League Express Mailbag – some letters from December and January


Your ‘Up Front’ column last week suggested there is no room for the Magic Weekend in 2021. This ignores the fact that the date was fixed last year and thousands of fans have booked their hotels and seats already.
With the good progress being made in the national vaccination scheme, there must be an excellent chance of spectators being allowed back by late May.
If there is to be a choice between the Magic Weekend and the game against the Exiles, then I believe most fans would vote for the former.
John Andrews, St Annes on Sea


There has been much talk, both in this paper and in general, about the expansion of Rugby League both here and abroad, with some for and some against.  Shaun Wane would love to see the expansion of the game. Quoting his experience at Jacksonville Jaguars (LE 180121) when he showed them laptop coverage of our game: “They couldn’t believe it when I said our guys wear no protective clothing, just jerseys. They loved it.”
This year’s World Cup in England surely gives us the best chance ever to promote the game both here and worldwide. For the first time ever it includes the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, culminating with the doubleheader finals to be played at Old Trafford on Saturday, November 27th.
With a total of 61 matches being played in 19 different stadiums, of which only ten are regular Rugby League grounds, what better chance will we ever have both to promote in this country and to advertise the skills of the game worldwide? For those who don’t know, the non-Rugby League venues cover the following towns and cities: Bolton, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Coventry.
I was more than delighted last year to hear that Clare Balding was to become president. She stated that her grandmother grew up in Knowsley not far from the St Helens ground. She loved Rugby League and described it as a ‘proper sport’. Indeed they both used to watch the Challenge Cup final every year.
Clare also stated that she hoped to be able to have some influence, with her media background, on trying to make the most of showing – outside Rugby League’s core audience areas – just how extraordinary a sport it is, how diverse it is and the opportunities that it brings.
To date however, I have sadly heard little from either her, from RFL Chief Executive, Ralph Rimmer, or from other members of the board about their efforts in promoting the forthcoming tournament. Come on gang, it is now only eight months away. Where are the promotional posters on billboards and buses? Where are the press statements?
There is nothing in the heartland areas, so what chance in the five other towns and cities across the UK? It’s good that the BBC has secured comprehensive rights to all thirty-one senior games, and have promised coverage of at least sixteen as well as making the other matches available via the red button, and on 5 Live, but they need help.  It is our best chance ever to capture a whole new audience.
Richard Sanderson, Beadnell, Northumberland


The RFL and Super League need to think really hard about the structure for the 2021 Challenge Cup. It is silly that only three League 1 teams are going to compete.
It is a domestic competition. All teams from all leagues should compete and the rule should change that sees Super League’s bigger sides enter later on in the competition.
In the FA Cup, you don’t see sides like Manchester United and Liverpool enter in the latter stages of the competition. That competition produced a couple of David and Goliath ties with Chorley v Wolves and Cheltenham vs Manchester City.
We should have that in the Challenge Cup with, for example, Siddal v Wigan and West Hull v St Helens. The BBC could put those two games on back-to-back, one after each other, and it would generate a huge TV audience, some of which may not have ever watched a Rugby League match before.
Joe Vince, Colchester


I was interested to read in League Express Championship news, 25th January, that Whitehaven’s new signing Lachlan Walmsley has a Scottish passport. Can anyone advise me where (as a Scotsman of sixty years standing) I can get one?
Joe Blessing, Glasgow


On behalf of many Championship and League 1 Clubs, I wish to take Garry Schofield to task on his desire to shut these Leagues down for the coming season (Pulling No Punches, Jan 18 & 25).
He cites the closure of training grounds at Leeds and Huddersfield as examples of the need to do this, saying that if Super League clubs can’t contain the virus amongst their players, then lower-level clubs have no chance. Yet at Bradford there has been not one positive test result; not in the November and December break, not during the lockdown, nor in the two weeks since they have been allowed back to training. I am sure other clubs can claim similar results.
Perhaps Bradford and others have the correct protocols and procedures in place and some of the elite clubs have not?
I might suggest that Mr Schofield have his job deferred for twelve months and spare us all his unwanted opinions, but I won’t. It is not my job to influence others with my opinions. He was undoubtedly a great player, but now…..?
Anthony Sutcliffe, Sutton-on-Sea


Wonders will never cease. I have actually read something Garry Schofield has written in League Express and agreed with it.
The Challenge Cup should be played without seedings giving lower league and non-league clubs the opportunity to take on the big guns (Pulling No Punches, Jan 25). There is always the chance of a banana-skin tie, and some of the non-professional players will get to play against their heroes in their own ‘Cup Final’.
It might even increase viewing figures across the various broadcasting platforms.
Paul Roberts, Grimsby


I sincerely disagree with the panel that voted Leigh to replace Toronto in Super League. Leigh is a small town between Wigan and Salford and only survived one season in Super League in 2017.
I accept that Toronto had to be kicked out of Super League for not fulfilling fixtures but they should have been relegated to a lower league. There should then have been a top-four play-off to decide on promotion to Super League. But if there had to be a panel they should have voted for Toulouse, who were top of the Championship and have a massive ground. The local derbies with Catalans would have been full houses.
On the subject of franchising, brought up in last week’s League Express by Denis Betts, I should remind him that Widnes were promoted through franchising and were relegated as soon as franchising was ended. Promotion and relegation should be decided on the pitch.
Finally, I agree with more than 30,000 other signatories that Kevin Sinfield should be knighted for raising more than £2.5 million for Rob Burrow and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Rugby League is the only major professional sport I know that has never has a player receive a knighthood.
Graham Hudson, Hull


I have every sympathy with Rob Burrow’s health situation and I have contributed to the fund. I also admire the effort Kevin Sinfield has made with his marathons. The amount of money raised has been amazing.  However, to suggest that Sinfield should get a knighthood is a little over the top. I know they tend to be given out like confetti these days but I’m sure there will be more deserving cases – within the NHS for example.
One Rugby League player who should have had one is Neil Fox, the highest points scorer the game has ever seen and or is likely to see, and he’s not even on the Rugby League statue at Wembley.
There was Rugby League before Super League, when it was played in winter by semi-professional players; not on big contracts but on winning and losing pay, on cold, wet, muddy pitches, and with not many substitutions, if any. Those players worked, trained in the evenings, didn’t have all the modern treatments, gyms, and so on, and made real sacrifices, so before we get carried away with it all, let”s take a moment to think about that.
Have a special Rob Burrow award of some kind, yes, but save the medals for the real heroes.
Deryck Thorp, Leeds


My thanks to League Publications, and in particular the authors Tim Butcher and Daniel Spencer, for another magnificent Rugby League Yearbook. I have just received my copy and once again it tells me everything I could ever want to know about the Rugby League year.
This has been a year like no other. At one time I thought the season might never get going again and of course it didn’t, for competitions other than Super League and the NRL. I am sure that in the fullness of time, the 2020 Yearbook will become a collectors’ item, chronicling as it does an unforgettable season.
I wish everyone at League Express and all your readers the very best for Christmas and the New Year. I shall miss League Express next Monday, but I am sure your staff deserve a welcome break.
David Johnson, Harrogate


Here’s a suggestion for League Express on how to fill a few pages during the off–season. How about publishing some Rugby League Facts – trivia and lists. It would also be interesting to see what the rules are for the game we love.
Happy Christmas and stay safe everyone.
Joe Vince, Colchester


How can Denis Betts compare the NRL (a sixteen team competition all in one league) with our full- and part-time teams in three separate leagues (League Express, 14 December)?
Licensing was a joke the first time it was introduced. Clubs have ambition and need something to aim for. They also need drive, of course, and luck with injuries, but there must be an achievable end result for teams to focus on or what is the point of playing matches?
Regrettably, there will always be one or more teams relegated, but that is the beauty of all sport at all levels, and may happen for any number of reasons.
It is hard work to encourage supporters to attend matches, but to have licensing brought back is certainly not one solution.
Ian Haskey, Castleford


Congratulations to Leigh Centurions on being only eight miles from the M62. We will shed no tears for the Toronto Wolfpack, who are 3,420 miles from the ‘Highway to Hull’.
There is now only one more step before the RFL’s ‘Grand Contraction Plan’ is complete. I understand that a deal has been done to sell Odsal Stadium to the owners of Stott Hall Farm, who have described it as an ideal environment for the expansion of their pig-farming enterprise.
In return, the RFL has gained permission to build a modest new stadium on Stott Hall farm. For anyone unaware of that farm’s location, it is the one between the West and East bound carriageways of the M62, on the Pennine section of the M6 motorway, home ground of the newly named ‘Scammonden Dragons’.
Brian Miles, Horsforth


The panel assessing applications for promotion to Super League said that all six submissions were of a high quality. That statement emphasises the urgent need there is to review the current, virtually closed-shop nature of Super League. Either all six teams that applied should be allowed in, or the relegation and promotion system should be changed to allow three Super League clubs to be relegated each year, and three Championship clubs promoted. And don’t anyone say more notice is required. When Super League was reduced by two – namely Bradford and London – very little notice was given.
Clifford Sanders, Leeds


Has anybody else noticed the incredible similarity of Castleford coach Daryl Powell to the popular Swedish TV detective Kurt Wallander, played by Kenneth Branagh?
Similar facial features, almost identical hairstyles and even the same walk. Perhaps Daryl could have a go at playing Wallander, or maybe another famous Branagh role – Henry V perhaps or, better still, Hamlet.
In the meantime, Kenneth might fancy having a crack at guiding the Tigers to glorious victory in the Theatre of Dreams.
Malcolm Rich, Blaydon



Your profiling of Bradford Bulls for the vacant Super League place was all wrong. Sure, there was a club (a succession of clubs) with that same name, with those same colours and playing on that same ground for a while, which gained the honours you listed. But that was not the same Bradford Bulls club as now exists.
If the succession had been seamless then debts owed; to suppliers, to me (via HMRC), to players, staff, and supporters who dug deep would have been paid.
You should be lauding instead, the fact that – having been incorporated only in the spring of 2017 – should the current ‘Bradford Bulls’ be awarded this promotion to Super League, they will have achieved that honour in the shortest time ever.
David Taylor, Kendal