League Express Mailbag – Monday 5th October

I was amazed to read that in order to help the Board make a decision on Toronto, an “objective reassessment” will be made of the value and viability of growth for Rugby League in the North American market.
Does that mean the Toronto Wolfpack, Ottawa and New York were admitted without an independent evaluation? Does it mean that the former owner of Toronto Wolfpack has been allowed to spend a vast personal fortune, without the RFL and Super League boards having serious backup plans in case things go wrong at any stage?
Does it mean no evaluation of future TV contracts for the North American market have been investigated? The strongly suggested answer to those questions is no.
On 24th September 2020, the Times newspaper reported that Rob Howley, the famous Wales Rugby Union player and coach, had been appointed a backroom member of the Canada Rugby Union team and consultant to the Toronto Arrows. He is to spend twenty weeks a year with the national team and ten weeks a year advising Toronto Arrows, one of the twelve Rugby Union teams that make up Major League Rugby in North America.
Lee Radford has already joined Rugby Union in the USA. You can see the future so clearly.
Toronto Wolfpack have had the media’s full attention since 2017, with their home attendances larger than all but Wigan, St Helens, Hull, Leeds, Warrington and perhaps Catalans here. Their matchday experience, as shown on TV, was amazing, maybe the best since Bradford in their great days, twenty years ago.
So what happens next?
1) Toronto Wolfpack’s application to re-join Super League is rejected, as the Super League board does not have a future vision for the game, nor is there any backup plan for owners pulling out or adverse events like Covid 19.
2) Rob Howley arrives in Toronto; there is a flood of media action to convince the Toronto public that the Wolfpack is dead but they can support the Toronto Arrows instead.
3) Rugby Union is the future, never mind the long delays for set scrums, rolling mauls, lineouts and wingers who see the ball only a few times each match.
4) Fans switch to the Arrows because Rugby League is not viable in Canada.
5) Ottawa and New York owners decide the game has no future in North America and pull out because the Super League board does not have a commercial or financial plan for the future of the game.
No problem then. At least the game can concentrate on its M62 heartland in England and the corridor between Perpignan and Toulouse in France.
No problem – Sky TV loves to support small regional sports with no plans for the future, not even for London.
I have supported Rugby League in London since the first match against Wigan in 1980 and have yet to see any plan to make the game great there.
The only great days in London were when Richard Branson was the owner. David Hughes has invested a personal fortune to keep the club alive, but with no real help to build another `Melbourne Storm’ outside ‘the heartlands’.
Victor Crewes, Richmond upon Thames

“Rugby League never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” said sports historian and author Professor Tony Collins, interviewed by Dave Woods for a recent BBC Rugby League podcast.
With over 65 years as a Saints supporter, I think I know my Rugby League history, but I was amazed to hear some of the examples mentioned, of opportunities to expand and market the game over the past 125 years.
It’s beyond the scope of this letter to give many examples; suffice to say that in the early days of the Northern Union there were golden opportunities for Welsh clubs, and even Leicester to switch codes.
To quote Professor Collins, the Rugby Football Union ‘turned a blind eye to payments’ by their clubs. Hypocrisy springs to mind.
In the 1940s, a Canadian (RU) club in Nova Scotia wrote to the RFL requesting rule-books and advice as they wanted to switch codes, but nothing was done to help. Toronto now presents the sport with another opportunity; one not to be missed or Rugby Union will move in. In fact, a ‘Major League Rugby’ (Union) competition has already started in the USA and Canada.
The professor predicts that many sports in the future will transcend international boundaries.
New York is the world’s most marketable city. Its logo can be seen all around the world on baseball caps, fashion and other sportswear. A Rugby League team could tap into this market easily. There is no Rugby League club in England, with the possible exception of London, which could come anywhere close to matching this global footprint.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill: ‘The further one looks back in history, the further one can see into the future’. Rugby League has 125 years to look back on. Let’s hope our game has learned from missed opportunities. Toronto may have had internal problems, but they cannot be blamed for the coronavirus pandemic’s knock-on consequences. They have sent many a global organisation to the wall.
I cannot understand why so momentous a decision as Toronto’s inclusion should be left in the hands of clubs with a vested interest. Some with vision will put the future of the game ahead of their own club, but others will not wish to accept a (slightly) smaller slice of the cake.
If there is a question of Christmas being cancelled this year, I wonder if turkeys will be given a vote.
John Meadows, Los Alcazares, Spain

It appears that Mr LiVolsi will only maintain his interest in Toronto Wolfpack if certain conditions are met.
a) If the club is given a share of the Sky Sports television funds and
b) If the Wolfpack are not forced play in the Championship.
That sounds like coercion to me.
Does it also mean that he would not accept relegation, if the Wolfpack were to finish bottom of Super League?
Angie Austin, Chorley

I was brought up reading Eric Thompson and Jack Winstanley on Rugby League, and I was always thrilled by their way with words.
Eric labelled Vince Karalius ‘Wild Bull of the Pampas’. I could re-live the drama, poetry and passion of a brutal but beautiful game in those days.
So imagine my delight at reading Callum Walker likening Wakefield’s spirited and skilful tilt at Wigan to the 7,000 Spartans going down fighting at Thermopylae, against a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand strong Persian army.
I also enjoyed Martyn Sadler’s balanced reading of the game (who would have thought he had a soft spot for Trinity?) and I agree with him about the video referee.
Well done by them both. Always a good read.
Martin King, Wigan

Do we have to learn a different language for listening to Sky Sports commentary, in particular from Barrie McDermott?
Rugby League is played on a pitch, not a field. That’s where farmers graze their cattle or grow crops. It’s not a paddock; that’s where horses are kept. It’s not a park; that’s where people go to walk or children to play. It’s not an island; I’ve never seen a pitch surrounded by water.
When a team kicks to touch they improve their position, they don’t buy land, that’s what builders and property developers do. They don’t buy or gain territory, that’s what governments do.
In this world we have standardisation. There are sixty seconds in a minute, so a player doesn’t play ‘big minutes’ or ‘long minutes’. A player can play more minutes, but they are all the same length.
I’m writing this in case new viewers switch on and need a translation.
David Ramsden, Bournemouth

A Challenge Cup Final pairing of Leeds and Salford was arguably the least expected to emerge from the weekend’s semi-finals.
The teams’ triumphs owe much to their respective demonstrations of high mental toughness during contrasting contests.
The confidence (Leeds showed the self-belief to execute a game plan that utterly smothered Wigan); the constancy (Salford prevailed when faced with almost overwhelming Warrington pressure); and the control (the discipline both teams, especially Leeds, showed to avoid conceding penalties and yielding possession and territorial advantage) were decisive factors.
This is the final many neutrals, including myself, hoped for.
Yet again, when all other potential influences are reasonably equitable, it is the mindset – Leeds’ of complete domination, Salford’s a refusal to give in — that is the difference.
Michael Sheard, Northallerton

The recent St Helens v Wigan derby left me wondering if some Sky commentators are biased towards the young Wigan side.
If I had only listened to the match, I could have been forgiven for thinking that Wigan had won it, or at least pushed St Helens close.
I completely understand the need to support young players; their efforts are to be applauded. But the derby was a complete mismatch.
Saints, with a number of youngsters on display, may even feel a touch disappointed they did not post more points. The gulf between the sides was a long way from what a derby would normally see. It was left to Phil Clarke to point that out.
I agree with Wigan resting players for a semi-final (though I remember Saints being criticised for doing the same before a final). They had earned the right to do so and I do appreciate the impact of Covid-19 on the sport.
However, let us not get too carried away with the display from the side they fielded.
Simon Hignett, Penshaw

A Wigan v Saints derby? Brilliant; best games in the UK Super League by far.
A Wigan v Saints derby a few days before the semi-final of the Challenge Cup? Utterly bewildering! Whoever scheduled that game, then didn’t reschedule it, should take a bow for pure stupidity. There is no excuse.
It ruined my night, and a struggling sport doesn’t need that.
Lee Davies, Newquay

What a nice change, to read something in the Daily Mail other than controversial issues like Brexit, Covid 19, and ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Prince Harry was interviewed and said that he can’t wait for his son, Archie to grow up so he can teach him to play Rugby League. I hope that by then he is still patron to the greatest game in the word.
Good on ya, mate!
John Mawdsley, Warrington

Having read Bernie Eccleston’s letter in last week’s Mailbag, I say ‘amen to that guy from Thirsk’.
Like him, I was hoping that concessions for the World Cup would include the ‘silver brigade’, but Jon Dutton appears to have abandoned us. Why?
I have spent sixty years following this beautiful game, the vast majority via the adult turnstile.
As Bernie points out, age catches up with everybody. My income on retirement will only be a pension, so how can you justify charging us the same price as salaried fans?
Words like unfair, thoughtless and rip-off spring to mind. As lovers of this sport, especially the international game, I and three fellow ‘Lions’ (one of whom is now of the age where we presumed concessions would apply) have already ordered tickets for twenty-six games in the men’s competition.
‘We’ve got his dosh so what the hell,’ I imagine is the thought process,
I reckon more will follow Bernie Eccleston’s route than will follow mine, which will mean empty seats that could have been filled with a little more thought from the powers-that-be.
Perhaps, via this page, Jon Dutton would be good enough to explain why this dirty deed has been done, to those who have spent their entire lives putting money into ‘The Greatest Game’.
It’s the least he could do, but I won’t hold my breath.
Jon Spellman, Eccles