League Express Mailbag – Monday 25th October

There has been a lot of criticism of referees recently, much of it justified.
However, there appear to be only three ways of expressing the criticism.
First, arguing with the referee on the pitch; secondly, saying how bad our referees are in the press; or thirdly, announcing that your team will no longer play in front of English referees.
None of these enhance the image of the game.
So why not adopt the NRL’s Captain’s Challenge?
Each captain has the right to challenge a referee’s decision at least once, and, if successful, can challenge again.
I’ve even seen a referee ask a captain whether he wants to use his Captain’s Challenge!
The decision in the Grand Final that Maloney’s penalty kick had not found touch cried out for a Captain’s Challenge.
Games would have to be scheduled to last an extra five minutes, but I would have thought it would be worth it to take some of the heat out of the debate.
Andy Hosking, Ilkley

I read with amazement Chris Hope’s letter about his experience at the Castleford v Warrington game (Mailbag 18th October}.
Whilst I sympathise with his comments on the atmosphere and timing of the game, I feel that he should consider the sport that he has chosen to follow.
As a Rugby League fan based in the West Midlands, I am one of the many millions excluded from taking an active part in Super League purely because we don’t live in the magical land of the M62 corridor.
The closed-shop parochialism of Rugby League is staggering in its siege mentality against any club that does not hail from the hallowed land.
I was sickened by the obvious glee shown by Rugby League fans when Toronto was kicked out of Super League, and the Mailbag page in which Chris Hope’s letter was published was full of letters bemoaning the fact that Super League is spreading to France.
As far as Sky Sports are concerned, the most amazing thing is that they show such a regional, inward-looking sport at all.
Yes, they do push Super League back to Thursday nights for one very clear and obvious reason. On Sundays they show Premier League football, Formula 1, NFL and Test Cricket, which are all worldwide games that market themselves to worldwide audiences.
If Super League wants to be taken seriously as a marketable brand, it needs to break down the siege-walls along the M62 corridor and open up to the wider world.
After all, Rugby League is one of the most entertaining sports on the planet, so the raw materials are there.
Nigel Plimmer, Wolverhampton

There was an interesting contrast reading League Express from my current repose in Crete, an island in the cradle of civilisation, Greece.
Last weekend, not far from here, Bodrum in Turkey hosted a Euro Group D competition comprising hosts Turkey, Czech Republic, Malta and Netherlands, all playing two games and all excellently organised, presented and broadcast on livestream. Netherlands prevailed and made progress into the next qualification stage of the next World Cup.
Meanwhile, back in the north of England, the debate continues about whether teams from outside the north of England should be playing Rugby League at all.
Your correspondent Tim Hardcastle (Mailbag, 18 Oct) of Brighouse questions the merit of traditional clubs (for whom I have every respect) relying on income from visiting supporters, which is a desperate and frankly embarrassing state of affairs for those that do.
Fifteen years ago, Tim and I took our social team, the Heavy Woollen Donkeys, to Rotterdam to play in an international 9s there. The Dutch are now playing internationals in a glamour .city of the Mediterranean, yet back up north clubs rely on visiting clubs’ fans to pay their bills
Shoot for the stars and you might just get to the moon; shoot for Widnes and you might just get beer and pies revenue from Dewsbury.
Tim Wilkinson, Koutoufoulari, Crete

No matter in which era you start watching Rugby League, there is always a period before that time when great players have played and great matches have taken place, but you were born too late to have seen them
Over the last 30 or so years, most of the action has been recorded and available for viewing, but when I first started watching Wigan over 50 years ago, such records were rare.
It is invariably a member of the generation before, often one from the family, who encourages new followers by their colourful portrayal of previous periods of the game’s history. I have been fortunate to have had such a family relation to help inspire me in that respect.
It seems that Rugby League in Wigan, like the other towns and cities in which it was played, was a rich tapestry which was woven into the fabric of life itself for many decades, being revered, watched and talked about by all sections of society and by men and women alike.
Imagine growing up in the sixties and hearing from a relation who watched Jim Sullivan, Gus Risman and Trevor Foster play, who waxed lyrical about the coaching skill of Joe Egan and who marvelled at Brian Nordgren in his prime and Billy Boston in his youth.
Imagine his personal story of two young teachers going on a trip from Wigan to Hull in in an old banger in 1960, the man driving with his six-months pregnant wife, to watch Wigan at the Boulevard. What can it have been like on those ringside seats a few feet away from the action when the Drake twins and Johnny Whiteley were trying to knock seven bells out of McTigue, Barton and Co? Well, I received a first-hand account.
Imagine that person picking you up after school on a frosty night in December 1967 to take you on a surprise visit to Knowsley Road for the first time for a BBC Floodlit Trophy match and seeing Billy Boston, even at the age of 33, score what Billy himself recalled as one of his best ever tries.
I am indebted for all the above and more to my uncle Bill McAllister from Ince, Wigan, who even in his nineties spoke about the game with the enthusiasm of youth and the eloquence of a truly enlightened follower of the game.
Bill will be laid to rest today, Monday 25th October.
It would be marvellous if the Mailbag editor could find space for this little tribute
Bill Anderson, Parbold, Lancs

In last week’s Mailbag Christine Homer, John Clark and Graham Dawson cast doubt on the validity of including French teams in the UK competitions.
If I may, I’d like to try and answer a couple of questions they raise.
Christine asks why Catalans and Toulouse are in Super League. Quite easy, that one. Catalans were invited and Toulouse won promotion.
She then states they should be in their own country’s league. A modicum of searching would have led her to realise that they are. They both run teams in Elite 1 of the French Championship.
Both John and Graham ask the tired old question about away support. But how many away supporters is an acceptable number?
I assume they have counted any away support at games involving the French teams, and they think the result is too small a number. So what lower limit would they put on a teams’ away support before accepting them into Super League?
Would they then apply the said limit on UK based teams? Would they then punish, in some way, any team that failed to provide an acceptable level of “refreshment and souvenir” income to teams they are visiting?
Graham makes the point about football, cricket and rugby union not having teams from other countries in their leagues. To which, I’d respond, Wrexham, Cardiff City, Swansea, Berwick Rangers and Glamorgan CCC. I cannot comment on union, as I ignore that sport.
Their overall point is, I suspect, about why the RFL sees the need to support Rugby League in France, which is a valid question, without doubt.
My answer would be that Rugby League is, sadly, still a relatively small sport. So, we who call ourselves fans of the game should do anything we can to help the game in any country, county or town where it is played. I don’t mean financially specifically, but just by gestures of support, engagement and by welcoming them into our ‘family’.
The ‘local game for local people attitude, which is sadly all too prevalent in some fans, is counter-productive, disappointing and will lead ultimately to Rugby League just becoming a northern cultural curiosity.
Anyone want a game of Knurr and Spell?
Tim Hardcastle, Brighouse

After attending the game between Halifax and Featherstone on 2nd October I attempted to contact the RFL the following Monday to voice my concern at several unsavoury incidents I witnessed.
In brief, these included a near constant stream of foul-mouthed abuse towards the Halifax supporters from one section of the ground; intimidatory gestures from a Featherstone player towards those supporters; and a large-scale pitch invasion by home supporters at the conclusion of the game that featured the destruction of perimeter fencing and a physical confrontation with stewards on the pitch itself.
There was also a further report concerning the hazardous safety condition of a car park.
In the absence of any verbal contact, I constructed and sent an email that only produced a stock reply.
Having since re-sent the same and received the same disrespectful answer, I am now asking that the matter be made public through your columns.
I understand from another source that a separate but related matter has been raised with the RFL. But I have reminded them, in a further email, that it is the practice at Premier and Championship Football games for signage to warn spectators that encroachment on the field of play is a criminal offence. PA announcements are made to reinforce this. Surely Rugby League has the same obligations!
This is a very disheartening letter and it leaves me to seriously think about the capabilities of the present paid officials of the RFL to administer Super League as the pan-European competition it has become, one which so many of us have supported and hoped for over many decades.
Stuart Stanton, Leeds

Is the RFL management team fit for purpose?
That’s obviously a rhetorical question.
Amongst many mistakes they have made, perhaps the worst one was their attempt to keep English players in England.
It was a good idea in principle, but as usual it was badly executed.
The introduction of marquee players, which allows clubs to identify a player they want to keep and pay him above the salary cap, was a great idea, apart from breaking the salary cap, but it would appear that most marquee players are foreign. How was that allowed to happen?
From next year Sky are significantly reducing their payment, but the RFL is not reducing the salary cap. As far as I am aware, there is no plan to implement rules to prevent clubs overspending on players’ salaries.
Surely this is a recipe for disaster, and Mr Rimmer repeatedly assures us that “we are in a good place”. Really?
How do we extricate ourselves from the financial mess that the RFL has got us into?
John Clark, Stockton-on-Tees

I totally agree with your Upfront column’s opinion that next year’s Championship will be an intriguing battle and something to really look forward to (UpFront, Oct 18).
However, I was dismayed to read on the same page that the season is expected to begin at the end of January.
What marketing genius made that decision? Have they ever been to Odsal at that time of year?
My wife and I have been season-ticket holders at Bradford for many years, but we are now both into our seventies and she has already informed me that she has no intention of sitting outside for three hours in January or February. I can’t say I blame her. I am sure that there are many other older (and perhaps not so older) supporters who feel the same way.
Whatever happened to summer rugby?
Don Wright, Bradford

Leeds Rhinos fan Jonathan Whitaker need not feel so aggrieved at St Helens equalling the record of three consecutive Grand Final wins (Mailbag 18 October).
When the Rhinos achieved this, Super League was far stronger than today’s mediocre competition. And let’s not forget that the Rhinos beat an infinitely better Saints team in each of those finals, also beating Saints again in 2011 on their way to five out of six.
It also needs to be recognised that none of the Rhinos’ victories were handed to them on a plate due to the incompetence of the officials.
Malcolm Bastow, Leeds

In a recent issue of League Express, Martyn Sadler claimed that Wigan had dominated the 80s and 90s.
In fact, Wigan didn’t dominate the 80s. My own team Widnes won 15 trophies during the 80s, including all the major trophies. Hull also enjoyed good success during the early 80s and the smaller trophies were more evenly shared around in that decade. Wigan won trophies during the decade, but they certainly didn’t dominate it.
Wigan’s almost total domination came in the first half of the 90s, and it was during that time that they had the massive advantage of being the only full-time team in the country.
But when Super League began in the mid-90s and other teams became full time, Wigan’s dominance ended virtually overnight.
Widnes also had good success in the 70s and even won a couple of trophies in the early 90s.
So, it wasn’t only Wigan winning in those days, others were too.
Joseph Hammell, Widnes

Mikey Lewis had a breakthrough season for Hull KR. playing some outstanding rugby for the team and out-playing both Warrington halfbacks in the play-offs, so much so it earned him a call up to the Knights’ squad.
He was picked for the game against Jamaica, but you wouldn’t think so according to Andrew Steel’s report in last week’s League Express.
In all other reports on the game I have seen, it was quite clear he played very well, controlling the left edge of the team with his passing and kicking game, and in the second half causing problems with his running game.
Even the Knights manager and coach were full of praise for him.
Must he have a famous father, or play for another club, to get recognised by a League Express reporter?
Arthur Greaves, Keyingham, Hull

How sorry I was to see 15 players retiring from Super League in 2021 (admittedly three of them, Dom Manfredi, Lee Mossop and Blake Wallace, due to early retirement through injury.
The double-page spread in last week’s issue got me thinking what a superb team they would have made, if all were playing in their prime and for the same team.
My selection from the fifteen would have put them as follows:
Fullback Greg Inglis; wingers Kevin Naiqama and Dom Manfredi; centres Michael Shenton and Junior Sa’u, stand-off Kevin Brown; scrum-half James Maloney; props Lee Mossop and Grant Millington; second row Joel Thompson and Tony Clubb and loose forward Jason Baitieri.
The only position we couldn’t have filled from the 15 retirees was hooker.
The remaining three on the list would all have been excellent coming off the bench, with Ben Flower at prop, Tyrone McCarthy equally at home in the second row or at loose forward and Blake Wallace in either halfback position.
These 15 players put in a total of 190 combined years’ service to their respective clubs at an average of 12.5 years apiece.
Their combined total ages would be 495, making their average age at retirement 33.
It’s interesting that four were from Leigh, with two each from, Castleford, Catalans, Salford, St Helens and Wigan and one from Warrington. None were from Hull FC, Hull KR, Huddersfield, Leeds or Wakefield. Six were English, one Welsh, one French, six Australian and one a New Zealander.
Richard Sanderson, Beadnell, Northumberland