toronto back into Super League (and deducts them at least eight points), they would still be in Super League and could not be relegated.
I think that situation could be a minefield. If you keep relegation and a defaulting team is not sanctioned, what is to stop the teams looking likely to face relegation doing the same as Toronto has done this year?
Arthur Greaves, Hull

How can Wakefield look their players in the eye, crying poverty due to Covid 19 and pushing players to take a reduction in contracted salaries and then, within seven days, signing two new players in two days – Tony Gigot and Liam Kay?
I am no expert on employment law, but surely the affected players must now have the right to expect their contracts to be fully honoured.
It is certainly morally corrupt. And one must ask what the players union will do, because I am sure Wakefield will not be the only club to act like this.
Dale Heskett, Chadderton