League Express Mailbag – Monday 29th March


The Australian NRL has just hit our screens again.

Marginalised as a sport, as we are in this country, we often look ‘Down Under’ with envious eyes, and it is always a disappointment to me that the strength of the Australian game is not used to improve life for the rest of us.

By that I mean the Australian national side, who ought to be the Rugby League equivalent of Brazil, or the rugby union All Blacks. Something happened to our international calendar in the mid 1990s. I can’t remember the reasons, but before that the cycle of Ashes Tests every two years, gave the game in this country a shot in the arm.

We have had Tri and Four Nations competitions since, but for me those were dumbed-down versions of Test football. They were played in smaller stadiums and we played Australia less often. In contrast, the 1990 and 1994 Ashes series were played at Wembley, Old Trafford and Elland Road, with the latter two stadiums selling out.

The then Great Britain side may have lost the 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994 series 2-1, but even winning the occasional Test match gave the game in this country a lift, demonstrating that we were getting progressively closer to matching the Australians. We hear a lot of nonsense about our inability to defeat Australia. Reasons such as: ‘it is the national sport of Australia’ and ‘they have more players to choose from’ don’t wash with me. The only way to defeat Australia is to play them more often. Practice makes perfect.

Of course, any return to a regular international calendar would require co-operation from Australia, but why should they bother? Their domestic game is strong; perhaps they can afford to be isolationist but I am not so sure. Despite the relative strength of the Australian game, Australian Rules football tends to attract bigger crowds and is seemingly more successful across all states. An international dimension might give them the edge over Rules Football.

There seems to be a lot of unfilled potential in the Australian game, in terms of growth and expansion. There has often been talk of the NRL encompassing a second New Zealand club, at Wellington or Christchurch, or a new (or reinstated) club at Adelaide or Perth. Perhaps rebirth of the international game could give the Australian game back the energy and vision it had in 1995.

That season the Auckland Warriors, North Queensland Cowboys and Perth Western Reds all made their debuts. All the talk seemed to be about pushing back frontiers. Back in England, meanwhile, I believe that one of our better decisions has been to appoint Shaun Wane as National Coach.

However, he does need an international calendar to get his teeth into, and in that, regular New Zealand tests have a big part to play.

Nick Robinson, Beverley



Friday was the first day of the new Rugby League season but there wasn’t a single mention of that in Friday’s Daily Mail.

Absolutely pathetic! How can a paper justify that, when it fills pages to report on Rugby Union games, where the ball spends more time in the crowd? Or on Cricket matches, where the most exciting thing is watching Mexican Waves. I no longer buy the paper on Saturdays as there are no reports of the previous night’s games. It may be time to do the same thing during the week. I emailed the Mail and this is the reply I received from their Consultant Sports Editor, Jim Mansell.

“Thank you for your email today about rugby league, the contents have been noted. I apologise for the lack of a preview to the new season. We are looking into our printing and distribution to try and ensure that a later edition is received everywhere on Saturdays, to include coverage of Friday night matches.

“The problem we have at the moment is that the Saturday edition is the biggest seller of the week due to the popularity of the Weekend TV magazine. Also the Saturday edition is the largest of the week with 120 or 128 pages. Consequently, it takes longer to print and we have to start the process earlier on Friday evenings to complete the nationwide distribution.

“This means that some areas on Saturdays receive our early edition without Friday night match reports and from what you say I assume that includes Wrexham.”
They are just not interested, are they?

Alan James, Wrexham



In round one of the 2021 Challenge Cup there was a mix of coverage, including free-to-air BBC, The Sportsman, the ‘YouTube’ channel and ‘pay per view’ on the ‘OurLeague’ app, to which I subscribed for the Barrow Raiders game.

Round Two seems only to be covered by the first two, despite my understanding that the ‘OurLeague’ app was supposed to provide comprehensive coverage, and a 90%/10% income split between the two teams, with the home club financing the coverage.

Is there now a fixed coverage fee to clubs and will that include those in Round 1, if their income from ‘pay per view’ was low? Who is financing the Sportsman coverage? Will this affect coverage of Championship and League 1 games played behind closed doors?

David Taylor, Kendal



It has seemed a lifetime of boredom since we all attended a proper game supporting our teams. We have had little choice other than to watch the Australian, so-called ‘superior’ game to ours (if you listen to their experts). But even having watched those games shown we had a lot to be grateful for.

The Australians seem to implement rule changes every season. This season, one change aimed at speeding up the game was to legitimise the forward pass to make it almost unseen. According to the rule book, a forward pass is a forward pass but not according to the Aussies. Referees can’t make a decision of their own without referring to the screens. I may be wrong but for me, in the games shown, tries were allowed that shouldn’t have been, and tries that should have been allowed have were not.

As for their commentators, apart from being an ex-professional how do you qualify as a commentator there? They think “the bunker is amazing”; I thought a bunker was found in golf, not in Rugby League.

Over here, everyone is looking forward to an exciting and hopefully undisturbed, season. I hope that all our referees will have a good season, and that we can look forward to some fantastic games involving all clubs.

John Barker, Mirfield



Without wishing to retract my previously published opinion of private equity funds, I must admit that the views of PEF expert, Andrew Umbers (mentioned by John Davidson on page three of last week’s edition), made very interesting reading.

Davidson quoted detailed views offered by Umbers on aspects of Rugby League, almost all of which I agreed with. He seems to have more idea about the running of our favourite game than the present people in charge. For me, his most important point was that present owners and chairmen of clubs should think of the game as a whole, not of their own vested interests.

Can we find a role for this man within the game, without linking up with a PEF?

Ray Warburton, Cheadle



I always enjoy reading Phil Hodgson’s thoughtful column in League Express.

He made my day last week by mentioning ‘family’ and the magical Roger Chapman (Talking Grass Roots, March 15). His analogies were spot on. They really put a smile on my face so I hope he is aware of Roger’s follow-on band ‘Streetwalkers’ (he continues to ‘gargle gravel’ to great effect). It is worth seeking the albums.

Living in Flockton, I am a supporter of amateur Rugby League. I used to follow ‘Emley’ – home and away – but they have fallen on hard times of late. Thank you for the column. I am hoping Phil will have a great season.

Graham Beckwith, Flockton