Rockets boosting North East progress

These may be quiet times in terms of on-field action in amateur Rugby League – but you can certainly rely on those enthusiastic folk in the north east to keep the pot boiling.

I’m delighted to report elsewhere in today’s League Express that Cramlington Rockets are celebrating their 20th birthday. And there are a host of reasons for that grand outfit to rejoice in style.

It’s hard to think of any other club, amateur or professional, that has made such huge strides in the first two decades of its existence (although I suspect that my assertion may prompt a few candidates to step forward).

Tellingly, the Rockets’ many achievements haven’t been so much on the field, but off it. Their teams are all decent enough, that’s for sure. But, more importantly, Cramlington appear to have concentrated on laying down strong roots.

The history of amateur Rugby League is littered with tales of clubs that have started off with a real bang, only to implode when the going gets tough. I’ve experienced one such venture myself; and when the experiment was repeated a decade or so later we were braced for, and as a result survived, what we termed ‘third season syndrome’.

Cramlington Rockets didn’t, as far as I know, suffer from the same issues because results, it seems, have – while obviously important – always been treated as being of secondary importance. The Rockets have taken more pride, as far as I can see, in providing players for the professional game, and in contributing hugely to the success of a number of Magic Weekends at St James’ Park, Newcastle (pictured), by filling a corner of the great stadium with a sea of orange shirts, than in piling up victories. Such concrete development was, I suspect, a factor in Cramlington being hailed as the Club of the Year, and their chairman Jeff Ball as Volunteer of the Year, in 2017.

Lessons there for others, I think, and I’m sure that the next twenty years and more will be equally heady. And I’ve no doubt that the Rockets’ sister club, Newcastle Magpies, will be just as successful. Not for nothing have the fledgling Magpies, who are still too young to peer over their nest as it were, been handed a grant by a local charity. Progress in the north east is well worth monitoring by any Rugby League aficionado who is looking for a tonic.

Meanwhile the Rugby Football League wasted no time in seeking to mollify reader Stu Prentice of Bradford, whose concerns over limitations on the manner in which players can celebrate tries featured in last week’s Talking Grass Roots.

Stu bemoaned: “Now you can only fist-pump? You can drench each other in blood, sweat and tears, gang tackle, breathe on each other etc. But DO NOT shake hands or jump on each other?

“This is laughable. Please can someone tell us the difference in tackling and celebrating. Or does Covid only attack you when you celebrate?”

The RFL’s redoubtable Media Manager Andy Wilson responded: “Stu’s confusion is understandable, but I think the stipulation re celebrations is justifiable as follows:

“To get Rugby League back on the field, we had to agree a set of criteria with Public Health England; this involved breaking a Rugby League game down to investigate what involves the close face to face contact that is high Covid risk.

“Basically there were three instances of that:

“Scrums, which would be seen as a micro-climate, potentially exposing twelve players to sharing the same air for a prolonged period. So they’ve gone;

“Vertical tackles – face to face. It’s not possible to remove them;

“Celebrations (and also inquests for teams who have conceded a try). These have also been discouraged in football, rugby union and cricket (or, more accurately, different forms of celebrations have been requested – eg elbow contacts but not handshakes or fist bumps).

“So before the restart all clubs were asked to share these messages with players (and we also did a few media briefings). In the early weeks it became clear first that players and coaches weren’t following the advice; and second, the impact of face to face contact became apparent eg Salford having twelve players ruled out by Hull’s positive tests.

“There were numerous other examples where a positive test would have led to players being forced to isolate, and therefore games being cancelled. That led to the reluctant decision to introduce fines two weeks ago.

The good news, however, is that it’s led to a major improvement in behaviour.”

Wilson concluded: “In summary, I can’t argue that it seems daft – but there is method behind the madness.”

I hope that explains it all to your satisfaction, Stu.

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