A worthwhile ‘train-ing’ exercise for grassroots clubs

I’m sure that grassroots clubs around the land will have taken due note of the fantastic opportunity afforded by the rail travel company Northern to win a full set of kit and handy training equipment – plus a cool grand.

Amateur outfits have until Sunday week to lodge their interest, at which stage five lucky clubs will head into the next step in the process.

It’s then down to players, coaches, administrators and supporters to step up to the plate by taking part in a ballot, with the club gaining most votes receiving a very worthwhile prize.

It’s an initiative which is certain to spark plenty of interest and the Rugby Football League and Northern deserve plaudits for an idea which gives the amateur game an extra boost as we head to a return to action.

The release of fixtures for various competitions is imminent, including by the National Conference League, whose Administrator Alan Smith is completing some necessary background tasks before making the keenly awaited announcement.

I’m looking forward to receiving verification of the draft programme that’s sitting on club secretaries’ desks right now; in fact the appetite’s thoroughly whetted by the prospect of a whole host of derby matches taking place through the summer, from the big opening on Saturday 22 May.

As I wrote last week, NCL bosses have done a good job in coming up with seven regional leagues of seven teams each. It cannot have been an easy task, and Smith admitted as such.

I know from hard experience in running a league and clubs that it can be all too easy to be critical from the outside – factors, some only known internally, can come into the equation when making decisions which may have a major impact on the choices eventually taken.

So I’m sure that the Conference Management had good reason for settling on the composition of the seven regional leagues, even if one or two of those can perhaps look a little odd, at first glance anyway, to the admittedly casual observer.

For example two clubs that happen to be in my neck of the woods – Featherstone Lions and Lock Lane, have been placed in League F, which is largely centred around Bradford and Kirklees, and will therefore have to travel past the Leeds area for away games, with their opponents obliged to travel in the opposite direction for return fixtures.

It may have been better (and I’m conscious that I’m verging on the simplistic) for the Lane and the Lions to have been placed in League D, with Siddal and Stanningley in League F instead. After all, a match between Stanningley and Bradford Dudley Hill is something of a `derby; a fact of which not everyone from beyond that area may be aware.

That’s a relatively minor quibble, however. The NCL has, on the whole, come up with a great template which I believe could have real traction for the future.

On the subject of Milford, by the way, I was saddened to hear last week of the death of that fine servant Jim Irons.

Jim was a real character and gave Milford terrific service, as indeed he did Hunslet, who he served as a director in the 1980s. Always affable, while invariably forthright, Jim Irons was a great bloke and will be badly missed.

Another top man, meanwhile, is Dougie Hird, who has been central to everything at Shaw Cross since the 1940s. Dougie was 90 last Wednesday and is in fine fettle. Many happy, if slightly belated, returns, Dougie!

Someone else who deserves everyone’s congratulations and support is the Cumbrian Gary McKee, who is heading into the last stage of an incredible 110 marathons in 110 days. McKee is striding out on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support and Hospice at Home (West Cumbria).

Give to the cause if you can.

And, finally, if it’s Easter it must be Women’s Rugby League. Not, it has to be admitted, the Women’s Amateur Rugby League Association’s traditional Easter Sunday Cup Finals double-header, which has long been a highlight of my calendar – but, in 2021, the launch of the Super League campaign, which gets underway at the weekend.

As the redoubtable Jodie Cunningham said during Saturday’s coverage of the Betfred Challenge Cup ties, the Women’s game is growing apace – thanks, in part, to astute marketing by the RFL, which doesn’t always perhaps earn plaudits in that area. Cunningham made the point, a tad ruefully which is understandable, that the players have in effect gone through three pre-seasons since the first lockdown thirteen months ago.

Everyone is now chomping at the bit, for sure. I reckon we’re in for a truly memorable season as Women’s Rugby League targets new heights ahead of the World Cup, and we’ll be covering the action at League Express every step of the way.

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