First published in Rugby League World, Issue 391 (Nov 2013)
If there is a better day of Rugby League anywhere in the world than the Championship Finals, I wish someone would steer me in the direction of it.
We are so used to one or more of the matches being an absolute nerve-shredder that we have perhaps become a little spoiled.
Both Leigh Miners and Rochdale might have looked like pretty convincing victors, but both games were ferociously hard-fought and full of good rugby.
Sheffield versus Batley was something else. The Bulldogs, masters of the late escape, were given a dose of their own medicine as the Eagles came back from 12-nil down.
It all deserved a bigger crowd than 6,000 to see it live. A personal thank-you to Kingstone Press for the invite and the hospitality; I’ll keep trying with the cider, but I’m not sure it will ever be my beverage of choice.
One man who would have enjoyed it – the rugby, not necessarily the cider – was Ray Fletcher. Ray, rightly regarded as a font of knowledge on all things Rugby League, had died a couple of weeks earlier, after a long battle against cancer.
I learned a few things at his predictably jam-packed funeral in Leeds. One was that, in an earlier life, Ray had been a professional gambler.
Another was that, meticulous logger of detail that he was, he kept records of all his operations, of which there were far too many.
One oddity about the service was that no-one among the various eulogies could pronounce the word “statistics.” In fact, David Howes’ attempt, which came out as something like “shtashtishticsh,” was the best advert I’ve heard for a long time for a new set of false teeth.
It would have given Ray a good laugh, but given what he was all about – accuracy and attention to detail – it was an irony that the word should be a shibboleth. A bit like going to my wake and being unable to say the word “beer.” Or, indeed, cider.
The ingenuity of players in getting around the limitations that the rule-book seeks to impose on them never ceases to amaze and impress me.
Take what I shall call the Sleeve Tackle. There’s such an emphasis now on resisting the temptation to tackle an opponent in the air that more and more players are perfecting the technique of putting him in a loose embrace or friendly hug, which they don’t tighten and turn into a tackle until he comes into contact with the ground.
What you need to do this effectively is very long arms, so expect a new influx of knuckle-draggers into the game.
I saw a different one the other day. Ryan Hoffman, such an outstanding forward when he was at Wigan, was being driven back under his sticks.
He could have settled for conceding the drop-out, but no, he extended a foot, pushed off the post like a swimmer making a turn and was back on his way up-field. We’ll be working on that in winter training.
My ideal non-working Saturday this summer has been watching the Bolton Mets, followed by the rest of the afternoon and evening at the cricket club down the road.
Some of my cricket mates are fond of implying that the atmosphere is a little more salubrious at their game. Not one afternoon towards the end of the season, it wasn’t.
Over the boundary and onto the wicket came a large black rat, which had to be chased off with bats and stumps.
We’re thinking of adding an extra line to our pre-match publicity in future: Watch Rugby League. Guaranteed no rodents.
I was on a forum recently with Steve McCormack, who was asked whether he could confirm a rumour that, in his capacity as Scotland coach, he had arranged for his players to have their shirts presented by no less a person than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Steve, a fanatical Wigan Athletic supporter, went all bashful, but finally admitted that he had approached “the greatest coach to come out of Scotland – Owen Coyle.”
Suddenly, I’m not quite as optimistic about the Scots’ prospects in the World Cup as I was.