Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler
“Why are you biased in favour of St Helens?” someone asked me recently.
“I don’t think we are,” I replied.
“Oh yes, you are! Every time I open your newspaper you are reporting on St Helens winning matches and trophies,” he said.
Of course he was joking, but here we are again reporting on St Helens winning a major trophy in the Challenge Cup.
The only surprise is that it took them 13 years to do it.
There’s no doubt that in recent years St Helens have been the team that sets the benchmark for their rivals.
Any other club hoping to inherit their mantle will have to establish the sort of backroom stability we see at the Totally Wicked Stadium, both financially and organisationally, while running a development system that produces players like Jack Welsby on a regular basis, having a recruitment system that rarely misses its mark and appointing coaches at all levels of the club who are on top of their game.
Other clubs are certainly trying with varying degrees of success, but being able to regularly compete with St Helens for most of them looks a long way off.
On Saturday the Castleford players bust a collective gut trying to overcome St Helens, and for 40 minutes we thought they might do it.
But it wasn’t to be.
Effort alone goes a long way but it isn’t enough. St Helens were the team with the class players, and class told in the end.
But it was a great game and Castleford played their part in producing a wonderful spectacle. And fortunately it was played in front of a decent crowd.
Let’s hope that we can continue a return to some sort of normality.
Featherstone’s spirit triumphs
We all knew that the Challenge Cup Final would be a great game.
But what did we make of the 1895 Cup Final?
Most of us probably thought that Featherstone would defeat York quite easily.
But what we didn’t know was how much the Featherstone team and coaching staff would be decimated by the requirements of Covid protocols.
As it turned out, the absence of some of the leading players from both sides had little impact on the quality of the game, which was a belter.
What a sight to see young winger Jacob Doyle score a couple of tries at Wembley on only his second appearance for Featherstone, while young Joe Summers got on the field late in the game to make his debut for Featherstone. I suspect that he becomes the first player to make his club debut at Wembley since Mike Smith made his debut for Hull FC in the 1960 Challenge Cup Final against Wakefield Trinity, when Hull came into the game with a massive injury crisis.
And there was a wonderful personal story for Rovers skipper James Lockwood, whose wife Stacey was expecting.
James had just arrived in London on Friday afternoon with his team-mates when he was alerted that Stacey had gone into labour.
So he caught a tube to King’s Cross and a train back to Wakefield to be there for the birth, only to find that it had been a false alarm.
So on Saturday morning he caught the 5.30am train from Wakefield and was back in the Featherstone hotel at 8.15am.
After that, as we all saw, he led his team to victory.
For that he surely deserves an extra medal of some sort.
And congratulations to James, because the new arrival finally turned up on Saturday night.
My congratulations and best wishes to the Lockwood family.
World Cup’s green light on amber
I was delighted to see RLWC2021 Chief Executive Jon Dutton announce last week that the World Cup would go ahead this year, even though he was unable to tell us that the Australians will definitely be coming.
Despite that, Jon and the Chairman of the International Rugby League (IRL), Troy Grant, were in a decidedly upbeat mood.
They insist that the World Cup has already beaten most of its commercial targets and that they have taken all the steps necessary at this stage to secure the safety of all the participants from the effects of the Covid-19 virus.
I understand that the ticket sales for the opening match between England and Samoa at St James’ Park in Newcastle are already well over 20,000 and that the following day’s game between Scotland and Fiji, which will also be held in Newcastle, at Newcastle Thunder’s Kingston Park stadium, are also selling well, with all seats apparently already sold out.
That sounds like great news to me.
Having said that, I can understand that the NRL clubs are nervous about the potential dangers to their players, who are after all their biggest assets, from the virus when they come to this country for the World Cup.
They do need to know that their players will be safe.
But they also need to ensure that they are not being obstructive for purely selfish reasons.
The problem is that those clubs could, if they chose to do so, stand in the way not just of the Australian team, but also of the South Pacific teams who will be selecting squads mainly from the NRL clubs.
Jon Dutton has thrown down the gauntlet to the NRL clubs, no doubt encouraged by the government, who have invested £25 million into this tournament.
But the battle isn’t over yet.
Who would want to be a Huddersfield Giants supporter this season, when there were such strong hopes at the start of the year that under Ian Watson they would be challenging at the very top.
The Giants now find themselves in eleventh place, clearly separated from the teams above them.
While relegation is highly unlikely, this isn’t how it was supposed to be.
They’ve fallen into a hole and they are having great trouble digging themselves out of it.
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