I got into Rugby League through my father in the 1989/90 season, after moving here from Canada.
I have been following the Keighley Cougars since my first game v Rochdale and was hooked straight away.
From the 1990/91 season we went home and away for many seasons, and because of this got to see some great grounds, great players and meet great supporters of their respective teams.
As the 90s went on, Rugby League grew for the better. I played amateur rugby in the Pennine League, which had seven divisions and over 100 teams, and that was just one league of many.
Players from the amateur leagues had a gateway into the game through division three and upward; good young English players were being discovered, and given their chance.
A lot of clubs had ‘A’ teams and Academy teams, to bring through the young players, and if the player was wanted by a top club, there was a transfer fee paid, which for some clubs set them up for the season.
There were five trophies up for grabs, the division Championship, the division Premiership, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy and Yorkshire and Lancashire Cups.
On top of this there was usually a tour, either home or away.
All in all there was a hell of a lot of rugby to be played, watched and enjoyed by all.
Then we had the advent of Super League. Teams were relegated, or folded, such as Runcorn Highfield, Carlisle, Chorley or Nottingham City, to name a few.
The County Cups disappeared, not long after the Regal Trophy vanished, there was no promotion or relegation, and no transfer fees. The people in charge wanted to be like the NRL, and throw away years of tradition to have a competition that in all honesty to me would never be on a par with the NRL, which is the main sport in Australia, whereas Rugby League here is probably somewhere between volleyball and tiddlywinks.
I look at the game now and think that it is in very dire straits.
I have watched Super League games on TV and the players are more interested in chirping at the referee then getting on with the game. Most of the teams that had a really good ‘A’ team set-up, like Keighley, were told they could no longer run a second team so good young players are walking away from the game.
I know Jack Welsby and Matty Ashton are really good young players, but think how many more players might have been unearthed if the amateur game had more teams to bring these players from.
Losing Cup competitions takes away the big money games that fans and players want, such as Keighley v Wigan, Batley v St Helens. And who cares about the score?
I remember watching Ellery Hanley playing for Wigan v Keighley, and it was great to see.
I could go on all day about what I think needs to be done, but in reality the powers-that-be need to have a long hard look at Rugby League, and where it is headed. If they feel unable to do anything, then ask for help. It won’t take away from what they are doing and might give them some answers.
Darren Mabbott, Keighley
QUESTIONS OF GOVERNANCE
What is happening to our sport? Who is running Rugby League, is it Laurel and Hardy, The Muppets or Coco The Clown perhaps?
No wonder we are becoming a laughing stock. Castleford cancelling their game against St Helens? What a surprise!
I could see them pulling a trick like that weeks ago, once they had qualified for Wembley.
Okay, so they conceded the game, but this is a professional sport, not some Mickey Mouse league.
And Salford pulling out of their match against Wakefield?
I don’t suppose it had anything to do with their having a couple of suspensions to key players and a few injuries. Surely not!
Will Wakefield be awarded the match? We’ll see.
Back to Castleford: how come McShane has not been suspended for a dangerous throw? Ashurst of Wakefield got a two-match ban, Sneyd got away with one. Where is the consistency?
No wonder Sky are reducing their financial input. No wonder the national press have little or no interest in Super League. No wonder people are being turned away from the game.
This percentage win system is farcical. You get two points for a win and you should be allowed to draw. Get rid of Golden Point!
And don’t have a pointless international match half way through the season.
Covid, as nasty as it has become, has in some cases become a bit of an excuse for certain things. Please don’t treat supporters as unintelligent – you need us.
Deryck Thorp, Leeds
THE MIGHTY KEN
Like the majority of Rugby League fans, Championship or Super League, I am starting to fear for the future of our game in this country, so it was pleasing to read in last week’s League Express the answers to questions put to Ken Davy, current interim Chief Executive of Super League, at a media conference held the previous week.
It was great to hear that discussions about the RFL’s proposed realignment with Super League will at long last to come to fruition this month.
The decision that each would go their own separate way was always ridiculous, so the unanimous vote for realignment discussions to proceed was great news indeed.
Admittedly there will need to be compromise, but isn’t that always the case when two bodies decide to merge or come back together?
In an earlier Mailbag letter, 24th of June, I closed by asking when will the RFL Board finally be held to account, and prove their worth by giving us all back some respectability. Maybe this is their final chance.
The very fact that Ken Davy openly stated that, though he did not wish to second-guess the outcome of negotiations, if they were successful he could see himself staying on as a permanent Chairman, if asked, gives us all hope. He is one of very few within the hierarchy of our game who I have come to admire.
Despite having left school in 1956 at the age of fifteen, with no academic qualifications, by 1979 Ken Davy had formed an independent financial advice company, eventually selling that on in 2001 for £75 million. Facts that surely prove to all that the man is no fool and has great talents.
He may not be liked by the ‘footballing’ public of Huddersfield Town (it was he who, as Chairman at the time, took them into administration in 2003). But as Chairman of Huddersfield Giants he has overseen them climb out of the second division to become a Super League club of note.
Under his tenure they have competed in two Challenge cup finals, 2006 and 2009, and two semi finals, 2004 and 2012, and won the League Leaders’ Shield in 2013.
Let us all hope that with Ken’s experience and commitment to the game, he can guide discussions in the right direction and once again put our game at the top of the sporting tree.
Richard Sanderson, Beadnell, Northumberland
MOVE TO FOURTEEN
We all ponder on the future of Rugby League, as well as Sky’s coverage.
I notice this week only two matches were scheduled on TV and the Sunday evening match, as it was originally scheduled, clashed with the European Cup Final.
I bought Sky Sports because of the pandemic, hoping to watch Wigan when I can’t get to the matches. So why do Sky show so very few matches? They don’t seem to value what they have?
Then there is the lost question of expansion. There is a simple answer – 14 teams, with two promotion slots.
Promote two from the Championship, with the top team coming up automatically and the second from the Championship and second bottom in Super League playing the Million Pound Game. Or if that is too costly, let’s have just one up and down.
It is no longer time for more of the same.
Also I was sorry to hear about Garry Schofield’s eye problems God bless him and encourage him at this time.
Rev Kevin Jones, Preston
CALL FOR REORGANISATION
The uneven and disjointed match results and league table positions this season and last, due to Covid rules and restrictions make me believe it would be best to set aside relegation this season.
I would, however, promote the top team from the Championship (most likely Featherstone or Toulouse), creating a thirteen-team Super League, which could be beneficial, as each team would get a ‘bye’ week, to rest players.
It is no fault of the clubs that they are unable to field squads. Covid and injuries combined, plus the RFL awarding a 24-0 result, makes this whole season add up to a joke.
In all probability, Leigh Centurions would be relegated out of Super League, but surely that would be grossly unfair. As it is, they were invited into Super League to replace Toronto, with very little time to prepare and most available players were signed by other clubs.
The only drawback to a ’13 team’ league is what to do about the ‘Magic Weekend’, so my favoured idea would be to promote the top two. If Toulouse come up we especially need another English side in, to give us more games in England. Including the ‘Magic Weekend’, that would give us a twenty-seven game season, plus any cup runs and play-off games.
It is time to reorganise things for 2022 after the last two joke seasons.
Brian Atack, Dewsbury
I have recently enjoyed 5 Live’s Rugby League podcast with the current Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
I didn’t release how passionate he was about Rugby League. It was really interesting how Lindsay talked about Rugby League being in places like Wigan and Warrington, and 10 miles away, in places like Preston, Bolton and Burnley, there is almost no Rugby League at all.
Rugby League, as Lindsay said, is a northern sport, but as we’ve said so many times, we need to expand.
Let’s hope in a few weeks’ time that the RFL and Super League can come together again following their breakaway three years ago.
Lindsay also suggested that we could have the Challenge Cup semi–finals at places like Burnley and Bolton and one day those two places could have their own Rugby League teams.
Finally, I would like to mention the Catalans Dragons. They have been so amazing this season. We’ve said for so many years that they can’t win many games away from home, but this year, they can win almost anywhere.
I’m going to make a bold prediction now. I think the Dragons will win the Grand Final this year and become the fifth different team to win the competition.
Joe Vince, Colchester
There has been a lot said recently about how important international matches are to Rugby League, and that Super League clubs should support the international game by allowing their players to play in them.
Then, because Castleford were left with only fourteen fit players and couldn’t get a squad of seventeen together after three of their senior players in the England v All Stars match got injured, the RFL cancelled the Castleford v St Helens game and gave St Helens a 24-0 win.
It is no wonder clubs are reluctant to let their players play international games if this is what happens. Covid 19 rules should apply to all players in a club, not just to their senior players. That way, the game between Castleford Tigers and St. Helens could have been rearranged to a later date.
I get a feeling that since the RFL’s move to Manchester, clubs in Lancashire are favoured over those in Yorkshire.
Graham Dawson, Castleford
ARE RHINOS TREATED WITH KID GLOVES?
Is it official that Leeds players are not required to conform to the rules all other teams play by? Apart from the perpetual forward passes, there were two standout incidents in their last two games.
Firstly, against Warrington, Liam Sutcliffe stopped a potential try by nearly decapitating Warrington’s young fullback Josh Thewlis. Yes, he received a yellow card, but where was the disciplinary review panel for possibly the worst head-high tackle this season?
The second clear incident was a full-tip tackle by three Leeds players on Joel Tomkins on Friday night. Referee James Child was in clear view of the incident but waved play on, which was incredible.
Later in the game Catalans committed a similar tackle, but nowhere near as dangerous, but in this instance referee Child blew for a penalty.
In another incident, Luke Gale was giving ‘the verbals’ to the referee, as he did throughout the match, but this time the foul language used was clear to the viewers. Other players for other teams have been charged with contrary behaviour, but clearly this does not apply to Leeds Rhinos.
There were many more incidents over the last two Leeds games whereby a level of leniency was afforded to them and I ask only if there is an agenda that supporters, viewers and other teams are not being told about.
Ron McGlone, Hull
LEAGUE TABLE QUESTION
I’m confused by the Championship League table printed in last week’s issue of League Express that shows Toulouse Olympique on top, having played having played and won eight games, with points for 401, against 76 and 100% win percentage.
Featherstone Rovers are shown in second place, having played and won eleven matches, with points for 505, against 126 and 100% win percentage.
Why are Toulouse Olympique shown on top and Featherstone Rovers second?
Featherstone had played three more matches than Toulouse and their points difference was +379, as opposed to Toulouse’s +325.
Surely it is harder to maintain a 100% winning record the more games a team plays, so how come this mysterious different percentage ends up higher for Toulouse than Featherstone?
Is this another RFL invention to confuse us, or, more likely, a manipulation to get another French team into Super League?
Mick Spencer, Silsden, Keighley
Editor’s note: The league table is based on winning percentages. If they are the same, then the order is determined by points scored divided by points conceded as a percentage. Toulouse’s points difference percentage has been greater than Featherstone’s.
NON-SUPER LEAGUE SCORERS
You print a leading try and goal scorers table for Super League and the NRL every week but Championship and League 1 fans are kept in the dark.
I know most ‘lower league’ games are played on Sunday, but surely there is enough time to get the information in and print it.
Steve Wallis, Darrington
Editor’s note: Full scoring lists for all competitions will feature in next week’s issue of League Express
The crowds are back although only limited (unless you play football or watch Wimbledon – not many restrictions there).
What do the rugby clubs to do when they get games cancelled or postponed, primarily because of Covid? What is the use of allowing crowds back, if clubs cannot meet their responsibility to supporters to play those games?
There must be a very flippant attitude at some clubs to taking all the actions required to make sure players and staff remain Covid free.
The clubs also have a commitment to Sky Sports and the BBC to be available and ready to play all games due to be televised.
I seriously doubt whether the Challenge Cup Final will take place.
John Wheeler, Sandbach
Though a fan for a number of years and a former amateur player of the game, I have recently given up watching Rugby League.
My reasons are varied; too many to detail in one letter, but one of the most pressing has been the recent rise of ‘wokeism’ within the sport.
Accelerated by Sky, the game has drifted from its core fan base, in search of a more diverse audience; one that aligns with the current ‘virtues’ being demonstrated in society. Whether it is LGBTQ or BLM, the game seems determined to alienate its fans in a vain attempt to tick boxes.
I am not against diversity in sport. When I was growing up, playing the game with BAME team mates was normal. We were mates. It was not viewed as diverse, it was simply equal.
This crusade that the RFL and other sports are now on, though, reeks simply of virtue signalling.
Are they aiming to use that to grow participation in the sport? Clearly they don’t see that what it is doing is exactly the opposite.
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I watched the likes of Kelvin Skerrett, Andy Gregory, Garry Schofield and Ellery Hanley, and even in the early 2000’s we had characters bringing skill, excitement and pleasure to fans.
Fast forward to 2021, and can anyone name even one ‘household name’ playing Super League?
Where has the talent gone? Where are the personalities that used to light up the game?
If we believe in this sport, as the best sport about, don’t we still need ‘names’ to sell it to the masses?
Scott Buckler, Leeds
MISSING THE POINT OF BLM
I have been a Rugby League spectator since 1990 and a TV follower of the game prior to that.
I have attended games in Italy, England, Scotland, Wales, France and Australia; I have lived in various parts of the UK, including Scotland, the North West, Yorkshire and London, and the reason I mention all that is because it has given me a perspective on racism in Rugby League, and other sports, in the UK generally.
In previous correspondence I have stated that, when it comes to equality and fairness, Rugby League is better than most sports, but those things are still an issue.
Civilisation evolves and prejudices are broken down, wrote Bill Anderson (Mailbag 5th July, 2021), and yes, that may be the case to some extent.
It has not led to the total disappearance of racism from Rugby League, however, or from society in general, and that should ring alarm bells, not complacency.
Anderson also states that, in the sporting field, Rugby League has been a leader not a follower on equality, and if that is so, Rugby League should lead on ensuring that racism is not tolerated in any form.
It appears that the issue for Bill Anderson, and others, is ‘taking the knee’, and references to ‘Black Lives Matter’.
I am afraid that Bill and others are missing the point on this. The murder of George Floyd highlighted racism in the USA and it also clearly struck a chord with many people in the UK, including many Rugby League players and supporters who recognise that, unfortunately, racism is very much alive here as well.
That black Rugby League players have been honoured with plaques and statues is all well and good, but it does not eliminate racism. Only education and action, including support like ‘taking the knee’, can highlight the issue.
Leaders, and decent people, should not find fault with protests against racism, they should join in and ensure that the message gets through, until letters like this are unnecessary.
Rugby League, along with other major sports, is in a key position to play a part in this.
David Wilkinson, Delamere
Jermaine Coleman slammed fans at Hunslet for booing players ‘taking the knee’, claiming they need to be educated.
But you can’t throw fans out or ban them just for booing, and if some players want to make a political statement, others have an equal right to oppose it if they so wish.
Being free to oppose is the fundamental right of anyone living in a democracy, Mr Coleman.
David Sowden, Kellington
I feel it essential to respond to Bill Anderson’s articulate, if somewhat verbose letter in last week’s League Express.
My experience over sixty years has made it impossible to deny that racism exists in Rugby League. Nevertheless, it is no worse than other sports and better than a lot, but his overall analysis leaves an awful lot to be desired.
‘Taking the knee’, he says, is not relevant in Rugby League, but it is relevant – everywhere – if we are ever to get rid of racism. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer at last brought that fact to international attention, and had that not happened the officer involved would never have been found guilty.
In the UK, a man has just been found guilty of the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson. The first conviction of a police officer for something like thirty-five years, even though there have been 1,788 deaths in police custody since 1990, in England and Wales.
Bill Anderson implies that Jason Robinson lied about his experience of racist abuse during his playing career and that is totally unacceptable. Would that make Jason a ‘race zealot’, along with the rest of us trying to make the world a better place?
The murder of George Floyd served to alert people to the depths of racism in society. Gareth Southgate recognises that, as do members of the cricket establishment and millions of others.
It is about time Bill Anderson did.
Mick Calvert, Holmfirth
TIME TO SHAPE UP
Bill Anderson offered another thought-provoking read in last week’s Mailbag, on the status of black players in Rugby League.
Our game may be far from stainless in its treatment of ethnic minority players, but I still maintain that we were the first to say to black players whose background was in Rugby Union, “We don’t care what colour you are. Are you good enough to play this game?”
Whatever the faults of Rugby League, never let it be said that race superseded raw ability. If you were good enough you were in.
His Majesty Billy Boston came north because he was aware that, despite his talent, he would never be an international player for Wales. His skin colour was an obvious deterrent.
So he came north and won a World Cup. Can anyone name the year that Wales Rugby Union won a World Cup?
I thought not.
As for Doctor Donovan’s observations (Mailbag 5 July) regarding lower division club’s facilities, I heartily concur.
Back in the seventies it wasn’t unusual to see men with too much beer in their bladders, relieve themselves where they stood on the terraces. And ‘back in the old days’ there were no toilets for women; they were at home making Sunday lunch while their spouses were at the game.
We are living in a different world now, but in many of its heartland clubs, Rugby League has failed to respond. Many of the clubs need the money that would come from the untapped reservoir of potential spectators who will not go to a ground without decent facilities. Indeed, a great many amateur clubs offer a better afternoon out than some semi-pros.
Britain is to host a Rugby League World Cup this year, but has anyone seen that advertised on the telly? Anything in the national newspapers? Not a whisper I’m afraid. Once again, our ‘great and good’ are failing us, from a failure of imagination.
So many public figures, within and outside the sport profess a love for our game.
Roy Keane, Psycho Pearce, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Johnny Vegas and untold other displaced Northerners love Rugby League. I can virtually guarantee that if we asked someone like Chris Eccleston or even Eric Cantona, they would lend their name to promoting the game of the Northern working classes.
Come on Rugby League – shape your bloody self!
Mick Devlin, Warrington
In League Express, 5th July edition, Dan Fleming of Halifax Panthers was listed as having his 29th birthday last Thursday.
I would like to point out that Dan is actually a Bradford Bulls player, and has been one all season.
Tony Sutcliffe, Sutton-on-Sea
Editor’s note: Thanks for correcting that error, Tony.
It is with great regret that I write this letter but I am left with no other option.
Prior to retirement and working most weekends, I could only attend an occasional rugby game, but, once retired I purchased season tickets for Kingston Park, to watch both the Falcons and Newcastle Thunder – a team I had followed from their Gateshead days. With the increasing number of evening and weekend weekday games, however, I let my Falcons ticket lapse but still attended the odd game.
Then came lockdown.
I am not online, but I was told by others who hold a Thunder season ticket that we would be informed about what was to happen. However, as I was not contacted and could get only a recorded voice at the end of the ‘phone which provided no relevant information, on the 6th of October 2020 I wrote to Kingston Park but received no reply.
My son offered to email the ground, and on the second attempt received an assurance that I would be telephoned. I am still waiting.
Another two emails were sent, one to a different address but again those brought no response.
So, with no apparent updates online and still, despite games being played, no one answering the telephone, I wrote on the 22nd May 2021 directly to Mick Hogan, Newcastle Falcons and Newcastle Thunder chair.
I am now writing to your Mailbag page, so it may be obvious that the letter brought no response, and what makes matters worse is that, just as I had completed my last letter, the local ITV News announced that spectators would be allowed into the ground.
I am writing this letter to highlight a situation that can leave a follower of this sport ignored on so many occasions. Perhaps, through the medium of your admirable publication, I may finally obtain an explanation as to why so many communications have been ignored.
Joe Chichase, Washington, Tyne & Wear