Rugby League journalist criticises international match organisation

League Express writer Gareth Walker, who also writes on Rugby League for the Mirror Group newspapers, has slammed the RFL and Super League for the way Friday’s international between England and the Combined Nations All stars was organised.

A round of Super League matches took away the spotlight from England’s key World Cup preparation match while All Stars coach Tim Sheens found his options severely limited when selecting his side, with several clubs reportedly trying to make their overseas players unavailable.

“I think it’s highlighted so many of the biggest frustrations in the sport – the power of the clubs at the top table, the game’s inability to promote it’s big events and how toothless the RFL is,” Walker told League Express.

“Just for starters, none of the three national newspapers I work for were able to carry a report in all or any editions on Saturday morning because of the 8.15pm kick-off. It could hardly have been organised in a worse manner. Farce was the right word to use, sadly.”

And Walker went on to highlight the danger of the RFL ignoring the role of the national media.

“At the Mirror, we cover Rugby League every day in the paper,” he said.

“We preview and report on every single Super League game, and carry news stories and interviews, with the sport commanding a page lead (where it is the majority of the page) I would estimate at around five days a week.

“It’s the same or even better for the Daily Star, now owned by the same company. But even for the Mirror, an 8.15pm Friday kick-off is a logistical nightmare. The vast majority of their Saturday editions go to print at 10pm, with earlier deadlines needed for a Saturday magazine, like most newspapers.

“That made Friday’s England game almost impossible to include, although at the eleventh hour, the sports desk managed to persuade management to do ‘slip’ editions, where they literally add the one changed page to the newspaper for the very later editions.

“As a result, it may have appeared in some copies of the Mirror on Saturday.

“However, other papers with much less of a commitment to the sport would not go out of their way to do something like that, and unfavourable kick-off times is undoubtedly a factor in many of them cutting back hugely on Rugby League coverage in recent years.

“Some people roll their eyes when print journalists talk about this issue, or say it is a dying industry. But there are still around four million national newspapers sold every day – that’s a lot of potential eyeballs – with others like the Metro being free with large circulations.

“And these companies have the biggest online platforms – the medium of the future apparently – so if they’re not covering Rugby League, the sport is again missing out.

“Newspapers are also invariably read by people in key positions, both in other areas of the media such as TV news, and in prominent companies that are potential sponsors.

“It’s an issue that shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.