Kyle Amor has warned that Rugby League in Cumbria is ‘dwindling away’ – and has called on local rivals Workington and Whitehaven to potentially join forces.
Amor’s professional career began in his native Cumbria with Whitehaven, before leaving the region to forge a path into Super League, where he has since become one of the most well-respected forwards in the British game following stints with the likes of Wakefield and St Helens.
And the prop, who expressed his concerns last week following the demise of another amateur side in the region, says the sport in Cumbria is at a pivotal crossroads: with Haven and Town merging a potential solution to reinvigorate interest in the game in the area.
“The decline below the professional game is getting worse at an ever-increasing rate,” he told League Express.
“More teams are folding, less kids are playing up there and I don’t know whether that’s a general theme across the country, but somewhere like Cumbria is suffering without a proper Super League influence.
“One thing you see in places like St Helens, Wigan and Leeds is that the players, because they’re full-time, will be able to go into schools in the community and build bridges and keep the interest in the sport going. There’s nothing like that up there, so in effect, the game is just dwindling away.
“We’re simply getting to a place where Whitehaven and Workington need to get together now.
“Cumbrian rugby league is starting to lose its identity and if the opportunity came up for something to happen which could see a Cumbrian presence in Super League, the area has got to be encouraged to try it.
“These two clubs are getting around 700 fans on average each – how can they be making money? But if you expose the area to high-end rugby on a regular basis, people would be interested. The World Cup is proof of that, as well as the Four Nations when Scotland played New Zealand up there and it was packed.”
Amor also admits constant talk of a merger causing tension in the area is lost on him. “Who’s a potential merger upsetting?” he asked.
“You’re talking about a little over a thousand fans, maybe two thousand, who go regularly and religiously – but if you go up there, you see just as many young kids walking round in Wigan and Leeds shirts.
“They’re fanatical about rugby league still, and if you got your heads together and did something good for the whole of Cumbria – who is that upsetting? I just don’t see it.
“Imagine the buzz if you brought Ben Barba, Sam Tomkins and Kallum Watkins up to Cumbria to play meaningful, competitive games? It’d be incredible. Bring the big boys, and Cumbria will be buzzing – but right now, it’s just fading away and it makes me really sad. The kids have no superstars to aspire to, no big side or big games on their doorstep.”
And Amor is worried that, if nothing is done, the decline will continue and Cumbria’s rich history of producing elite level rugby players will dry up.
“Broughton have now gone – hopefully they’ll be back – but I’ve spoke to a friend of mine recently who informed me another side have folded too: meaning he has to drive his young lad miles, all the way to Cockermouth, just so he can train and play,” he said.
“It’s concerning; really concerning. Don’t get me wrong, the so-called bigger sides up there, like Wath Brow, Kells and Egremont, are doing great in the National Conference League. It’s the North West Men’s League, below that, which is really starting to fall away.
“Here’s the dilemma; how can the amateur game develop players which will then move on to the NCL, and then move into the Championship and beyond? The player pool is completely drying up at the bottom of the pyramid and that is going to have a serious effect sooner, rather than later, if nothing is done about it. You will have less and less elite Cumbrian players – a part of the world where some great players have emerged from.”