League Express mailbag – Monday 14th December


Whoever wins BBC Sports Person of the Year, the real winner is Kevin Sinfield with his fundraising effort on behalf of Rob Burrow. His selflessness, dedication and basic mental strength are laudable.

Not only has he raised funds for Rob, he has raised the profile of Rugby League and shown what a caring sport it is.

Thank you Kevin Sinfield for being an exceptional player and human being.

Steve Collins, Beverley



Congratulations to Kevin Sinfield on his magnificent achievement, running seven marathons in seven days to help his friend Rob Burrow.

Kevin has been a remarkable figure in Rugby League for more than twenty years since he burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager. The same determination that led Leeds to so many triumphs was again in evidence as he undertook this amazing challenge, and at the time of writing, he has raised close on £2.5 million – some thirty times his original target.

Leeds supporters used to call him ‘Sir Kevin’ but I wonder now whether the rest of us might have to start doing that. Certainly, I can think of many people who have been awarded knighthoods after doing less to deserve them.

Now a comment about the Super League Chairman, Robert Elstone: we had a compelling Grand Final with an extraordinary ending. We then read Rugby Union reporters lamenting the tediousness of international matches played this autumn, in their code.

I would have thought that a golden opportunity for Mr Elstone to shout about Rugby League from the rooftops, in League Express, in all the national newspapers and in social media.

He was noticeably absent from them all, however, and a wonderful opportunity has been lost.  I would love to know what Mr Elstone actually does with his time.

Bill Rees, Wakefield



Fantastic news that Newcastle Thunder are elevated to the Championship for next season.

For years I have promoted our wonderful game to the sporting public of Tyneside and the North East, and the success of Magic Weekend at St James Park has been a great source of encouragement, for me and many others. What a great prospect to have clubs like Bradford Bulls, Leigh Centurions, Widnes Vikings, Featherstone Rovers and others, with wonderful traditions and ardent followings, coming to share with us the delights of Tyneside.

Our challenge now at Newcastle Thunder, is to grow our club and fanbase so we can really compete with those great clubs, and prepare for our next aim which is to join Super League. We look forward to 2021, with the World Cup, the Magic Weekend and now Championship rugby at Kingston Park.

What a wonderful way to showcase our sport in the region.

Cllr Rob Higgins, Newcastle



I read statements (LE, 7th December) from the six Championship clubs currently vying to join Super League. What a difficult decision!

Geographically I lean towards York, historically towards Bradford (who have had harsh treatment from the RFL), Featherstone have a strong claim (they kept winning the Championship when there was no promotion to Super League), while the London Broncos (who almost survived in Super League in 2019) have developed a good, grass-roots base for the game in London.

Toulouse I discount, on the simple basis that they (like Catalans and Toronto) do not bring many supporters to away games. That is acknowledged by the Rugby Football League, who are asking those clubs to pay a deposit (to the RFL) to cover potential losses in the event that either one reaches the Cup Final. The RFL accepts that attendance and therefore revenue would be adversely affected by the participation of either.

And finally there is Leigh who, I recall, did not cover themselves in glory with regard to discipline when they were last in Super League. Unless they have addressed that problem, therefore, I would discount them, though they do have a strong case and their facilities are excellent.

For me, any one of those five teams is welcome, so good luck to all five.

John Clark, Stockton-on-Tees



I really enjoyed the matches on TV played under new Covid 19 rules; no pointless and predictable scrums.

The `play-the-ball’ was much cleaner and quicker with less interference; the offending team was punished and play continued with a new tackle count.

I would be interested to see what other fans and players feel about retaining the new rules for next season?

Derek Hewitt, St Helens



While the Grand Final was a great game in which both teams gave a hundred per cent, the game between the same two sides four weeks earlier was more brutal, and the result probably gave Wigan a false sense of security.

It most certainly motivated Saints. Phil Clarke tipped Saints to win (by four, I think), but most of the pundits tipped Wigan and some seemed disappointed that Wigan had lost. Brian Carney said that had Wigan won they would have deserved it. So Saints did not? The Wigan players must have been hurting but they were magnanimous in defeat.

If I remember correctly, Shaun Wane shook the Saints’ players hands when Wigan lost last time; I saw no evidence of Adrian Lam doing that. Perhaps the awards presentation should have taken place after the Grand Final. Wigan only won the League Leaders’ Shield because Saints rested pretty much all their first team against Salford.

Onwards and upwards to next season, when we’ll all be back supporting our teams in person. I cannot wait.

David Edgell, Warrington



How sad it is that the heritage of three of our historic clubs is dismissed by one of last week’s correspondents (Mailbag, 7 December), who claims that Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford will always struggle.

Well, after castigating half of Super League, what better situation does he offer? Toronto, the gateway to North America, with its silent fans? The Toronto Wolfpack was a business, the vision of one person. They did not look to generate a club, to evolve; they simply bought their way to the top table, according to business practice as it now is.

They then spent ridiculously on one player and, when the gravy got too spicy they disappeared.

Their decision not to fulfil their fixtures was their decision, and in making that decision,  they abrogated their club’s responsibilities to the other eleven. More seriously, however, they failed to pay their players the salaries that were due, leaving some overseas players trapped without income.

The ‘rescue package’ they put before the other Super League clubs said, basically: ‘If we get our own way we will honour our commitments’. We have seen that happen more than once in recent years, and the sad fact is that guilty owners at that time were not banned from ownership.

We have been reminded that the Wolfpack had a big fanbase. Where were those thousands of fans when the club needed them? Where were their letters and social media posts? Apart from Brian McDermott’s, there has hardly been a cry of protest anywhere. Fans at Swinton, one of our smallest clubs, screamed blue murder about an owner who only wanted to change the brand name of the club.

Expansion is fine but essentially, it beggars belief that more stringent tests of ownership are not in place, and that sanctions are not made public for breaches of rules. Toronto’s failing to honour their commitments is a serious matter; it left one of the sport’s most gifted coaches to ‘face the music’ and failed to honour players’ contracted payments, which is even more serious. And sadly, it will happen again.

If the Toronto Wolfpack want to run a successful club, a club that weathers storms, then a trip to Salford, Wakefield or Huddersfield might help their officials understand how a well-run Rugby League club functions, and lasts for a century or more.

Bryan Smith, Leeds



This season has been far from normal but one thing has not changed – the constant criticism, in this Mailbag and elsewhere, of our beleaguered officials.

We, as fans, are biased and, like it or not, our officials are not. Referees make mistakes of course; they are human like you and me, not robots. But are players and coaches error free? Of course not.

A knock-on is a mistake, as are a missed tackle, a kick that goes out on the full or a substitution at the wrong time, yet the players and coaches responsible for those things don’t suffer a fraction of the abuse our whistlers and flag wavers have to endure.

Could you do better? If you think so, take the course.

After qualifying, your first game would probably be with kids, whose parents would be giving you grief. Survive that, and it’s the under-16s, and adolescents possibly questioning your parentage. Still up for it? Move on to the Open Age matches (where at best there is only a fence between you and people howling for your blood), and you are still nowhere near officiating at pro level.

Easy being a ref isn’t it?

I gave it a go, a long while ago, and I soon realised I wasn’t good enough by a mile, so I retired to this side of the touchline where I have remained, happily, ever since. A top ref at the time said something I have never forgotten. “The next referee to see it all will be the first,” he said. How true! So I politely suggest that, next time you are about to loudly criticise a referee or a touch judge, take a deep breath, move one step back, and answer to yourself, honestly, this question: “Could I do better?”

I found out the hard way that I couldn’t, and I strongly suggest that goes for the vast majority of us. We couldn’t manage without officials; there could be no games without them, and where would we be then? They love Rugby League just as much as we do, so please, give ’em a break

A magic Christmas to one and all.

John Spellman (Spelly), Eccles