League Express mailbag – Monday 30th November


I have been watching Saints for over thirty-two years, and I am as proud now as I have ever been to be a fan of the club and Rugby League.

The Grand Final was exceptional and encapsulated everything about Saints’ resilience and never-say-die attitude. It was brilliant for James Graham and Zeb Taia, who finish on a high, and Jack Welsby, who will remember his moment of magic forever – as will every Saints fan.

People ask why we love Rugby League and of course, it is because of our team, but the sportsmanship on show to give Sean O’Loughlin a thoroughly deserved guard of honour made a great end to a difficult season.

Come on you Saints, club of legends since 1873!

Simon Hignett, Penshaw, County



We’ve seen all this before, of course. I remember standing on Swinton railway station as a young Wigan supporter after the 1971 Championship Final, feeling like the world had ended.

Wigan had commanded most of the Grand Final, which was highlighted by an imperious display of long-range touch finding, drop goals and try scoring by the great Bill Ashurst. Saints came back into it late on, after John Mantle had been sent off at Ashurst’s instigation.

The scene was set for a last-gasp, Geoff Pimblett drop-goal attempt from thirty yards out, which was to win it for Saints. The attempt was well wide, but the ball turned on its head to reverse its direction in the in-goal area and presented itself for the onrushing Billy Benyon to touch down, amid our desperate cries of “offside”.

There were no TV replays in those days and Saints won 16-12.

I listened to Fridays Final via the BBC radio commentary, and it is a pity that the commentators were so beside themselves, eulogising about the general quality of the match, that they were not telling us what was happening on the field.

I thought that the whole idea of a radio commentary.

Bill Anderson Parbold, Lancashire


What a Friday that was!  I watched the cricket from South Africa with Johnny Bairstow winning the game for England; it finished just before the Grand Final started.

Congratulations to both Grand Final sides on a wonderful game to end a difficult season for everyone. They have set the benchmark for the others. Both teams targeted certain players and seemed successful in achieving that.

Roll on March 11th when we hope to be able to watch in the grounds again.

Michael Ireland, Derby



The 2020 season has, it is generally agreed, been the most difficult our sport has had to face outside of wartime.

Great credit should be paid to the Rugby League authorities for getting so many games organised. They were rewarded with a Grand Final that would have been highly memorable even without the extraordinary circumstances. The game was played at a furious pace, helped by the avoidance of unnecessary stoppages. Set restarts seem to help the game flow, although it’s often hard to know what they have been called for. And did anyone miss scrums? I rarely heard them mentioned in the second half of the season.

Surely this is a good time to drop scrums from the game altogether. When I watch a Rugby League match I want action, which isn’t provided by a bunch of blokes jostling about for five minutes until everyone gets into a position the referee is happy with.

I could watch some other sport if I wanted that.

John Noton, Harrogate



What an incredible spectacle this year’s Grand Final was for all Rugby League fans. As a Saints fan, it is a night that will stay in my memory for many years to come. Great credit must also go to Wigan and the part they played in the game.

We hope that next season will return with some form of normality allowing supporters back into stadiums.

In view of the amazing job front line workers such as NHS doctors and nurses have done during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps a group of them should present the Grand Final and Challenge Cup trophies next year, instead of the usual dignitaries.

Dr Nicholas P Williams, Bangor



For a number of reasons, most of which are beyond Wigan’s control, I have decided not to renew my two season tickets for next year.

The salary cap over the last twenty years has brought the top teams down to a mediocre level; too many games are bland and uninteresting. Under the play-off format the result of many games does not matter; there is little or no jeopardy to most league games, so less excitement. Teams can pick and choose which fixtures they target and field weak teams as and when they choose. Repeat fixtures make it not unusual to play the same team four or even five times a season.

The standard of match officials has declined. Too many show-pony officials want to be the centre of attention, and on too many occasions their decisions have a direct bearing on the result.

Of seasons in the Super League era, 2006 is the best I can remember; it felt like our presence as fans at the games really mattered. We got the boys over the line; we were the 18th man. The atmosphere was similar to the great title-chases of the late 80s and early 90s.

2019, in contrast, was dire. A stop-gap season with an interim coach and little investment on the pitch. As a result we ended up second after being poor for the most part and miles off St Helens.

I am not a fan of the new badge but I understand why they changed it. I don’t agree with the stance the RFL has taken on BLM, or the stance Wigan, specifically, took on Israel Folau but each to his own.

What the Super League clubs did with Toronto, setting them up to fail by playing ‘heads we win, tails you lose’ did not reflect well on the sport. Constant lurching from mini-crisis to mini-crisis and changes to the format and structure of the leagues, have undermined the integrity of the game.

Rugby League has made a laughing stock of itself. It is a local sport for local people. The current power struggle between Super League and the Rugby Football League is like two bald men arguing over a comb. Why does Super League need its own Chief Executive? What has he done to deserve a reported £400,000 a year?

There is no clear plan or direction from the governing body. Where will we be in one, five, fifteen years’ time, and how will they achieve their goals?

Steve Allen, Holywell, Flintshire



Martyn Sadler is a brave journalist and an astute one.

For the decline in crowds at Wigan he offers two possible explanations.

One, that Wigan fans have been spoilt by their club’s success.  I am tempted to say that he is right. A competition is seriously devalued when the same clubs dominate every year. Just three clubs: Wigan, St Helens and Leeds have won the Grand Final nineteen times out of a possible twenty-two. That is not competition. When Saracens were on their way to unbalancing the Rugby Union Premiership, the Union stepped in and clubs like Exeter were able to move to centre stage.

Two, and more contentious perhaps, that the game’s image is not attractive to the wider world. Again he is onto something. It is controversial to suggest a link of some kind with Rugby Union, but wow – when Wigan won the Middlesex Sevens, thrashed Bath, and Rugby League stars were able to fulfil closed-season, cross-code contracts, interest shot up.

It would do so again. We know how good our players are. They deserve a bigger audience.

Dennis Richards OBE, Harrogate



Would someone sit down with Steve McNamara and explain the rules to him.

“I didn’t see anything in either incident,” he said, when asked about McIlorum’s assault on Dwyer, and Tomkins’ tampering with Myler. Then after the match against St Helens, he said: “Both sin-bin incidents were harsh.”

What planet is McNamara on?

Steve Brennan, Leeds



About the standard of our refs, if Chris Kendall is our number one, god help us.

Following two infringements in the recent Hull v Catalans match, two players shared a total ban of fourteen matches between them (8 and 6). On the pitch, for the same two infringements, Chris Kendall gave only one penalty.

Doesn’t that tell you something?

Reg Jackson, Hull



With west Cumbria and the Furness area being a hotbed for Rugby league, the town of Kendal should surely have a Rugby League team. It would be great for the county and the north west area.

I would love to know whether anyone is interested in setting up a Rugby League club in the town. Matthew Tummey, Blackpool (Kendal exile)



It was interesting to note two different interpretations of the rules by two different referees, regarding certain incidents in the two semi-finals.

Mr Kendall could learn a thing or two by watching Liam Moore’s reaction to high tackles. It was ridiculous that an experienced man like him should sin-bin a player for tapping another player on the head.

Probably award a penalty, but the player being tapped was doing that same thing last season without any sanction whatever.

John Barker, Mirfield



At the start of 2020 it wasn’t beyond the realm of fantasy to think that by 2022 we could have Catalans, Toronto, London and Toulouse all playing in the top competition, and moving on another couple of years, Ottawa maybe, and either New York or Newcastle.

Not now. But if a couple of wealthy businessmen could be encouraged to develop a successful team in (say) Wales or the Midlands, at least Super League could no longer be accused of being an M62 corridor sport.

A spread of new teams however, assuming none of them managed to get relegated, would probably leave only four to five places for heartland teams. For arguments sake, let’s say five.

Five places, to be filled by two ‘old’ Lancashire teams (probably Wigan and St Helens), two ‘old’ Yorkshire teams (probably Leeds and Huddersfield) and one from Humberside (based on attendance, probably Hull FC).

What a fantastic league we could have for the Championship: Warrington, Salford, Leigh, Widnes, Bradford, Castleford, Wakefield, Featherstone, Halifax and Hull KR all providing lots of derby games supported by lots of home and away fans.

Be careful what you wish for.

Tony Evans, Warrington



Would it not be fairer, and more entertaining, to have the Championship play-offs between the top six clubs, on much the same basis as the Super League play-off?

The Board could select the two teams they considered top contenders. The next four, after a bag-draw to see who plays who, could compete in two matches, played on a Thursday and Friday.

The winners from those two games could then be entered into a draw to play the two, previously selected top teams; those two games could again be played on a Thursday and a Friday, with the Final to be played a week later.

With a bit of organisation it could all be on television and it would be a much better system of selection, with no grumbles.

James Smith, Knottingley



After the appalling incidents during the Rhinos v Catalans  Dragons game, it seems we have two jokers as referees.

How come, after the awful tackle on, and subsequent treatment of Brad Dwyer by a Catalan player, neither the referee nor the video referee picked up on it when play was halted? The same applies for the incident affecting Richie Myler. Messrs Kendall and Hicks should be reprimanded for not picking up on such play, especially as the disciplinary panel has now done so and penalised both opposing players heavily.

It has been a hard season for Super League. I am sure the fans would appreciate having their game controlled by competent referees who will stand the sport in good stead for the future. The players must take a lot of credit this season for their ability to adjust.

And please can we now be rid of ‘taking the knee’? It has made a strong point.

Bryan Tunnicliffe, Scholes



Rugby League is a physical game but there are limits.

The Catalans overstep them on many occasions and were already missing players to disciplinary measures before playing St Helens. Maloney was lucky to be shown only a yellow card for his tackle on Regan Grace.

I remember a match at Wakefield, a few years ago, when the Catalans were more interested in the physical side than they were in playing rugby. There is no place for that in Rugby League.

I have said before that the Catalans bring nothing to Super League, yet they have had more help over the years to get established than any traditional club.

Yes, it may a nice weekend over in France for a match, but that is not enough to keep a club in a competition. How much revenue do the Dragons bring to our clubs on match day? Very little, if any.  We have got rid of Toronto, but no doubt Toulouse (another team that will bring nothing to Super League) will be brought in.

No wonder local interest in our game is dwindling.

Deryck Thorp, Leeds



 Every week I see match officials being slated on social media, sometimes justifiably and sometimes not, but where are all the mature officials?

Nearly every game recently has been officiated by someone under thirty, referees who are coming through without cutting their teeth at grass-roots level. Love them or hate them, Thaler and Hicks got to the top the hard way. Ask them and they will tell you.

Why do Kendall and Moore need a match commissioner? It is referees at the lower level who need those. Former officials such as Paul Crashley could bring a wealth of knowledge to these youngsters, helping them to mature. Younger officials lack confidence and I cannot remember the last time a touch judge come onto the field to report foul play.

I am not blaming the officials; I lay the blame on people in charge at the Rugby Football League. Officials have walked away and we need to ask why. We need mature officials back in the game to help pull the youngsters through, offer encouragement and support them.

Failing that, we need to get rid of the people in power. They are ruining the game and these youngsters will end up burning out.

Philip Robinson, Keighley



Before the start of this (almost complete but) compressed Super League season, I expressed concern about the possible impact of a tightly-packed fixture list on player welfare, with particular reference to injuries.

It now seems that, more by accident of Covid 19 than by design, the actual ‘accident’ has been to fixtures, while the vast majority of players have emerged from the last few months relatively unscathed. An article in last week’s Sunday Times bears reading, however, particularly by those with an interest in the development of younger players.

I found it alarming to read in one of your recent issues, remarks by coaching staff at one club, to the effect that they are throwing young kids in: to give them a chance to show what they can do. Really?

The absence of scrums this past season has been hailed in various quarters as a success. I have not seen any statistics on tackle counts before and after that innovation, but should tackle-counts have increased, a simple equation follows.

More tackles equals more collisions.

On the possibilities of problems in later life, one medical commentator, Dr Rowena Mobbs writes: “In relation to former sportspeople, the youngest patient I have concern for is aged 29”.

Stuart Stanton, Leeds



Disappointed, disillusioned and above all disgusted Matt Carr, League Express Mailbag, 23 November hit the nail on the head about the departure of Ian Watson from Salford.

I have no issue with anyone attempting to better himself, or set himself new challenges, but this time last year we were wishing Jackson (Hastings) all the best and this season our coach. What are the issues that persuade our best assets to leave?

The manner of Watson’s going was far from professional or graceful, but in the main it was transparent.

Among many comments that have been published, one that really hurts (attributed to Ian) is that Huddersfield ‘scream to be a top four club’. That is contemptuous and disrespectful to the players, staff, and above all the supporters of Salford. If that is the full extent of Ian Watson’s regard, then it was time for him to go.  I am grateful for the unparalleled success of the last few seasons, but any club must have total faith in its coach, and vice-versa.

It is abundantly clear that although Salford respected Ian, for whatever reason he did not return that respect. As Matt Carr so eloquently said, Huddersfield games at the AJ Bell Stadium will have added significance. I look forward to the welcome Ian Watson will receive.

John Egan, Manchester