Local knowledge vital to aid return to action

The Rugby Football League spent the latter part of last week, and will be busy over the next few days, working through lists of teams that are keen to enjoy friendly matches later this month and in November.

Grassroots sides have, as revealed in last week’s League Express, been given the opportunity to play fortnightly from Saturday 17 October – the day of the Coral Challenge Cup Final – and expressions of interest had been requested by Red Hall bosses by last Friday.

The Rugby Football League’s Director of Participation and Development Marc Lovering emailed clubs on Friday with a detailed update on coronavirus protocols as the sport’s governing body continues to work hard to ensure the safety of all who come under its jurisdiction.

It’s now a matter of formulating fixtures, with a key factor being the need to ensure that matches are localised, given continuing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The RFL will, at the same time, endeavour to match teams up on a like-for-like basis in terms of playing standards.

That’s no easy task, which is where local knowledge provided by those who run leagues could be seen as essential. I understand that a meeting is taking place this week on that very aspect; hopefully the outcome will be that expertise and resources from all quarters will be fully utilised, as of course it always should be.

How many teams will be back playing in a fortnight remains to be seen – I’m confident I’ll be able to report on exact numbers in next week’s issue, certainly as regards youth and junior sides.

The situation is more complicated at Open Age level; some clubs told me, when I conducted a survey yesterday morning, that they’re not allowed to play at all until next spring, others were holding out more hope of action before then.

As with all other sections of society, the RFL has to contend with shifting sands, as readers will note from the article which accompanies this week’s Talking Grass Roots. As things stand right now the position, as far as Open Age amateur Rugby League is concerned – and as far as I understand it – is that a limited number of ‘pilot’ friendlies may take place before the turn of the year, partly to help the RFL garner information ahead of a hoped-for return to full competitions in the spring.

On a much happier note, what impact on amateur Rugby League will the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers project, which we are delighted to report on elsewhere in this issue, have?

It would once have been utterly beyond belief that three statues hailing great Rugby League players will be erected in the great Welsh city; or that, as part of the process, images of thirteen such legends would be displayed on the walls of Cardiff Castle.

But that’s exactly what’s happening as the very pro-active Cardiff council backs the heart-warming desire to pay homage to men from Tiger Bay who had to ditch rugby union and ‘go north’ if they a) wished to make a living from their talents and b) harboured hopes of playing for their country.

Rugby union was in those days amateur of course (at least as far as the taxman was concerned, anyway) while black players had no chance whatsoever of being selected for the Welsh rugby union side.

It was wholly different in Rugby League. The taxman was (generally) happy, while the code has been graced by the many talented men who represented Great Britain and/or Wales.

Those men were, though, often ostracised in their homeland as a consequence, simply for playing Rugby League rather than rugby union. Now, however, it’s entirely different.

Whereas grassroots activists would have had little or no chance of launching amateur teams, the backdrop now is one of ‘community’ sides being welcomed, and even celebrated.

There is no shame – in most quarters anyway – in playing Rugby League in Wales, which is how it should be, and the Betfred Super League, together with the Championship and League 1, have benefited from the burgeoning Welsh amateur scene, with the likes of St Helens’ superb winger Regan Grace and Salford Red Devils’ Wembley-bound prop Gil Dudson just two of the men who have gravitated from the grassroots game in the Valleys.

I’ve no doubt that the images of the thirteen nominations, and details of their proud histories, will serve to inspire more young men and women in Wales to take up the thirteen-a-side code.

That we’ve got to this wonderful stage is due to much hard work by so many folk. It’s always dangerous to list people as, inevitably, someone can be missed out, but I have to pay tribute to such as Mike Nicholas, Brian Juliff, Chris Thair and Gareth Kear for their tremendous work over the years. And I definitely doff my hat to the Welsh PRO Ian Golden whose unstinting efforts over many years has ensured that, very importantly, all that toil hasn’t gone unnoticed. Publicity is oxygen, after all, and Ian Golden has made certain that Wales Rugby League has had plenty of energising fresh air.

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