Pulling no Punches: The Garry Schofield Column

Garry Schofield is excited by the potential of Giants’ young star Will Pryce.

I’m thinking of taking up knitting – and I’d advise fans of my old club Hull to do the same!

I reckon it would provide more enjoyment than watching the Black and Whites.

They must be so frustrated by the fare being served up – against Huddersfield on Thursday, it was particularly poor.

Okay, they are missing some players, but even so, they are getting close to Wigan in terms of being the dullest Super League team to watch.

All they seem to have in their armoury is Marc Sneyd’s kicking game, and we’ve got them on Sky against both Leeds on Thursday and St Helens on Monday.

That’s 160 minutes of clacking needles and maybe half a scarf or the sleeve of a jumper!

Meanwhile, we saw a bright young talent and an old master in action as Huddersfield finally got back to winning ways at Hull’s expense.

So well done Will Pryce, who was playing his fourth game for the club, and Leroy Cudjoe, who was making his 300th Giants appearance.

Pryce is an exciting talent, and while he is still learning the game, it’s clear Huddersfield have a potential gem on their hands.

But I can’t see Ian Watson’s thinking in saying his best position is going to be fullback, when he’s clearly has the qualities to be a great number six.

We saw that with the way he used his pace and confidence when running with the ball to take on the line and get his try against Hull.

Leon was a top stand-off, and Will has grown up watching and learning from his dad as well as the other coaches who have guided him so far.

As for Leroy, it was great to see him mark his milestone by getting on the scoresheet, and the reaction to his try spoke volumes about how he is valued at his only club.

Like Jermaine McGillvary and Michael Lawrence, he will surely have had offers to go elsewhere, but has stayed loyal to his hometown team.

Huddersfield are next in action at St Helens on Wednesday, but I can’t see them backing up and believe the defending champions will win by 20.

Over at Warrington, we have the prospect of a George Williams debut against his old club Wigan, and I’m going the Wolves by 13.

On Thursday, I can’t see Wakefield troubling Catalans, in fact I think Trinity could wilt (the Dragons by a bumper 42), while I’ll go Leeds by seven at Hull and Hull KR by 14 at Salford.

Meanwhile, I think Leigh could finally get that elusive first win of the season at the expense of Castleford. I can see Kurt Haggerty’s side edging it by eight.

It’s a busy old spell of two rounds in quick succession, and on Sunday, I’ll say Wigan by 20 against Leigh and Warrington by ten at Leeds.

Lay down the law

We’ve got the sort of stand-off I certainly don’t like after the announcement by Australia and New Zealand that they won’t be coming to the World Cup.

It’s certainly got everyone talking, and while we’re all disappointed by a decision which is clearly driven by the NRL and its clubs, you can’t deny that the situation this country has got itself into with rising Covid cases has played into the hands of Peter V’landys and Greg Peters, the respective Aussie and Kiwi RL chiefs.

I still speak to many of the mates I made while playing Down Under, and they tell me there is genuine concern about the dangers of visiting England as well as the clubs not wanting players to have to isolate on their return.

RFL Chairman Simon Johnson’s use of the word “cowardly” certainly wasn’t helpful, and as for “selfish and parochial”, he should look a lot closer to home, because quite a few of our clubs could have done more to help Shaun Wane since he became England coach.

Last week I wrote that a World Cup without the holders is unthinkable, and with New Zealand withdrawing as well, not to mention the effect on Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga should the NRL dig in their heels about releasing players to those nations, it’s even more serious.

I also said that the Australians shouldn’t be allowed to dictate to the rest of the Rugby League world and that if they don’t take part, they should be banned from the next two tournaments.

It’s high time for some common sense and compromise. Put back the tournament to 2022, when hopefully we’ll have the pandemic under better control, and tell the Aussies and Kiwis that if they don’t take part then, they won’t be involved in either 2025 or 2029.

My proposal to revive the Wembley experience

Now the dust has settled on the Wembley double-header, I have a proposal on how to refresh our Cup competitions.

I was pleased to be able to attend and watch Featherstone win the 1895 Cup by beating York before St Helens ended their Challenge Cup drought by defeating Castleford to lift the famous old trophy for the first time in 13 years.

It was great to see fans of the four finalists enjoying their big day out, but even allowing for the limit on the numbers attending due to the Covid restrictions, which were still in place, there seemed to be a lack of supporters of clubs not involved in either of the two matches.

Time was when you would see the shirts of Batley, Hunslet, Oldham and Workington, for example, as you made that special walk from the tube station or your bus to the stadium.

At one time, the Challenge Cup final was a big day out for fans of Rugby League as a whole, not just the teams taking part. People saved up throughout the year in order to enjoy a day, or sometimes a weekend, in the capital.

Obviously Leeds’ win over Salford last year was behind closed doors due to the pandemic, but going back to 2019, when Warrington beat Saints, there were only 62,717 present, the year before that, Catalans’ win over Warrington was seen by only 50,672, partly because of the relatively low number of French fans, while in 2017, 68,525 saw Hull get the better of Wigan.

The last time the attendance topped 80,000 was in 2015, when Leeds beat Hull KR, and it would be great to get back to the days of bumper Wembley crowds.

There seem to be a number of reasons why the trip might not be as popular as it used to be – expense, timing now that it is in the middle of the league season rather than at the end, as it was in the winter era, and the fact that the Challenge Cup has lost some of its sparkle, partly, in my view, because it has become too predictable in terms of the sides who can realistically reach the final.

I like that the 1895 Cup offers an alternative route to Wembley, and I think that by expanding that competition, and contracting the Challenge Cup, we could add some more interest to both.

My suggestion is for the top eight sides in Super League to contest the following season’s Challenge Cup, so that competition would start with the quarter-finals, while the others, as well as the leading amateur sides, would take part in the 1895 Cup, making it higher-profile and providing a realistic chance of a Wembley appearance for more clubs.

Continue to play the finals as a double-header at Wembley, with the 1895 kicking-off at say 2pm and the Challenge Cup at 5pm, make the ticket prices attractive and market the two competitions better.

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