League Express Mailbag – Monday 9th November

Before I started working for the Wolfpack in June 2018, I had never watched a minute of rugby in my life. I didn’t even know there was game called Rugby League.
I really enjoyed working with you all at League Express and was holding out hope that I would go on working with you but, as they say, for the Wolfpack ‘it wasn’t meant to be’. You were all extremely fair in your coverage of the team.
It took me a while but I fell in love with the game, it is absolutely brilliant. My favourite sport to watch, and I grew up with baseball 24/7, even working in the Toronto Blue Jays media department for fifteen years, prior to joining the Wolfpack.
The players are unbelievable; I really admired the way they battle and give up their bodies to play the game they love.
You will all know, I’m sure, that it was a tough road for us at the Wolfpack, much like a roller coaster and difficult at times to navigate, being in Toronto so always five hours behind.
I do hope for the success of Rugby League. I am surely ‘preaching to the choir’ here, but the game on the pitch is so brilliant and I hope that, going forward, the governing body can match that quality at some point.
Take care everyone and be safe.
Erik Grosman, former Director of Media Relations, Toronto Wolfpack

I have long held the view that a person who earns his living out of administering a sport should not have any say in its future.
This is because those who make a living in such a way are usually transient and will often pop up at another (sometimes rival) organisation after their time is up or they are found out.
Whatever caused Rob Elstone to take up a personal crusade against Toronto may emerge in due course, but his Machiavellian plot did the game no favours.
Engaging some of his former associates from outside the game to back up his own prejudices with a so called independent report quite frankly stinks. Even Simon Johnson from the RFL appeared to question his own backing for the report, but after the event.
In contrast Michael Carter, who has battled heroically to keep Wakefield Trinity going, expressed an honest and pragmatic opinion. I don’t have his words to hand, but it was basically a position that the game has battened down the hatches and now is not the time to engage Toronto. I respect this view and his vote.
Alarmingly Mr Elstone took a swipe at the entry of Toronto into the league in the first place, citing lack of background research at the time.
So the thousands of new-found supporters who have enjoyed and enlightened the game over these last three years do not matter, nor the millions pumped in to generate this, nor Rugby League’s own fans who have enjoyed their trips out there.
If Toronto had been re-admitted and foundered after a couple of years this would not have harmed the game, only Mr LiVolsi’s pocket.
The only hope now is that Mr LiVolsi does not walk away altogether after this slap in the face. Assuming that no Rugby League will be played in Canada next year due to the virus, perhaps the project can be revived with two teams in Canada for 2022. Perhaps the Canadians have seen enough of Rugby League to want to come back.
Investment in sport is a gamble, a speculation in which the investors are prepared to lose money. Mr LiVolsi was obviously prepared to speculate and, if Toronto’s business plans had holes, then that is the nature of most business plans in sport. Usually the investors and the committed will fill any holes in the spreadsheet, perhaps as has happened at Wakefield. Optimism, faith and conviction are essential.
I would like to see the business plan that was in place when the Northern Union broke away in 1895 or when the RFL took the gamble of taking the Cup Final to Wembley in 1929.
I would also like to see Mr Elstone’s plan for Super League over the next few years. To be turning away fans and investment on the scale of Toronto, it must be a mighty impressive one.
Bill Anderson, Parbold, Lancashire

The decision to not back the return of Toronto to Super League next season has alarmed and dismayed me.
I twice watched the Wolfpack play at Lamport Stadium and followed their fans on Facebook; they have a large and enthusiastic following who do not deserve to be treated this way.
Self-serving by some Super League clubs will do them no favours. Do they want their sport to flourish or not?
I see no benefit in a separate Super League organisation under Robert Elstone, who appears to be paid for doing nothing. I cannot think of any progress made in promoting the game since his appointment; no expansion, no further sponsorship, no media presence at all.
The Committee that recommended expelling Toronto Wolfpack looked like cronyism.
Elstone never approved of Toronto; he now has his wish, while all the hard work and commitment in Canada goes to waste. We need clubs like Toronto, Catalans, Ottawa, Toulouse and New York, to spread the word that Rugby League is the greatest game of all.
As a Hunslet fan, I know what it is like to have all your hard work count for nothing. Our club lost half its fan base when we were knocked back from our rightful place in the top division. We have never recovered those lost souls. So let us not lose all those fans in Canada and here in the UK who supported Toronto.
I hope this decision can be turned around. Howl for the Wolfpack.
Paul Bezler, Horsforth

The Super League clubs have shown some bottle by refusing Toronto Wolfpack re-entry to the top tier.
Since their admittance to the league they have brought nothing to the game; having to play their early-season games here due to the weather in Canada, splashing out cash they didn’t have on over-the-hill journeymen, bringing the game into disrepute by pulling out of the season early, refusing to pay players and staff their due wages; their credibility is shot to pieces.
Well done to the other Super League clubs for not being swayed by false promises. It is time to move on and put this sorry episode behind us.
Ian Haskey, Castleford

The Super League clubs have got rid of Toronto Wolfpack as Robert Elstone hoped they would.
It must be satisfying to stab a fellow club in the back, although the Wolfpack certainly left it late to remove themselves from this season’s fixtures.
They could have been one of the central figures in Rugby League expansion, but expansion has always been a myth, as has been proved over many years. Gateshead made a good impression in their one and only season in Super League, but Hull might have faced relegation and ‘we can’t have that’, so the rug was pulled out from under Gateshead and all of a sudden Hull had a much better team.
Soon after their great win in the Challenge Cup Final, Sheffield Eagles were merged (ha, ha) with Huddersfield, who survived, whereas Sheffield are only here today because of Mark Aston regenerating the club. And London Broncos have always been seen as an annoyance, not worthy of a place in (the M62) Super League.
We are told that expansion is essential for survival, but that is only words. Everything is centred on the M62; that is what they want, so they can watch Castleford v Wakefield and Salford v Huddersfield until the sport expires.
Not long ago, Castleford and Wakefield were both told that their grounds were not up to standard, ‘Do something about it’. But have you seen much happening? Neither have I.
Toronto have a good stadium, they did a lot of good work promoting the sport in Canada, they had a good following – a lot better than quite a few of our Super League clubs. They even got good crowds when they were playing Championship teams who everybody knew they would beat.
Rugby League is a great sport played by highly skilled individuals who show great strength and intelligence. If only the people behind desks could show the same qualities.
Simon Bonfield, Wellingborough

Toronto’s ejection looked a forgone conclusion with Mr Elstone against them even before they were admitted to Super League.
I have to question the `independent’ status of the review carried out by friends and former colleagues from Elstone’s days with Everton; a mere rubber-stamping of what he told them? How did they check on sponsorship without leaving the country? The deal with Transat Airlines was very good and I am sure they had more than that.
If Toronto had been allowed a share of the TV income this problem might not have occurred, so the Super League clubs may be partly responsible. Mr Elstone is paid £400,000 a year (although at the moment he is taking a Covid pay cut) plus there are the salaries for all his team. Surely Super League hasn’t got that much money to throw around at a time when the whole game is desperate for money. Can anyone actually say what Elstone has achieved since his arrival?
Having been over to Canada to watch a game and hear supporters talk about how keen they were on the game, it seems an opportunity lost, especially as with Ottawa coming into League 1 next year, and then New York. The Wolfpack could have advised them on the pitfalls. Could the Super League board not have asked Toronto to provide a security bond of say £500k to ensure compliance?
It makes me smile that Toronto got nine to ten thousand supporters at every home game. Half of Super League would like to achieve that (Huddersfield, Castleford, Salford, Wakefield and Hull KR plus, no doubt, whichever team they admit next year). Toronto was never going to take off over-night but it was worth sticking with a little longer. The people who voted against Toronto being re-admitted would also have voted against Melbourne Storm being granted a licence.
Sky is now owned by a North American company. It will be interesting to see how the deal on offer to Rugby League differs, if Sky Sports sees this as having lost the opportunity to showcase a North American team.
David Richardson, Tyne and Wear

I do hope that the unlucky club selected to become the 12th team in 2021 will ensure that before they sign the contract that they are exempted from relegation for at least three years, subject to them making reasonable progress in the top tier.
Both Leigh and London Broncos have been promoted and quickly relegated, while I understand they received the full allocation of funding.
Catalan Dragons might not exist now if they had not been given eight years when they were exempt from relegation. It has taken them many years to build up a top-six squad.
If the promoted club receives £1 million and only has a few months to secure out-of-contract players, then the result can only be that they finish bottom for possibly three years. There is no point in promotion on a reduced budget to be followed by quick relegation.
No such assistance has been given to Toronto. The League Express editorial of 2nd November described the Super League report into Toronto as a hatchet job and an article in the same edition disclosed that some members involved in the report were close associates of Robert Elstone, who presumably dictated the required report detail in advance. The League Express at least had access, which the ordinary fan does not.
I hope that some way can be found to bring the Wolfpack back to the fold, as they were the most exciting expansion project in my lifetime of watching the game. If they return and fail then at least we can say we gave them a reasonable chance.
Perhaps the RFL can succeed where the Super League has clearly failed in a season that is a mess due to Covid 19, in which few clubs have finished without cancellations of matches and none have fully completed the intended shortened season.
Best of luck to the six remaining teams. It would be nice to see a new Grand Final winner, be it Warrington, Catalans or Hull.
Victor Crewes, Richmond upon Thames

Whatever criteria are used to decide who should be promoted to Super League for the 2021 season, the decision must be based on a longer-term plan that that.
Timescales, recruitment, share of Sky Sports money? There should be no relegation from Super League in 2021; the promoted team will be at a distinct disadvantage.
To keep the Championship teams, give them a target to aim for. Promotion for two teams in 2022, creating a fourteen-team Super League with each team playing the other thirteen once at home and once away, with normal promotion and relegation reintroduced for the 2023 season.
Can Rugby League plan that far ahead?
Dave Bell, Hull

Common sense and standard protocols appear to have been observed at last, as the Super League clubs voted to bar Toronto Wolfpack from their competition.
We now face two more issues. Should they be allowed to enter the lower tiers, and who should replace them in Super League for 2021?
With luck, Championship teams that have already had to travel to the ‘frozen north’ will follow the Super League lead and bar them from re-entering that competition. Despite the assurances given, it would be foolhardy to allow them to re-enter.
Having many years of sport administration experience, the problem of teams being unable to fulfil their obligations is not new to me. The inevitable question is who will replace that team.
Super League could invite the most recent team relegated to take the vacant position, which In this case would be London Broncos. Another way would be to invite the team knocked out in the ‘Million Pound’ game to take up the position, which would be Featherstone Rovers.
John Egan, Manchester

Surely not even Super League and the RFL can pick another French team in the middle of a pandemic, can they?
David Sowden, Kellington

Brian McDermott said on Sky Sports prior to the Salford v Wakefield match that Super League made a big mistake expelling Toronto from the game, but for me the mistake was letting them into the competition in the first place.
He also said the Wolfpack got there by promotion. True, but they were a full-time squad of Super League players taking on part-timers.
Letting in the Catalans was a mistake. Phil Clarke said we needed more people attending matches but that won’t come by including teams based in other countries. The best way is more local derbies. Featherstone, Bradford and Leigh in Super League playing St Helens, Warrington, Wigan and so on. That would bring more people into grounds and sponsorship and matchday hospitality would hopefully increase.
So who will the boffins bring in?
My money is on Toulouse, which will be a kick in the teeth for hardworking, traditional clubs.
Credit to Wakefield for completing as many matches as they have under the circumstances.
Deryck Thorp, Leeds

What a boring pot Supper League is becoming, with the same old teams playing each other every week.
Toronto was the best thing to happen to the game in fifty years.
Rugby League will go downhill fast now.
To make it look like a Super League there should be sixteen teams. Get shot of Robert Elstone.
I will pack in my television Rugby League package next week.
Eric Hall, Leigh

Here’s my little wish list for next season, should it ever arrive.
Referees to stop denying opposition teams a penalty by coaching the offending side that they are not square or are offside.
Alteration to the ten-metre rule so as not to include a player who is not involved in nor interfering with play.
An end to the referee’s on-field decision which results in two different scenarios for the same situation and is often decided on his decision anyway, despite him not having seen it.
Last, but not least, can Baz, Tez and Wellsy cut out the comedy, stop endlessly wittering on about what has no relevance to what’s happening on the pitch and please shut up, if only for five minutes.
Good luck if your team is in the play-offs and a Happy Christmas and a safe New Year to one and all.
Malcolm Bastow, Leeds

Here we go again on the Covid roundabout, another game postponed after positive tests.
Clubs take precautions at the club and at training; players also have a responsibility to take precautions off the field. A lot of Rugby League clubs are in Tier 2 or Tier 3 Covid areas; that should make players aware of what not to do when not training or playing.
It is not a lot to ask. The New Zealand Warriors spent months away from their families. Melbourne Storm `went through hoops’ to carry on playing. No game, no money, no job they realised; in their case well-paid jobs. If Super League players carry on like this we could have one Grand Final club unable to play. Rugby Union nearly did, with Wasps.
Some Super League players may think this virus will not affect them but they have an obligation to the sport to stay virus free. No work no job; no play, no money. What are the Super League clubs doing about it and the Supper League administration?
John Wheeler Sandbach

The recent Saints v Wigan derby was described by your reporter, Callum Walker, as “rip-roaring, tenacious and gripping entertainment”. No penalties, no score after 30 minutes; only five penalties in the entire match.
For me, brought up on Jack Winstanley and Eric Thompson, Callum Walker is a real find. His bits of history and flair for language show his love for the game. More power to his pen!
Last weekend I settled down to watch the Union internationals. It was dreary, several pundits struggled to say anything relevant, blaming it all on the weather, and soon I was looking for something to read.
Martin King, Wigan

Being away from Rugby League land for a while, but still regarding Salford as my second favourite club, I was heartened by the Salford fans turning out at the A J Stadium to greet the homecoming Red Devils.
Whilst Leeds were impressive on the day, I think many fans across the world were hoping Salford would swing it, if only because their club is trying to keep top-class Rugby League going, only four miles away from one of the biggest sporting franchises in the known universe – Manchester United.
I sincerely hope Ian Watson will stay with Salford. If you cut Watson he bleeds the Ship Canal.
He is also as Salfordian as Shelagh Delaney, Joy Division and chips, peas and gravy. But when the madness of this period of human history is over, will Salfordians come out and back him with money through the turnstiles? I hope so.
Come on Salford – don’t let one of your finest sons go elsewhere.
Mickey Devlin, Warrington

The Black Lives Matter issue highlighted differing views on where the game stands today on the race issue, while agreeing on the whole that Rugby League has a track-record superior on diversity to many other sports.
Sky Sports television recently highlighted, amongst other black Rugby League players of distinction, the contribution of Roy Francis as both player and coach. Those not au-fait with his remarkable life and career will find a detailed account on the BBC website, which I encourage them to read.
Francis’ playing and coaching talent were widely respected in the North of England, though his coaching methods were ahead of those common at the time. In Australia however, he appears to have met racial prejudice from some leading figures, not least among them the Harry Sunderland of our Grand Final ‘Man of the Match’ trophy.
While evidence of discrimination against Roy Francis may be difficult to substantiate, might this be a good time to rename it the ‘Roy Francis Trophy’? More appropriate perhaps, in these enlightened times, although the usual caveats must apply.
Australians then were living in a country where the ‘White Australia’ policy had been dominant for many years and certain cultural traits, abhorrent to most of us today, were generally accepted.
Gerry Wright, Bradford