Pulling No Punches: The Garry Schofield Column

Time to get the crowds back

Less than 10,000 for Hull v Leeds, only 5,500 at Wigan against Wakefield, less than 5,000 for the Castleford v Wakefield derby and only just more than 3,000 for Ian Watson’s return to Salford with Huddersfield.

I’ve watched a lot of cricket’s The Hundred on TV, and seen plenty of people of all ages engaged with the action and with big smiles on their faces.

And what strikes me about Match of the Day this season is the number of supporters inside the various football grounds.

Yet when it comes to attendances, Rugby League has very little to boast about, and particularly coming out of the pandemic, when you’d imagine folk would be desperate to get their fix of action, that’s really worrying.

If the crowd figures aren’t high now, when will they be?

I don’t really buy into the theory that people don’t go because they are worried about the spread of Covid.

Other sports don’t seem too affected, so why would Rugby League be an exception?

For me, the problem is a lack of effective marketing, the cost of admission and primarily, the poor quality of the product.

There’s too much boring, monotonous rugby being played with adventurous sides like Hull KR being very much the exception.

We’re supposed to be providing entertainment, but too often what we’re getting is dour and dire rather than dynamic.

Hull FC owner Adam Pearson has had his say, arguing that the game will be “dead” without a significant reboot.

Of course, the problem is coming up with the right formula and getting clubs on board, and as I’ve often said, it’s crucial that the whole game is taken into account.

We want the sport to expand, not contract, be re-energised in the places where there is a proven interest and grown where there is genuine potential, which takes foresight, investment and support.

Sky have already sent a warning shot across the bows with their call to spice things up.

Will it be heeded? It really is time for the people who are getting big bucks for running Rugby League to stand up and do their jobs.

Do Warrington lack what it takes for the title?

There’s been a lot of talk about Warrington marking the end of Steve Price’s reign by delivering that much-desired first title since 1955.

But are they genuine contenders? For me, that recent defeat by Wakefield says probably not.

I know it was Willie Poching’s first match as Trinity’s caretaker coach since the departure of Chris Chester, and you often get that immediate winning reaction.

But this was a tight game that Warrington should have found a way to win.

In professional sport, you can’t just turn the tap on and off when you feel like it, because at some point, particularly against the top sides, you’ll get found out.

I think St Helens have been guilty of doing it this season, and sometimes paid the price, but they have shown over the years that more often than not, they produce the goods, just as against Wigan on Friday.

I’m all for playing adventurous, entertaining rugby, but really good teams also get into the habit of doing the unglamorous but crucial things game in, game out, so when they need to, for want of a batter expression, ‘win ugly’, they manage it.

In that sense, Catalans gave been pretty consistent this season, and I was looking forward to watching them at Warrington on Thursday – until Covid had its unwelcome say once again.

That postponement was a strange one, because it’s often been said that seven unavailable players or staff is the threshold, yet in Catalans’ case, the number stated was four.

Yet the game was still called off, which I can’t see Sky being too happy about. Will Warrington be awarded a walkover and a 24-0 win? We’ll see what transpires.

Going back to Wakefield, I think the signing of Tom Lineham from Warrington for next season is an interesting one.

He’s certainly a good player, and a bit of a character, which the game needs more of, and he has a terrific try-scoring record.

In a way, I’m surprised Warrington were willing to let either Tom or Castleford-bound Jake Mamo go.

Trinity, of course, already have two proven wingers in Tom Johnstone and Liam Kay plus a decent prospect in Lee Kershaw, and you can only field two in any one team.

It’s going to be interesting to see if all four are at the club next season and if they are, which of them most regularly get the nod.

Roby’s perfect example

We’ve had a tale of two hookers as James Roby and Adam Milner signed contract extensions at St Helens and Castleford respectively, and good luck to them both.

It’s amazing that James will be going into his 19th season next time around, and the two great things about him are his consistency – at least an eight out of ten every match – and the fact that he plays with a smile on his face.

He was quoted as saying he considers himself lucky to be able to earn his living playing Rugby League, but Saints are also lucky to have a really talented and honest player who from what I’ve seen, never gives less than 100 per cent.

He’s been key to their success over the years, and James could well be seeking a fourth successive Super League title next year.

It is a bit of a time of transition, with some younger, albeit very able, players being given more matches and more responsibility.

And having James around can only help.

When I was a youngster finding my way in the game, I’d look at the more experienced players and watch what they did, not just during matches, but also on the training ground.

However small the details were, if I thought they were making a positive difference, I took them on board and copied them.

Given the longevity of James’ career, I’d certainly be watching him closely if I were a young and ambitious Saints player.

Over at Castleford, Adam is also a one-club man, and consistent with it, and I was delighted when he got his England call-up a few years back.

It’s a time of change, with Lee Radford about to replace Daryl Powell and some new players coming in.

But Lee clearly wants to have Adam on board, and you can see why.

My Bank Holiday predictions

With a round taking place on Bank Holiday Monday, August 30, we’ve got another busy spell of Super League matches coming up, starting on Wednesday, when Leeds visit Wigan, who were clueless in attack against St Helens.

There’s no way they’re getting the best out of Jackson Hastings, and I fancy the Rhinos to add to the Warriors’ woes by coming back across the Pennines having won by seven.

Both Hull sides are at home on Thursday, but while the Black and Whites took the derby spoils – and well done to them for defying my prediction – I can see Castleford beating them, by eight.

While Willie Poching got that win over Warrington, Wakefield fell short at Castleford and I reckon Hull KR will bounce back after Saturday’s disappointment and claim a 14-point success.

While I’m going for a ten-point triumph for hit-and-miss Warrington at Huddersfield and a 14-point victory for Catalans at Salford, I’ve saved the biggest wining margin for last – St Helens by 48 at Leigh.

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