League Express Mailbag : Monday 21st November

Thank you for your excellent coverage of the World Cup.
I write before the final weekend but the game has grown remarkably from earlier World Cups.
This is due in no small part to hugely skilful players and teams well-prepared in the widest sense, the joy brought into the game by teams from different cultures, and by the three various formats ground staff and stadium preparation of a high order.
The administration and promotion of the competition has exceeded my expectations while the standard of officiating, and particularly the refreshing ability of players to avoid penalties and to enhance player safety, have also contributed.
Three points remain for me, however.
There is still work to be done around the play-the-ball to get the balance correct between skilful and energetic defence and speedy renewal of attack.
The playing area should be made larger by bringing the touchline and in-goal markings into play.
And serious consideration must be given prior to the next World Cup to the structure of the competitions.
And the highlights for me? There have been so many, but the Samoan and Tongan hakas, my introduction to the wheelchair game and the athletic genius of the Addo-Carr semi-final try stand out.
Ken Wales, Preston

Congratulations to the Samoan team on a magnificent victory over England after getting hammered in their first match.
Congratulations also to the New Zealand team on running the Australian `Invincibles’ close in their match.
In contrast, England, were guilty of a dumb performance and not being able to adapt to a change of plan in their tactics.
I lay the blame solely on the philosophy of Shaun Wane. He is the wrong man in charge of England, who need the guile and know-how of a man like Kristian Woolf.
In February, St Helens will go to Australia to play the NRL Champions, Penrith Panthers, a team with top players not only from Australia but from the Polynesian teams that were here for the World Cup.
The Saints will need both Walmsley and Dodd, at least, to live with the Panthers, who play intense rugby every week in the NRL.
J Crompton, Bolton

With reference to last week’s letter from Graham Unsworth (Mailbag, 14 November), I don’t know what you do for a living, but the RFL or IMG need to employ you immediately.
Your letter is one of the most positive I have ever read. You are a breath of fresh air after all the negativity from a lot of fans.
The same format could be used for all forms of Rugby League at World Cups.
Let’s hope the powers-that-be can build on the positive aspects and improve the not so positive aspects for the safeguarding of the future of Rugby League.
Brian Leaf, Leeds

What an amazing advert for our game we have seen in the Wheelchair World Cup!
A tense final certainly had me on the edge of my seat until the final hooter.
As an erstwhile referee, I never want to join the chorus of ref-bashing that inhabits the Mailbag week after week, but I do feel that the RFL or the IRL needs to make a statement about the standard of visibly partisan refereeing shown by the French official in the Wheelchair Final.
I would like to hear an explanation and probably an admission of error as to why Jack Brown’s opening try was disallowed. From the view via the BBC cameras, there seemed to be nothing wrong with it.
Then there was the completely disgraceful unprofessional display shown by the French official when he was overruled by the referee. Waving of arms, visibly sulking for the rest of the game and angrily removing his medal during the presentation ceremony clearly brings the game into disrepute.
For such displays, players would be sanctioned. This official should be removed from future international duty and undergo retraining on the laws of the game before his is allowed to pick up the whistle again.
Andrew Ward, Loughborough

In Rugby League, it is often the players and coaches who get the recognition.
But what about the spectators?
Three Swinton fans – Ian Rigg, Stephen Johnson and Al Dixon – have attended over 50 matches in this World Cup cycle, involving PDRL, Wheelchair, Woman’s and Men’s games.
A remarkable effort that deserves recognition and acknowledgment!
Well done; not all superheroes wear capes.
Ian Ollerton, Warrington

I cannot understand why England had to play a team in the semi-final that they had already met in the pool stage.
Surely England should have played Australia or New Zealand. Indeed, the other semi-final was close to being a repeat of Australia v Fiji!
I can’t help feeling that whatever the coaches and players said and thought, the pool result did have some influence on the semi-final. To produce a draw where teams that met at a pool stage cannot meet until the final would not be difficult.
This was the first World Cup in which England or Great Britain did not get a fixture against Australia.
Andy Hosking, Ilkley

COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER  There was an excellent piece by Jamie Peacock in last week’s League Express but I would like to respond to his saying, “The only disappointment for me has been the modest crowds at some matches”.
He put forward two possible reasons: the strange choice of venue in some cases, and the cost-of-living crisis.
In the same edition Martyn Sadler, also commented on the tournament’s “largely disappointing attendances,” offering as possible causes the one-sided nature of many matches, the fact that they were all available on TV, and the current cost-of-living.
I am afraid, though, that both are being too kind to Jon Dutton and his RLWC2021 decision-makers.
I would be the first to endorse much of their planning and organisation, and congratulate them on what was, overall, a hugely successful tournament, I am afraid they got the pricing (and indeed the marketing in general), completely wrong. That this is the underlying cause of the attendance issue raised by both Peacock and Sadler.
Yawning gaps visible in the stands at the Emirates for the semi-final merely served to emphasise the point. Surely the main objective was that the tournament should generate the maximum attendances, as well as an acceptable financial outcome.
There are some fundamental principles that apply when marketing a ‘product’ – build on your existing customer base; give people incentives that they will value; tailor pricing to the market being targeted, for example. But I am afraid that the decision-makers missed out significantly in all these respects – hence the “disappointing” results. I will suggest a few examples.
I presume that somewhere there exists an extensive database of people who have purchased tickets for major games over, say, the last 20 years. I would be one of the names on it. But no attempt was made to personalise pre-tournament marketing directly to these people when it should have been.
Games in the group phase likely to be less than gripping, because they were virtually certain to be mis-matches, should have been particularly incentivised in terms of offering ‘deals’. The fact that they were not, or not to a significant enough extent, is the reason why, in Sadler’s example, only 5,000 people attended Australia v Italy at St Helens.
Although the current cost-of-living crisis has blown up well after the tournament’s ticket prices were set, it would not have required a genius even then to realise that a significant section of the market for Rugby League in its northern heartland is not in current decently paid employment, and is not flush with money to spend on entertainment – seniors, in particular. So why was this market segment not targeted via some form of imaginative concession deals for seniors?
Pre-tournament, I bought a total of 14 tickets, in various price categories – but if there had been some sort of bulk-buying deals available, that could easily have been 24. I am sure I am not unique in this respect. But there were no such deals on offer.
Ian Wilson, Macclesfield

Once again, the English team has let the supporters down.
People spent plenty of money travelling down to London to support the national team. But what did we receive back? A team that that was under-prepared and complacent and for 65 minutes and played as though they couldn’t care less.
How can the coaching team not motivate the players for a World Cup semi-final? The only thing English supporters expect is 100 per cent effort from the team.
Last week we didn’t get this and it was apparent after the first five minutes of the game.
John Woodhead, Warrington

Leaving the two magnificent semi-finals alone, surely the crowd and the occasion deserved far more than the Emirates served up.
Apart from a kids’ game on the big screen, there was no entertainment at all. Where was all the pomp and ceremony usually associated with massive occasions that the RFL used to be so very good at.
Given that it was the day before Remembrance Sunday, could we not have had a military band or similar to create the atmosphere?
Anthony Kelvin, Leeds

Having watched the majority of matches in the ongoing World Cup, I am wondering if the referees had been told to ignore obvious forward passes and knock-ons in some games.
Or should a visit to Specsavers be on my horizon? Continuity of play is important, but not the cost of making necessary, straight forward decisions.
Robert Hicks was acting as a touch judge when one player was tackled on the line, yet allowed to get up and play the ball without Mr Hicks raising his flag.
Someone at the Rugby Football League should remind the sports editor at the BBC that when the England ‘kick and clap’ women beat Canada, it was mentioned on the news bulletin.
But when our England women’s team were playing two very important games, neither one of those games was mentioned on that same bulletin. I wonder why.
John Barker, Mirfield

While it’s disappointing that our men’s and women’s teams have come up short against the southern hemisphere teams, as a fan of Rugby League as a whole I try to look at the bigger picture.
The Wheelchair game has exploded onto the national scene and will surely grow exponentially. Likewise, the Women’s and Girls’ game will equally go from strength to strength.
As someone involved in a small way with the women’s game, I know how the conduct of the England team on and, crucially, off the field has had an impact.
Despite the massive disappointment of the NZ semi-final result, the players spent at least 30 mins after full-time talking with the fans, having photos taken with the youngsters and signing autographs.
You cannot quantify what a great effect this sort of thing will have. But one thing is almost certainly true. In that crowd at York there was a young lass, probably eight or nine years old who will now take up playing Rugby League and will, one day, go on to become one of the first full time professional players in the women’s game.
And at some time int the 2040’s she will be the player who scores the winning try in a World Cup Final. The current England team can take some comfort in their disappointment, knowing they started that nine-year-old on her way.
Tim Hardcastle, Brighouse

While summarising the World Cup matches on Sky with former Hull KR youngster, Jon Wilkin, Jenna Brooks asked for his opinion on the Samoa match as she had been in Hull, covering the first game.
“Shame on you Jenna, nobody wants to live in Hull,” Jon replied. “I can honestly say that I am from Hull. I escaped; I was eighteen.”
I detected a sign of aloofness. I think Jon’s fame as a TV pundit has gone to his head.
You should never forget your roots.
Reg Jackson, Hull

Well done Alan Galloway in last week’s Mailbag for highlighting the annoying comments from the pundits during a game.
Imagine having someone standing next to you at a live game you are attending constantly chirping on about things that you can obviously see for yourself.
I suppose you can’t blame the pundits; it is what they are employed to do. But come on, give us a break from listening to their drivel.
It’s the same on Sky now. Whereas in the past we just had the excellent Eddie Hemmings and his sidekick Stevo, I had to turn the commentary down during the World Cup matches this time.
And OK, I’m knowledgeable about Rugby League so don’t really need information during the game, but those new to the game need that information to understand its subtleties.
Give the commentators chance to commentate.
Fred Bidlake, Sandy, Bedfordshire