The Cumbria county team is back – and it’s great to see those behind the move pushing it so positively.
The forthcoming World Cup has provided several opportunities for Championship and League One clubs.
Unfortunately, Rochdale Hornets lost out on staging England’s warm-up game against Fiji, which is now at Salford Red Devils’ AJ Bell Stadium on Friday.
But on Saturday, Bradford Bulls will face England’s Group A rivals Greece at Odsal, while along the road at The Shay, the home of Halifax Panthers, Tonga take on France, and across the Pennines at Swinton Lions’ Heywood Road base, it’s Wales versus Lebanon.
Cumbria play Jamaica on Friday, and with the match taking place at Derwent Park (with a 7.45pm kick-off), it’s a welcome chance for Workington Town, relegated from the second tier amid financial difficulties, to swell their coffers.
Workington joined forces with the county’s two other professional clubs, Barrow Raiders and Whitehaven, to revive a regional side that last played in October 2016, going down 48-16 to Scotland at Barrow.
The plan is to use the clash with World Cup debutants Jamaica as the launchpad for at least one annual fixture, hopefully against a national team, one of Rugby League’s historic heartlands.
“In addition to this first exciting fixture, the intention is that there will be at least one match each year with the home venue rotated amongst the three clubs,” said the newly-formed county board in a statement.
“With the possibility that the recent internal analysis of the game might bring more international fixtures, Cumbria could provide perfect opposition.”
International teams have been heading to the far North-West of England since 1908, when Rugby League’s first tourists New Zealand, including star Australian centre Dally Messenger, who had been invited to make the trip, took on Cumberland (Cumbria didn’t exist until 1974), who had been playing in the County Championship since 1898/99.
That game was also at Workington, but Lonsdale Park was the stage for the clash with the pioneering Kiwis, who had arrived in the country the previous October and already played 26 times.
Lonsdale Park was home to the first Rugby League club in Workington, which existed between 1898 and 1909 but never attained senior status, as well as the Cumberland team (it also staged football, speedway and mainly greyhound racing until closure in 1999 and subsequent demolition).
That first clash with New Zealand, who were beaten 21-9, attracted around 4,000, and a similar number saw the 52-10 defeat by the touring Australians, whose number included Messenger, nine months later.
They were the first of three games against the Kiwis, the last a 9-3 win at Whitehaven in 1980, and 16 against the Kangaroos, the most recent in 1994, when the tourists claimed a 52-8 victory at Derwent Park.
During the 2004 Tri-Nations series, there was a meeting with an ANZAC Combination side made up of Australian and New Zealand squad members. The 64-12 defeat at Derwent Park was the heaviest ever suffered by the county side.
This century, Cumbria have also faced New Zealand A (a 24-24 draw at Whitehaven in 2003), Tonga (a 28-16 win at Workington in 2006), the United States (a 70-0 win at Barrow in 2007), England (an 18-18 draw at Whitehaven in 2010) and England Knights (a 26-12 defeat at Whitehaven in 2011) as well as that Barrow showdown with Scotland, who were preparing for the 2016 Four Nations tournament.
Cumbria, who have unveiled a new-look shirt in the traditional black and white colours, will be led by Paul Crarey, who is fresh from guiding Barrow to the play-offs.
He will be assisted by Steve Rea, his right-hand man at the Raiders, and Whitehaven coach Jonty Gorley.
The squad, which includes heritage players, is: Kyle Amor (St Helens), Jacques O’Neill (unattached), Brad Singleton, Sam Halsall, Harvie Hill (all Wigan), Brad Walker (Wakefield), Jamie Doran, Conor Fitzsimmons, Stevie Scholey, Jordan Thomson (all Workington), Gregg McNally (Rochdale), Theerapol Ritson, Luke Cresswell, Ryan Shaw, Brett Carter, Jake Carter, Ryan Johnston, Ellis Gillam, Connor Saunders, Tom Hopkins (all Barrow), Andrew Bulman, Curtis Teare, Tom Walker, Luke Broadbent, Perry Singleton, Liam McAvoy (all Whitehaven).
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