League Express Mailbag – Monday 18th October

I was not surprised to read Catalans Dragons Chairman, Bernard Guasch’s comments after the Grand Final. He had every right to complain about certain refereeing decisions.
To be fair, referees have a tough job, so one would expect them to get full support from the two touch judges and video referee. In this game, however, lack of referee support was visible on several occasions.
Early in the game, Sione Mata’utis’s punch onto James Maloney was clear to see. In most games this season that would have been a red card, or at least a yellow. Catalans Dragons were awarded a penalty.
Surely this incident was seen by the touch judges and video ref, and I assume the referee saw it as he gave the penalty to Catalans.
A second incident resulted in Makinson being sent to the sinbin for a dangerous head tackle on Yaha, when, under the rule, if a player stops an opposing player from scoring due to foul play, it is normal to see a penalty try awarded. That’s a kick directly under the posts with a conversion to follow, so why were Catalans only awarded a free kick?
The third incident was Maloney kicking a penalty into touch, which Lachlan Coote caught over the touchline with his feet on the ground. The referee could not see that from his position, but what were both the touch judge and the video ref doing to allow it? Everyone watching the match on TV saw it.
In a fourth incident, Sam Tomkins was penalised for not playing the ball correctly. If a referee were to penalise every incorrect ‘play the ball’, we could end up with twenty to thirty penalties a game for that alone. I recall the same referee (Mr Moore) during the Salford v Leeds Challenge Cup Final at Wembley last year, penalising a Salford player, late on, for not playing the ball correctly. The resulting penalty gave Leeds the win.
We need consistency on ‘play the ball’ offences. It is outrageous to randomly penalise players.
So I sympathise with Bernard Guasch. The Super League management team should take note, rather than condemning a man for speaking the truth.
Roy Seddon, St Albans

I agree with the Catalans owner about the bad decisions made in the Grand Final.
Sione Mata’utia should have been sent to the sinbin for punching and Coote was in touch when fielding that kick from James Maloney.
There were a few more controversial decisions made by the referee and it is very annoying when wrong decisions are made against your team.
In my sixty years of watching Rugby League I have never seen a worse bunch of referees. There isn’t a good one amongst them. It is completely spoiling the game.
The referees’ boss, Steve Ganson, was one of the worst referees I have ever seen. We need somebody sensible to replace him.
Something has got to be done about it.
I know there will be letters protesting about this one, but to see your team punished wrongly in almost every game is no fun; not for fans, coaches or owners.
Brian Shaw, Salford

The Grand Final was a gripping game that displayed what is great about Rugby League.
It also revealed what is completely unsatisfactory about the Super League in Europe.
If you are a partisan spectator you obviously want your own team to win. If you are not, you want the outcome to be arrived at fairly which, at Old Trafford this year, it was not.
Seen from our vantage point, Sione Mata`utia should have been sent off early in the game for a premeditated punch on the Catalan playmaker, Maloney but the referee waved play on.
St Helens back, Tommy Makinson, should have received a red card for his assault on Fouad Yaha when the winger was about to score a try, and the video referee must be the only non-St Helens supporter not to have deemed that a penalty try.
From our vantage point we also saw a St Helens backrow forward aim a kick at the legs of Catalans fullback Tomkins, while he was jumping to take a high ball, and there were transgressions by the Catalan forwards, at least one of them worthy of a yellow card.
Overall, the outcome of the game was determined by the officials.
This problem needs to be fixed before the World Cup.
Rod Cross, Glasgow

As a Rhinos fan, I was totally gutted that Saints have won three consecutive Grand Finals, like Leeds.
And as a Rugby League fan, I was truly gutted that Catalans did not win, because that would have given Rugby League the greatest exposure in the UK, in France and in Australia.
Embodied in one person, the event was summed up at the end by Sky’s Jenna Brooks.
“Before we present the Harry Sunderland trophy, can I just ………” when Macy Burrow runs out and presents the trophy.
Where else, apart from in Rugby League, would that happen? Brilliant!
Jonathan Whitaker, Leeds

What a fitting ending for some amazing players who have represented Saints over the last few years.
Coote, Bentley, Naiqama and Fages have all represented Saints with great skill, determination and dedication.
I am sure I speak for all Saints fans when I say how proud we are of our club; not just for winning the Grand Final, but for building a culture within our club that represents the very best in sport.
Our men’s, women’s and learning disability teams, along with the Academy, are a credit to all concerned at the St Helens club.
Next – the quadruple. Come on you Saints!
Simon Hignett, Penshaw

Another edge of the seat game – not much choice really, as there is not much room in the seats.
Mr McManus is fully deserving of a statue at the stadium some time – ‘Totally Wicked’ not ‘Old Trafford’, just in case there are any ‘smart alecs’ out there.
Obviously a club needs a good team and backroom staff, but equally, if not more so, a man at the top who lives and breathes the club, which McManus does in spades. He is head and shoulders above any other chairman.
The only statue problem is that he would have to sanction the expenditure, and he would say that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
David Edgell, Warrington

I would like to share with others my disappointing experience at the Grand Final.
The day was brilliant until getting onto the metro to the stadium, where we watched an idiot St Helens fan punch the ceiling of the carriage so hard that he actually smashed it. He knows who he is, dressed in his red Saints cricket hat and black sweatshirt. I hope they can identify him from the CCTV.
We bought a £5 beer and cider and proceeded to our seats, where we were told in no uncertain manner that we had to drink them in the bar area. When did that policy change? When we have been to Wembley in the past we were allowed to take our drinks in.
From the £65 seats we had an amazing view of the ten and twenty-metre lines but not much of anything else, although if we had taken our binoculars we would have had a great view of the postage stamp-sized big screen and pre-match entertainment.
And why, oh why, play the ‘centrepiece’ of Super League at a ground that looked disappointingly empty, when there are grounds available that would have made the game look and sound more exciting?
We would have liked to stay in a Manchester hotel after the match but the costs were prohibitive and when we got to the ground we saw why. Whatever possessed Super League to hold their Grand Final on the same weekend as the Manchester marathon?
Poor planning from the organiser?
If Super League continues down this path of ineptitude, the death-knell of Rugby League cannot be far away.
Paul Roberts, Grimsby

There is no denying that last weekend was momentous for French Rugby League.
Catalans put on a valiant display in the final and twenty-five years after they were overlooked in favour of PSG, Toulouse are finally promoted.
So what do we do next?
I’ve got a horrible feeling that the most likely outcome is that Toulouse will put in a spirited effort next year and finish 10th or 11th, only for Super League to announce that they are relegating three teams due to reduced funding, so it was all for nothing.
Why not think about what the best outcome would be?
The only way to capitalise commercially on this promotion is to give some stability and certainty to Toulouse’s continued presence in Super League.
I suggest that we look at a new format from 2023; 12 or 14 teams, with the two French clubs guaranteed their spot for the duration of the next TV deal (say 3 years), and the lowest placed UK team relegated.
Something we have never been good at in this sport is giving ideas time to grow before we pull them, save, perhaps, for the period of three-year franchises a decade ago. Worthy of note, however, is that last weekend, former Crusaders Academy products appeared for both Catalans and Toulouse. If such a guarantee were in place it would open the door to a few different conditions.
Firstly, negotiating a separate TV deal to cover the French matches. In an ideal world, that would generate enough money to keep the French clubs self-sufficient, distribute some cash to Elite 1, and mean that Sky Sports funds could be distributed to the UK clubs.
Secondly, take the French out of the Magic Weekend and give them their own event. Target other major cities that could host 2025 World Cup matches. Or better still, future Elite 1 clubs such as Lyon, Marseille, Paris or Barcelona.
Thirdly, French players; Catalans fielded five on Saturday, Toulouse six on Sunday. It is not yet at the level we need, but you can see emerging French talent waiting in the wings. If the threat of relegation was removed they could take the risk.
Imagine a minimum of eight French players per team in the starting line up each week. As well as the gradual exposure of the season, three derby matches would effectively create a State of Origin style selector for the national team. You could even look for a sponsor, for a mini series, generating yet more income.
If Featherstone had won, it would have meant a team from a town of 14,000 people being promoted to a full-time environment, with declining central funding and a slim chance of survival. It was a task that Leigh bravely took on this year.
Such promotion could have a detrimental long-term effect on an important club. But if Toulouse could be given chance to ride out the initial storm, they have a city of over 450,000 people and a region of millions in one of the largest economies in the world.
If we utilised that properly, there would be plenty of chances for money to flow back into the British leagues, and in a few years’ time we could hope to see the likes of Featherstone, Leigh or Bradford promoted again to the top-flight, with the cash they need to make it work
Perhaps in that same year, we might even see some sellout crowds for World Cup matches, across the Rugby Treize heartlands in the south of France.
I am not holding out much hope, but let’s not mess it up.
Eden Clayton, London

I am Swinton fan who went to Old Trafford supporting the Catalans Dragons, having also attended the Million Pound Game and rooted for them there.
They have been a huge credit to Rugby League in the relatively short time of their existence and, of course, both passion and money have played no small part in that.
On the debit side, however, I was far from impressed after reading comments about Liam Moore’s handling of the Grand Final.
The suggestion that we should import NRL officials if the Dragons reach that stage again, seemed way over the top. I thought Liam Moore had a superb game and fans with and around me at Old Trafford agreed.
It is easy to have a go at officials when you lose, but they are not bothered one jot who wins, and they do a job that very few of us would or could do. In my view Moore got precious little wrong and over the eighty minutes Saints just shaded it.
I sincerely hope that the Catalans Dragons will have continued success, and with jewels like Arthur Mourgue on the scene, the French game in general looks positive for the future.
Uncomplimentary remarks from a club owner do neither him nor his team any favours, and in my view, are unbecoming for the owner of any club.
I will be at Old Trafford as usual next year and, if the Dragons are also there, I will wear my Catalans’ scarf again, trusting that, ‘you’ve gotta lose one before you win one’ will kick in and come to fruition.
I hope, and confidently predict, that Super League officials will be in charge.
John Spellman, Eccles

Why do we have Catalans and now Toulouse in Super League?
They should be in their own country’s leagues.
Christine Homer, Gloucester

In a sport that is struggling to survive financially, the inclusion of French teams in our leagues was, and is, an act of stupidity.
Obviously there are fewer supporters travelling from France to England, which means there aren’t the normal number of away supporters paying to attend matches, and buy refreshments and souvenirs. This has an impact on every English club in Super League.
In addition, many English supporters will not, or cannot attend matches in France due to both the cost and time involved, and also continue to attend all their team’s away games in England. They have to choose: attend all away games in England or attend their away game in France and fewer away games in England. This is a semi-hidden loss of revenue for all English clubs.
Add to the above a reduced income from Sky and we have a serious problem. The recent Grand Final is a perfect example. An attendance approximately 20,000 less than other, recent Grand Finals, at an average ticket price of, say £25, amounts to a loss of revenue to the RFL in the region of £500,000.
The RFL cannot afford to lose that amount of cash yet the possibility of a repeat Grand final involving Catalans Dragons cannot be ignored.
Allowing French teams into our leagues was akin to turkeys voting for Christmas.
How can we extricate ourselves from this potentially catastrophic impact on our sport?
John Clark, Stockton-on-Tees

Are the RFL and Super League going to submit to Mr Guasch’s threat that he won’t let his team play in another Grand Final until the three referees are Australian?
Or are they going to stand up to this man and his coach, who should be told to stop acting like spoilt brats because they didn’t get what they wanted.
If Catalans don’t like the way things are done in the UK, tough! They can always leave Super League and play in one of the two Elite leagues back in France.
I watched the Grand Final highlights on the BBC and the referee could do nothing right for Steve McNamara.
He grumbled at a penalty awarded to his team, then he grumbled when his team was penalised. Yet one of his players wasn’t sin-binned for the same tackle on James Roby that Tommy Makinson was sin-binned for. He should grow up, shut up and stop whining.
We now have a second French team in Super League, which means there will be a second reduced crowd at home for all the other teams in the league. And what will Super League gain from games between the two French teams (when played)? Not a lot.
Do we really need two French teams in Super League? Football, cricket and rugby Union don’t have teams from other countries in their leagues. So why should Rugby League?
Graham Dawson, Castleford

How refreshing to read the thoughts of my fellow Brighouse resident, Dick McCartney (Mailbag 4th Oct).
I am sad and disappointed when I read, or hear complaints along the lines of, “But how many away supporters will they bring?” Such complaints are usually, but not exclusively, made in relation to French teams in the UK competitions.
But surely it is the home side’s job to fill their terraces. To build a club’s business model around how many away supporters will turn up is like planning your rent or mortgage payments around how many £1 coins you may find down the back of your sofa.
I am as aware as anyone of how great the atmosphere is when a stadium has two opposing sets of supporters present. The local derby matches in Rugby League are a great advert for our game.
But my question for those who think French teams (or even London) have no place in our UK competitions because they are not on a bus route from Wakefield or Wigan bus station is exactly how many away supporters should a team be able to guarantee will follow them away from home, before they are allowed in? 500 …..? 1,000 …..?
And how would you police those numbers, week on week? Would a UK team whose travelling support fell below their required numbers be punished?
Tim Hardcastle, Brighouse

A great Grand Final; a shame someone had to lose.
The key to Saints’ win was their Australian coach, who is making them play an Australian style of play.
From the kick-off, it is about keeping the opposition in their own twenty metre zone and most of the time it succeeds, of course with some exceptions.
They keep this up for the first 20 to 25 minutes but then unlike the best Australian teams they appear to ease off.
Catalans are similar under McNamara. Each of them has an exceptionally good goalkicker and positional kicker – Coote for Saints, Maloney for Catalans. Coote is also a quality fullback, whereas Catalans have Sam Tomkins.
Coote and Maloney are leaving their respective teams. Coote will stay in Super League and Maloney is dropping down a level.
There are no home-bred kickers of equal quality. The Australian game has many of them. For some reason the English game does not seem to value players who can kick, either positionally or for points.
The Million Pound Game was no Super League Grand Final, but the outcome was important – a second French team in next year’s Super League. Had Featherstone won it would have been same old yoyo effect.
Will Sylvain Houles still be coach next season? I doubt it. Will the Toulouse owners recruit an English coach? Hopefully not.
Should Toulouse recruit players from the Southern Hemisphere? Of course, but they have to be the right players. They have to blend in with the French players and instil in them the discipline and attitude that is needed.
That will obviously come from the coach and coaching staff, which should include a high-quality fitness coach. A team can follow all the systems it likes, but without that fitness it will not succeed.
A successful Catalans and Toulouse can only progress the sport.
John Wheeler, Sandbach

I am a season ticket holder at St Helens and I was not impressed with the allocation of tickets to us for the Grand Final.
Why were the only tickets on offer to us for seats behind the goal, and the side near the goal?
I prefer to be on the half-way line. I paid £65 and was placed four seats back from pitch level, when I would have preferred to be much further back.
Season-ticket holders should have first choice of tickets before they are shown on the Internet.
I did attempt to buy mine on the Internet, but it kept asking for passwords I do not have.
John M Berry, Ormskirk

Regarding Gary Schofield’s comment, a few weeks ago, on the low attendance and a subdued atmosphere at the Thursday night, Castleford v Warrington game, we can thank Sky Sports TV for that.
If the match had been played on a Sunday afternoon there would have been a better attendance and atmosphere.
It is time we told Sky Sports television what to do.
For them, our matches on Thursday nights are only a stop-gap because there is nothing else on. My nine-year-old grandson, who had to be up for school the next day, went to that game, and after the player’s and Darrell Powel’s speeches, he got home at 10.50m.
He lives only a mile-and-half away from the ground.
Chris Hope, Leeds

As a Doncaster supporter for the last five years, I travelled to North Wales and Keighley and what a fantastic advert those two games were for League 1 rugby!
The players of all three teams deserve enormous credit for producing rugby played the way fans want to see it. The North Wales supporters were amazing with their vocal support. And, as it should be, both the North Wales and the Keighley fans were a really friendly bunch.
We all enjoyed both days out. If you want to see old-fashioned Rugby League played in a great atmosphere, try watching a League 1 team. It has been a really competitive division this year.
All credit to all the teams.
Come on you Dons!
Steve Stones, Doncaster

Far from Terry Holmes lasting about one or two games in our code (David Hitchin, Mailbag October 4), the Former Wales Rugby Union and British Lion’s star played a total of thirty-seven games for Bradford Northern, scoring nine tries.
After his ill-fated debut against Swinton in December 1985, he played throughout the whole of the 1986-87 season.
According to the Rugby League Record Keepers’ Club data, his final game for Northern was the Yorkshire Cup Final, October 1987, in which he played at loose-forward.
Trevor Delaney, Lytham St Annes

I was a little surprised that you gave a full page spread on Toulouse in your issue dated 4th October, but not a word on their opponents, Featherstone Rovers.
This year, as for last year’s Grand Final, the Rovers had to travel out of the country to play, which (with also having Covid to contend with) made it more than just a matter of preparing for a match. As Batley found out, it is all the other protocols involved.
Everything may have stacked up in Toulouse’s favour, but this ‘little village team’ gave their all with passion, pride in the jersey and team spirit.
Ian Haskey, Castleford