To celebrate the release of issue 420 of Rugby League World, we are treating you to a free glimpse and what we offer. With Saints playing Leeds tonight, here is our major interview with recent cover star Kyle Amor. The new Rugby League World is in stores now and available to buy online by clicking here.
You can take the boy out of Cumbria, but you can’t take Cumbria out of the boy. Indeed, Kyle Amor has come a long way since his days as an amateur with Hensingham but home is never far from his thoughts.
The engaging St Helens prop has big ideas for the sport in English Rugby League’s oft-forgotten third county, including a Whitehaven-Workington Town merger and a Cumbrian Super League side taking on Scotland in a Four Nations warm-up this autumn.
Amor’s passion and enthusiasm for Cumbrian Rugby League shone through during our chat and it was hard not to share his frustration at the plight of the professional game in the country’s most north-western county.
Cumbria has not been represented in Super League since the inaugural season in 1996 when Workington finished bottom.
Despite that, the area has continued to produce high-quality players and its top amateur clubs are scrapping it out with the best Yorkshire and Lancashire have to offer.
The creation of a ‘Super Club’ which would co-exist with Whitehaven and Workington was one of three options mooted in a report commissioned by the RFL in the wake of the 2013 World Cup, and Amor is adamant that is the way forward.
“Rugby League is massive in Cumbria and this is something I’m really passionate about,” Whitehaven-born Amor told RLW.
“The biggest thing for me is somehow coming up with an idea to get a Cumbrian team in Super League.
“I know it’s a topic that’s been raised many a time but I don’t think it’s that far away.
“In the National Conference Premier now we’ve got Egremont, Wath Brow and Kells, so we’ve got three teams competing in the highest amateur league without any influx from Super League clubs, structures or kids going to learn academy trades.
“A lot of kids round here (St Helens) can be part of a scholarship until they’re about 16 so they’ve had really good quality coaching put into them. But Cumbria is an area that doesn’t have any of that – it’s pure raw talent.
“It winds me up how some people can’t see sense and get their heads together and say, ‘You know what, let’s pull Whitehaven and Workington together and try to get a Super League club’.
“The amateur game is there. At Wath Brow and Egremont you get 1,500 people there; you don’t even get that for Whitehaven and Workington.
“If you actually look across their teams, they only have about four local lads in each. That tells you something. If the public is wanting to go and watch an amateur game and they’re not willing to support the town, we need to do something about it.
“At the World Cup they had a crowd of 8,000 for Scotland v Tonga at Workington and that’s not even top international players.
“I’ve really thought about this and it’s something I want to get behind. If Whitehaven and Workington are only averaging crowds of 800 then that’s only 8,000 over a season. But if you put one big fixture on you can get 8,000 for one game. Imagine if you had St Helens, Wigan and Leeds coming, it makes a lot more sense financially for those clubs – even if they played half the games at Whitehaven and half at Workington.
“Everyone talks about this rivalry but it’s not there anymore. No-one is going, nobody’s bothered. The clubs should see sense and think. Do we want to make up numbers in this league or do we want to get our heads together and showcase Cumbria and have a proper crack at it?’.
“If you had a Cumbria franchise, there’s nothing to stop Whitehaven or Workington going into League 1 and using them as feeder clubs. It doesn’t have to be the end of their history, which is obviously a big thing for people. But times change.
“I think merging is the only way forward for the game up there. You’ve got this amateur game with all these players with no structure Super League-wise and they’re punching their weight.”
Super League scouts are more active than ever in the region in search of more hidden gems like Amor and Brad Singleton who have gone on to play at the highest level in England.
The Leeds prop is just one of a number of Super League players, as well as an NRL star, Amor has got on board for his idea of a game which would not only showcase Cumbria’s Rugby League talent but raise money for the flood-stricken area.
“I don’t see why a Cumbrian Super League side can’t take on Scotland as a Four Nations warm-up in Workington.
“I had a beer with James Graham over the off-season and he’s 100 per cent gone on record saying that he’s been dying to play for Cumbria for a long time now, providing it doesn’t clash with his international commitments.
“James Donaldson, Ben Harrison, Brad Singleton, Greg Richards, Morgan Knowles, Will Maher and Lee Mossop are others who are up for it, and Sean Long and Ade Gardner would help out coaching.
“Scotland were based in Workington for the World Cup so the players and coaches will know the facilities and area well.
“We drew against England in the Purdham testimonial game and then only just got beat by England Knights, which was the last time we played together four years ago.
“In that England game we had an amateur player playing for us, John Paul Brocklebank who’s since signed for Whitehaven. He actually scored in that game so what an experience for him to believe that he could make the step up, and he did.
“Rather than Scotland playing against Ireland or Wales – whose players will still represent the shirt but there wouldn’t be anything in it for them – they should get a tougher test against us Cumbrians who want to showcase Cumbria and have a dig.
“You’d get a big crowd and we could even give some ticket money to the Cumbria Flood Appeal and get the RFL behind it.
“There’s a massive opportunity there for Cumbria to get a game organised against a Scotland side that know the area and had the locals behind them in the World Cup.
“It’s something I’m passionate about and to me makes perfect sense. With Scotland going into the Four Nations, I can’t see who would give them a better game than Cumbria at Workington.
“Ultimately it’s probably up to Steve McCormack to help me out on it.”
Above all, Amor wants to give something back to the place where it all started for him.
He didn’t live and breathe Rugby League growing up – in fact, he played only two seasons as a junior five years apart – and was drawn in by the social side of the game while working as an apprentice in the printing industry.
It was only when hometown club Whitehaven came calling at the end of the 2008 amateur season that he even considered making a living out of Rugby League.
And it could have turned out very differently for Amor.
“I’d had a couple of tours with BARLA and actually had a trial for Wigan as well just before I signed for Whitehaven,” the 28-year-old recalled.
‘I’d go down on a Friday and stay at Shaun Wane’s house and then play on the Saturday and go home.
“I played four games for the reserve team at centre and in the back row. I think Brian Noble was the coach at the time and he just said, ‘Thanks very much’ and that was sort of it.
“None of this was planned – I never set out to be a professional.
“My wife – girlfriend at the time – fell pregnant and Whitehaven said they’d give me ¬£350 a month before I’d even play.
“I thought I wouldn’t get a game but I might as well because with a baby on the way that money would come in handy to buy a pram or something like that.
“That’s why I ended up starting as a professional.”
Leeds gave Amor his big chance – one he freely admits he wasn’t ready to take – and the front-rower was at Wakefield when he realised he could crack Super League. But Amor moved on to the next level with St Helens, winning the League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final in his debut season in 2014.
Last year was a disappointing one for Saints as they fell at the semi-final stage in both the Challenge Cup and Super League and Amor conceded they were their own worst enemies.
“There’s a senior group of about four or five of us at the club now and it’s up to us to emphasise to ourselves and the younger lads that in certain key areas this season we need to go up another level,” he said.
“We need to be a bit more ruthless and not allow ourselves to drop our guard down.
“I think last year we struggled with the tag of being champions; you’ve got to learn to deal with that. I think I’m the fourth oldest at 28 so we’re a young side and you’ve got to learn how to be champions with everyone gunning for you.
“You’ve got to not let your guard down and pat yourselves on the back too much, which I think we did last year.”
With a fired-up Cumbrian leading from the front, Saints should once again be one of the sides to beat in 2016.