The day that shook Rugby League

Richard de la Riviere looks ahead to the Betfred Super League Grand Final

SO, I have a book coming out next week and I’m starting to write a new regular column for Rugby League’s finest website. I assure you that’s just a coincidence!

There’s only one place to start, obviously. The Grand Final. The 20th Super League Grand Final, no less.

And there’s only one player to start with. A certain Z Hardaker, whose tally of indiscretions is now starting to rival John Hopoate’s.

How must the Castleford fans be feeling right now? Well, all I can imagine is how I would have felt if Mark Mulligan had been rubbed from the Workington team 48 hours before our Divisional Premiership final with London Crusaders in 1994.

Gutted. Inconsolable. Multiply that by about 10,000 and you’ll be somewhere near where the Castleford fans are right now. I really do feel for them.

And what about Daryl Powell? Has a coach ever had to deal with something like this so close to a big game?

Sure, teams have had to deal with last-minute injuries. Hull coped pretty well with the withdrawal of their fullback before the 2005 Challenge Cup Final, but this is a bona-fide bombshell, in journalistic terms anyway.

A day that shook Rugby League, you could say! Couldn’t resist, sorry!

If you’re Powell, how would you deal with yesterday’s news? The player will be devastated, and so will his team-mates. Can they be there for him when he needs them? Probably not. They have the game of their lives to focus on.

Harsh as it sounds, Castleford will have had to erase Hardaker from the teamsheet with the intention of forgetting about him until the post-match press conference. That goes for the players too, some of whom will be hurting badly.

If the Tigers win, we still have a huge story on our hands. But what if they lose?

Make no mistake, rightly or wrongly, Hardaker will cop the blame if Castleford come up short on Saturday night. If it’s a narrow defeat, people will say his presence would have got them over the line. If they’re thrashed, the same fans will conclude that the shell-shocked players couldn’t recover from Thursday’s bombshell.

And if they get off to a bad start next season, he’ll get the blame for that too. It took Liverpool three years to recover from Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip – and that was just an unfortunate accident, not someone who has thrown a spanner in the works on an entire season with a “breach of club rules”. If Castleford lose on Saturday, they’ll do well to bounce back any time soon.

From a footballing perspective, I’m not going to hide the fact that I very much want Powell’s men to win, just as I desperately wanted Graham Murray’s team to win that first Grand Final all those years ago. Why? Well, to me, this decade has been one of overly-structured football, block plays and, in some cases, just plain old five drives and a kick. Rugby League hasn’t always been pretty to watch in recent years, comparatively so at least.

There’s precedent here. In the mid-1980s, the Winfield Cup went through a very defensive era, largely under the influence of coaches like Warren Ryan, with just two tries coming in 240 minutes of Grand Finals in 1984, 1985 and 1986. It took Tim Sheens’s magnificent Canberra Raiders to take the game into a new era, with teams like Manly and Brisbane following their example. The first half of the 1990s was glorious, until the Super League War unpicked all the good work.

I’d like to think one day we’ll look back at Daryl Powell as the man who dragged the game kicking and screaming into a new era where ball movement and risk taking is once again encouraged by the coaching elite. It’s amazing to think that Powell couldn’t get a job in the game for so many years after being replaced by Leeds.

Whatever your reasons, I’m sure most of you who don’t support the Rhinos will be keen to see Castleford crowned champions on the back of an absolutely scintillating campaign. It will cap off a great year for Rugby League. If Leeds win, having been a shadow of the side Castleford are for the entire year, I can’t help but think it will be slightly anti-climactic.

100 Days

IF you didn’t like any of the above – ie if you support Leeds! – then please don’t let that put you off buying my new book! It’s called ‘100 Days That Shook Rugby League’ and it’s due back from the printers in the middle of next week.

It’s my second such project, following on from ‘Rugby League, A Critical History 1980-2013’ which I’m pleased to say was a big success.

So what sort of stories have I included in the new book? Well, there are all the famous games you’d expect from Rorke’s Drift to last year’s Million Pound Game, with great internationals, Origins and finals along the way. There’s some scandal too. A bit of crime. Some big signings. Cross-code wars. Civil wars. Uplifting moments. Milestones. And some tragedy too.

You can hear me talking about the book on Radio Manchester’s Rugby League Extra programme. I’m on for about five minutes from the 44-minute mark if you follow this link: // In fact, the whole show, with guests Derek Beaumont and Marwan Koukash, is well worth a listen if you have a spare hour.

You can order the book and read more about it here: //

There’s more information on my Twitter page – @richdelariviere – and there’s a Facebook group which goes by the name of the book.

Anyway, thanks for getting this far. See you next week when I’ll be dissecting the Grand Final and probably moaning about the England squad.