League Express Mailbag : Monday 7th December


Icons of the game retiring, a youngster grabbing the spotlight, the goalposts playing a big part, non-stop action, effort and skill, grace in respecting Sean O’Loughlin with a guard of honour – what a wonderful spectacle.

Two Wigan lads; Makinson kicked and hit the post, Welsby ran, grabbed and scored as the hooter sounded. For a Wiganer, agony and ecstasy.

League Express covered it very well and I share Martyn Sadler’s concern in, “Does the World Know?” Why hasn’t some world entrepreneur seen the mass appeal of this fast, skilful, gladiatorial, visual feast, while so many ‘misery guts’ are content to let it wither away on the M62?

I went with Wigan in 1987 to Milwaukee for a match against Warrington but it was played on a postage-stamp sized baseball pitch. Maybe, besides importing players and coaches, we should import some business brains to brand and market this superb product.

Congratulations to Matthew Shaw, who captured the passion and brilliance of the game. His words, “You have provided escapism and normality in these most uncertain, most mentally challenging times,” putting it into the context of the pandemic.

Well done to both of you.

Martin King, Wigan



In Super League we have three teams – Salford, Huddersfield and Wakefield – in operation for a hundred years or more, yet unable between them to muster crowds of twelve thousand. They are followed closely by Hull KR and Castleford, and in my opinion, these clubs are always going to struggle.

Five barely viable teams, involved in deciding the fate of the Toronto Wolfpack – a club in operation for only three years yet averaging home crowds of eight to ten thousand. The decision that Toronto should be thrown out of the league beggars belief.

The club coming in to replace them next season, unless it is Bradford, will struggle to get crowds of four thousand. This is what is known as progress.

Walter Cunningham, St Helens



Martyn Sadler cited a number of  ‘what ifs’ that could have led to a Grand Final victory for Wigan, but he missed what I consider to be the most significant left-out decision in the match.

What if Leuluai had been sin-binned, or worse, for cleaning out James Graham’s rib cage in front of the Wigan posts?

Graham was nowhere near the ball, and the referee took no action despite being no more than five metres away.

Phil Howard, Hull



On reading of Sir Rodney Walker’s support for Featherstone Rovers’ application to join Super League in 2020, long-serving Rovers’ supporters will have shaken their heads in disbelief. Twenty-five years ago, Sir Rodney and his colleague Maurice Lindsay at the RFL were drivers of ‘Calder’, a soulless amalgamation of Rovers, Wakefield Trinity and Castleford.

Some of us fought valiantly against trashing the birth-rights of historic clubs’ only the Wakefield Trinity directors at the time had any enthusiasm for the idea. Castleford and Featherstone supporters mounted demonstrations at their remaining games that season, while minority shareholders like myself, at Trinity, did what we could to appeal over the heads of the directors, to fans who were not shareholders.

The infamous  merger plan was rescinded not long after Castleford defeated Trinity 86-0, in a defiant show of ‘we can stand alone’, but the prior machinations condemned both Rovers and Trinity to the second tier of the game. Ironically, Trinity gained promotion in 1998 by beating Rovers in the second-tier play-off final, though Rovers’ fans were aggrieved that a Rovers’ try was disallowed at a crucial point in the game. The arguments used by Sir Rodney today were just as pertinent twenty-five years ago, but only some of us, regarded with contempt by ‘progressives’ at the time, could see the longer-term picture.

The Rovers current application has the backing of Neil Fox. It is a tragedy that the authorities have not used his rich experience more widely over the years, with regard both to policy matters and involvement with players on the international scene. The same could be said for Johnny Whiteley, and the generation of players who experienced beating the Australians in matches that mattered.

Gary Schofield has pointed out regularly in this newspaper that, in Australia, they involve players in international preparation. They are treated with the respect they deserve, not just trotted out for a round of applause at dinners to please sponsors. Neglect of `what went before’ on the playing field and off is a weakness in how Rugby League is administered in the modern era.

Both Neil Fox and Johnny Whiteley have kept up with the modern game, and despite their age cannot be considered out of touch. The waste of past expertise has been criminal over the years. Perhaps recent retirees may be invited to get on board, to assist in the development of future international players and so on.

But there again, we do things differently in this country.

Gerry Wright, Bradford



Is there a reason why St Helens did not convert their final try in the Grand Final?

I am sure that many fans who had bets on a six-point win (in what was expected to be a very tight match), plus other fans who’s bets were spoiled by St Helens’ failure to convert, would appreciate an explanation.

Anthony Jones, Dewsbury



I read recently that, in its ending, the 2020 Grand Final was similar to the 1971 Challenge Cup Final, with Wigan the unfortunate losers on both occasions after having finished at the top of the table.

Wigan were the unlucky team when I attended the 1971 final at Swinton, having on that occasion been the better side on the day, but this year’s final was deservedly won by St Helens.

Wigan have only themselves to blame, with Hardaker missing two difficult but kickable shots and French fatally hesitating when clearing Makinson’s attempted drop-goal.

Chris Birtles, Manchester



Sean O’Loughlin is retiring from Rugby League and I hope he has a long and comfortable retirement.

For me however, there is one problem. I appreciate that Sean has been a wonderful ball-handler but he should have retired a couple of years ago, at least. For the whole of the last two years he has been perpetually used as Wigan’s ‘hard man in the tackle’, to slow down the opposition’s play the ball.

It has been depressing to see him reduced to that way of playing. I wondered which Wigan player will now replace him in that role.

Chris Tyldesley, Manchester



Huge congratulations to St Helens on retaining the Super League Trophy, in what was probably the most exciting end ever, not to just a game but to a season.

Commiserations to Wigan on being on the receiving end of that fantastic finish. I am surely not alone in being thankful that it wasn’t my team suffering, at the end of such an exciting game. I’m not sure if I could ever have recovered.

Garry Schofield alluded to the following question in his column last week, and I would like to know the answer; should Saints have taken the conversion at the end?

Did anyone miss scrums? Maybe your paper could do a survey on the subject.

Geoffrey Bagley, Leeds



While appreciating that space in League Express is limited, and that the editor has the final word, I was disheartened to see that you edited my letter last week to such an extent that it barely made logical sense.

The point was to bring attention to the hidden, latent dangers of dementia and related conditions in collision sports, a category Rugby League prides itself on being. A message I took from respected coaches Geoff Peggs and Phil Larder, when I took instruction back in the 1980’s.

Perhaps a remark from David Walsh that both codes of rugby are content to hide behind their Head Injury Protocols, sums it up better than I can. Walsh went on to name Andrew Johns and Wally Lewis as having disturbing conditions, probably related to head contact, and this week on the football pages we read of Jurgen Klopp’s outspoken demand for players to be protected from excessive games – and by implication, excessive injury.

I hope you will give this subject serious consideration in a future issue. Rugby League leads the sporting field in so many ways but could be sitting on a medical time-bomb.

Stuart Stanton, Leeds



I am organising a sponsored walk to help Bob Burrow’s drive to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

We will be walking from Barnsley to Wakefield, on the 16th January 2021, and we are looking for more people to do the walk, or help us raise funds, or Donate a raffle prize. We already have a Just Giving page set up, and if people message me I will give the details when they get in touch. Thank you.

Andrew Perry, Barnsley



Last week, Sir Clive Woodward, Rugby Union World Cup 2003 coach, and Matt Dawson, BBC Rugby Commentator, had harsh things to say about the Union game.

“Rugby has become the most exasperating, infuriating and, occasionally, completely unwatchable game,” said Sir Clive. “Players are like pre-programmed robots, kicking the ball endlessly and aimlessly, it’s killing the game and is a huge turn-off for any casual sports fan. It’s ponderous, predictable, boring and mostly devoid of skill”.

In the course of his comments Matt Dawson said; “In the England vs Wales match there were only five offloads in the entire game. Some scrums go on for four or five minutes. Rugby Union is turgid. We are not seeing any amazing passes or great tries.”

Compare those descriptions with some of the great rugby we have seen in the Challenge Cup and Grand Final, to name only two examples.

There is a great opportunity for Rugby League to present itself as by far the better game to watch and play. How can we take advantage?

George Hall, Matlock



Garry Schofield was very harsh with his criticism of Bevan French in the Grand Final.

The video replay shows that, when the attempted drop-goal hit the post French had to take a backward step, to try to catch the ball, then change direction when the ball bounced forward. The ball then took a massive bounce away from French and towards Welsby.

French did nothing wrong and cannot be faulted. There have been numerous great Rugby League players over the years who have been made to look foolish by the bounce of a rugby ball. Even Garry Schofield must have suffered the ignominy at times.

Jack Welsby summed up the situation well.  Whereas he had a really good angle on where the ball was bouncing, he said, French had to re-adjust his feet and could not see the ball as easily.

Ian Watkinson, Wigan



I have neither heard nor read any mention anywhere of Welsby pushing French out of the way, in his chase to ground the ball, though I have previously seen tries of virtually the same nature disallowed in Grand Finals, and in other games.

It points to this having been very strange season, in which ‘play on’ has seemed to be the `mantra’, adopted for all but the really obvious infringements. And even the really obvious was ignored by both Kendall and, inexplicably, the video-referee Hicks in the Catalans v Leeds play-off game.

Add to that, all the many infringements which are now considered ‘the norm’, and I hope from next season, regulations are closely examined and edicts issued, so that both on-field and referees will be held more readily to account.

Leigh Treymaine, Chorley,



What a Grand Final. It has to be the greatest Grand Final since 1998.

We didn’t know who was going to win until after the final hooter sounded, Makinson kicked the drop goal and missed it, young Jack Welsby scored a last–gasp try, and the two teams put on a great defensive show for all to see.

Well done to all of the clubs on getting this 2020 Super League season completed.

On December 16th, Super League will choose a new 12th club to replace Toronto Wolfpack. For me, it was a mistake kicking them out of Super League; I can`t see how another team from North America can make any progress, especially with Robert Elstone in charge.

The 12th club has to be Toulouse Olympique, they were top of the Championship in March, before the lock-down, and it would generate so much interest and money to have a French derby in Super League.

I hope they make a wise choice.

Joe Vince, Colchester