League Express Mailbag – Monday 2nd August


Shortly after learning of the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand from the Rugby League World Cup, the former international athlete, Brendan Foster, was eulogising on BBC Radio about his having won a bronze medal over 5,000 metres, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. It was the proudest moment of his life.

It is doubtful, though, whether Foster would have been anywhere near a podium place without the massive prior withdrawal of African nations from those games. Whatever the African nations’ cause, very few people cared – or indeed were aware – of their situation once the games had started.

In concert with other, similar happenings, the sporting history honours board bears no record of potential stars who were absent.

There had been a forerunner in the 1970s to the Montreal Olympics boycott (or walk out), with likewise no detrimental impact on attendance figures. That was at Wimbledon, when most of the world’s big-name tennis stars refused to take part due to a certain issue.

Did it matter though, in the final analysis?  Not a jot. Full house crowds cramped every court on every day of the tournament, and new world stars emerged to capitalise on the situation, such as Bjorn Borg.

There were also, as John Meadows commented (League Express 25 July), boycott absentees at both Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984, and whereas Seb Coe and Steve Ovett’s achieving Moscow gold might have happened in any case, the gold medal 100 metres triumph by Alan Wells might have been far less likely. And nobody in Edinburgh seemed to remotely to care about any star absentees. Thousands lined the streets to accord Wells a hero’s reception and he was subsequently paraded through the streets of the city on board an open-topped bus.

All the aforementioned serves to prove that, despite absenteeism for whatever reason, the show goes on. As it did when Manchester United withdrew from the FA Cup which, despite United’s absence, proved as popular as ever. So with or without the NRL and State of Origin players, and whether or not it features either a second-string Australia and New Zealand or two replacement countries, the Rugby League World Cup will go on.

And wherever possible, within my limited power as a commentator at some of the big crowd pulling, late summer shows and sports, I will be doing my best to play my part in promoting it. Good luck to the organisers and to all concerned with Rugby League.

Be there or be square!

Roger Ingham MBE, Skipton



While I can understand the mixture of fury and frustration, excuse me if I don’t jump aboard the ‘Aussies are Wimps and Whingers’ bandwagon or subscribe to the notion that Serbia and the USA should be invited into the World Cup to take up the slack.

We might all agree that the withdrawal of the Kangaroos and Kiwis has more to do with the interfering in the untouchable world of the NRL than any health and safety worries over Covid. But the simple fact is that without two of the best three teams in the sport it would hardly be a World Cup worthy of the name.

That’s the reality and in a week when three more Super League games were called off because of the virus and we are running our major competition on some bizarre percentage points system, we are hardly in a position to dictate to other nations how to handle the pandemic.

Would delaying it another year be such a disaster? It didn’t harm Football’s Euro 2020 (played in 2021) and, despite the empty stadiums, the Olympics are going ahead a year late. And there have been positive tests in Tokyo.

Can we guarantee that none of the group games or knock-out matches will be called off because of Covid? And if they were, when would they be played?

And what if it was a quarter-final or semi-final that fell by the wayside? There is no space in a tight schedule to make up for any lost ground. The World Cup could develop into a Super League style farce.

I can’t pretend that the country will be all clear – or clear enough – in a year’s time, but some of the arguments against the delay don’t stand up.

The FIFA World Cup for instance is in Qatar, which is hardly likely to affect our attendance figures, and it doesn’t even start until November 21st, when ours could be finished, so it should not have such a bearing on our TV coverage and publicity either.

As for Serbia and the States, would a series of 80-point defeats improve the image of a World Cup? It certainly doesn’t help credibility of the RU version when the All Blacks run in a hundred-plus against the weaker nations.

Rugby League in this country is having a hard time holding on to its place in the sporting calendar. A World Cup that offers something less than the best would not help the cause.

So if it means kow-towing to the Aussies yet again, so be it. That’s hardly a new position to find ourselves in.

Only when we have beaten them on the field can we have the strength to say: Please yourselves, we will manage without you.

A delay might hurt, but not as much as a World Cup without the world’s best taking part.

Peter Wilson, Walney



ARL Commission Chairman, Peter V’landys, the NRL clubs, the ARLC and the NZRL need to get their heads out of their collective rectums, with regard to where Rugby League stands in their countries, so here’s a bit of a reality check.

Take Australia. The major sport, followed and televised in every state, is Australian Rules Football; the second sport is Football, or as it is known in Australia, Soccer, played by both men and women, in teams based on their various heritage nationalities or ethnicity, and the third sport is Rugby League, not far ahead of Rugby Union.

In New Zealand, the top sport is rugby but not Rugby League. It is Rugby Union, followed (as in Australia) by Soccer. Rugby League is third and played mainly by the Maori and island populations.

Mr V’landys may think that Australia’s ‘State of Origin’ series is the best tournament in Rugby League anywhere, but it does not rate at all on the international stage. Rugby League players are quite happy to jump to Rugby Union, not just for the money but for international recognition.

Fame is just not something Rugby League can offer, outside its own world. Is a Rugby League player any more famous internationally if he wins in a State of Origin’ series or is a World Cup winner? Just ask Sonny Bill Williams or Jason Robinson.

Does Mr V’landys believe in the expansion of international Rugby League across the world? If he does, could he achieve that without Internationals and World Cups? The NRL is not the NFL, a sport that does not need international opposition to be recognised across the world.

The NRL clubs present, as a hurdle to playing in this World Cup, the interruption to pre-season training caused by their players returning from the UK. Is he really saying that their super-fit players would have to spend the whole of December doing absolutely no training? Just lie around in the heat boozing, or ‘going tropo’ as they say in Australia?

Would their clubs allow it? Hm! Rugby League supporters did not come down with the last shower.

This cynical and condescending attitude of Australia and New Zealand Rugby League makes our game the laughing-stock of international sport.

John Wheeler, Sandbach, Cheshire



I have to disagree with some of your readers (Mailbag July 26). To continue with the World Cup would be a farce.

The Aussies hold all the cards and no doubt they would restrict their Tongan and Fijian players from taking part, therefore depleting the competition more.

We all need to come together and have one governing body for everybody to abide by.

We cannot have a World Cup without Australia and New Zealand and bringing other nations in is not the answer.

What message would it send out if many games were won by big margins?

Steve Jones, St Helens



Australia and New Zealand pull out of the Rugby League World Cup! So what? The world of Rugby League doesn’t revolve around those two countries.

As for the arrogant Australian pundit who said Rugby League in the UK relies on Australian players to keep it going, he must live in a world of his own.

It is because of all the Australian ‘has-beens’, would-bes’ and journeymen who come to England because they are near the end of their playing days or can’t get in a team back home, that the standard of Rugby League in the UK has gone down.

The sooner clubs in the UK realise that those players are not always as good as club managements think, yet are keeping our own local talent out of their clubs, the better

The World Cup should be played as planned and stuff Australia and New Zealand.

If players from Australia and New Zealand who want to take part in the World Cup can get a U-turn, then all well and good. If not, so be it.

Graham Dawson, Castleford



Does anyone seriously think that, if the proposed restructuring takes place and four teams drop to the second division in 2023, that will create a level playing field?

Should any one of St Helens, Wigan, Leeds, Warrington or Hull have a disastrous season one  year and finish in the bottom four, there is no way they would be relegated. The authorities would amend the rules to base relegation on criteria such as suitability of stadium, average attendance, and that team’s business plans .

Would a Championship side like Bradford, for example, want promotion for one season, knowing that chances are they would be relegated?

I am a Wire fan, but was saddened by how Leigh have been treated this season.

They were everyone’s choice to go straight back down. They were allocated half a million pounds less than the other clubs, with little time to recruit quality players.

Anyway, if we move to a ten-team Super league it will probably mean a team could finish in the lower half of the table and potentially still win the Grand Final.

P Southern, Adlington, Lancashire



A while back I made comments in a letter published by League Express.

I spoke of player welfare and the need to deal with foul play during a match, not days later at a tribunal.

I wrote, having observed during a match one player getting straight up after foul play, while another stayed down later on in a separate incident. That allowed the video-referee to step in and award a penalty only on the second incident.

Martyn Sadler made reference to my letter in a BackChat episode.

Martyn acknowledged the issue that if a player gets straight up following foul play, no action is forthcoming. If the player stays down, however, the incident is reviewed and action up to and including a red card can be taken.

During last week’s Hull FC v Leeds match, Richie Myler received an elbow to the face, which was not seen by the referee. The likelihood is that if he had seen it, a direct contact to the opponent’s head would have resulted in a card.

However, with the player getting straight up, the game continued and this matter now only gets dealt with after the match. That is not acceptable! The video-referee should be able to step in as they do in the other code, when possible serious foul play is noted.It is imperative that the game has the ability to challenge such behaviour. Fans of the game want to see the right outcome for foul play during the match, not read about it days afterwards.

We do not want players to stay down unnecessarily but if a player wants immediate justice staying down seems the only avenue to take. I find it disheartening that we still have this ridiculous way of managing offences committed on the field and I would ask those running the game to address this as soon as possible.

Or I guess I will find myself writing to League Express once again in a few years’ time.

Mark Hatton, Market Weighton



Why do the Sky Sports presenters battle every week with the tannoy and pre-match entertainment at whichever ground they are broadcasting from?

It appears so unprofessional.

Are they designated an area they can use? Most weeks they seem to be right on top of the booming tannoy with pop music, announcements and competitions.

For the viewer this is a horrendous experience.

A few weeks ago I took a break from watching the pre-match build-up, which I find very enlightening, but enough is enough.

Poor Richard Agar strained to hear Jenna Brooks’ questions in the post-match interview after the televised match on Thursday. In fact he seemed to visibly wince from the deafening music still blaring out from the tannoy at the MKM stadium.

The action is great, but the TV coverage pre- and post-match is looking decidedly shabby.

Michael Brown, Stokesley



Jonathon Whittaker (Mailbag, July 26) deserves an answer to his question?

What does Ralph Rimmer do?

John Egan, Manchester


In Keith McGhie’s report of the Bradford v Featherstone game (League Express, July 26) he quite rightly points out that Rovers were missing several players because of Covid problems; but they coped with these absentees very well, and just edged a very tight game.

He does omit, however, to point out that Bradford were also missing several regular players, notably Brough, Lilley, Nzoungou, Dawson-Jones, Murphy and Doyle – the first four named being long-term absentees, rather than just missing a match or two.

Despite the enforced changes both teams put on an excellent show, which was a great advert for Championship Rugby League.

I am sure that both clubs will be in the mix come play-off time.

Anthony Sutcliffe, Sutton on Sea



The letter from Richard Whatmough (Mailbag 19 July) was an absolute load of rubbish. This game is built on small northern towns and their heritage, not big cities like Newcastle or London.

How many supporters would turn out to watch London v Newcastle if they were in Super League? They would be lucky to reach 1,000.

Even in League 1, the match between Barrow and Whitehaven had a crowd in excess of 3,000. And local derbies between, say, Dewsbury and Batley in pre-Covid days, would generate a much bigger crowd than 1,000. The game does not need to grow at the expense of clubs that have fallen on tough times at the moment. What goes round comes around.

Our administration should be shouting about the game from the rooftops, because as we all know it is the best game on the planet. What sort of message would it give if large cities played large cities in front of a few hundred fans? Sponsorship alone would not bring in sufficient finance. And would it say about our credibility?

Relegation and promotion are the norm where there is more than one league, in any game from football to tiddlywinks.

Rugby League wants, and demands, strong leadership like Mr V’landys in Australia, to increase our profile not allow local teams with over a hundred years in existence to go to the wall in order to accommodate large, pointless city teams.

Teams like my team, Featherstone Rovers, who overcame an outbreak of Covid, went down to Wembley and gave thousands of fans a fantastic day out in the sun. The euphoria in the town and around is absolutely priceless for this once thriving mining town. It would be a heck of a lot poorer without the club. If London went to the wall, how many would care, when they also have teams in Rugby Union, Football and so on?

Mr Whatmough has no idea what a Rugby League club means to places like Featherstone, Leigh, Castleford, Oldham and Swinton and, on the face of it, he does not seem to care.

Ian Haskey, Castleford