By Ian Lockwood
One of the oldest rugby union clubs in Yorkshire is playing Rugby League for the first time.
Skipton, who have been in continuous existence since 1874, are sharing pitches, changing rooms, clubhouse and even players with the newly-formed Rugby League section, who play under the name Skipton Knights.
The team is the brainchild of Darren Greenwood, a dual-code player who was involved with Cowling Harlequins amateur RL team.
He was turning out with Skipton at union when Covid struck but last summer suggested Rugby League training sessions when the lockdown was first relaxed.
While only three turned up to the first session, it soon took off and now the Skipton Knights have 55 registered players. They have won four of their first five matches and only lost to Wibsey’s first team in the final minute of the match.
They have now applied to the RFL to join Division 5 West of the Yorkshire Summer League.
Roughly half the players came from amateur Rugby League and the rest are from rugby union, mainly Skipton but also Wharfedale and Colne.
For the League players the facilities are a big draw as Skipton’s big ground and clubhouse has staged county representative matches. And for the union players, the chance to get fit and play rugby during the summer has been the attraction.
But how do the rugby union stalwarts at Skipton, where in 1896 members condemned the new breakaway Northern Rugby Union and voted to stay loyal to the RFU, feel about the “other code”?
Greenwood says the reception has been tremendous. Club officials have turned out at matches and union club president Simon Smith, a fan of Rugby League who has frequently attended Leeds Rhinos matches, is hugely in favour.
“We are not competing with rugby union, we want to run alongside it,” said Greenwood. “Some of the union players will go back to union when their season opens, some may prefer League.
“Whatever happens, it has been better than I ever imagined. At Cowling I was always on the phone trying to raise a team. At Skipton we’ve got players begging to play.
“There’s a lot of Rugby League support around Skipton, it’s just that there’s never been a team.”
The team is playing in the Merit League, in which there is no fixture list but games are arranged and registered with the RFL who provide a referee. Covid means players cannot yet use the clubhouse but the union committee has made it clear that they will be welcome when the lockdown ends.
Greenwood said while Skipton Knights had had some one-sided wins against established sides, he wanted to start at the bottom tier and build up slowly.
“Next year will be the big test. Summer holidays are always a problem in amateur sport and the union boys will not be available towards the end so I want to put in the foundations and establish a dual code rugby club,” he said.
Greenwood will be turning out for Skipton’s union team once the Knights’ season ends. It’s a scenario which would have had the club officials of 1895 turning in their graves.
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