Seeing both sides for a return to action

Thornhill Trojans are railing against what they seem to perceive as a lack of positive action by the Rugby Football League compared to stances – as they see it – adopted by other sports in the struggle to return to action in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

The RFL has, in response, highlighted how other sports are different, particularly with regard to the physical aspect. (It’s interesting, incidentally, that soccer is seen as having less physical contact than netball, the latter being linked in their statement with both codes of rugby – I bet that will go down well with such as former England player Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce, who is a big Warrington fan).

As so often in Talking Grass Roots, I’ve digressed – so back to the theme.

Thornhill won’t be the only amateur Rugby League club (although I’ve not hear from any others, admittedly) that is feeling the pressure, on many fronts, of months of inactivity through the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Their chairman, Gordon Ratcliffe, has spelled out how players, indeed teams, are being lost to those sports he says are continuing, and he is also upset that the Trojans’ Girls Under 16s team has folded through players being enticed to professional clubs, despite the fact that the latter aren’t even playing right now.

That second point is another issue entirely really, and one that I’ve touched on myself from time to time in this column. Only time will tell whether what can be described as the predatory acts of Super League clubs leads to a new dawn – or the demise – of the female game in this country.

On the main point, though, while it’s impossible not to sympathise with Thornhill over the loss of players to other sports, the RFL makes a strong case in its defence with the assertion that other sports, such as soccer and rugby union, are different and – with the RFU getting rid of scrums later this month – less likely than Rugby League to create on-field situations in which the coronavirus could spread.

What the RFL was stressing in its email to clubs last Thursday is that those clubs can train if they wish, but that the RFL advises strongly against it – and that only one or two blemishes on the part of teams that do train could potentially have serious repercussions for the sport.

You can’t really criticise the RFL for taking that view as a responsible national governing body. At the same time you can’t blame Thornhill for expressing concern about their future, and that of the amateur game as a whole.

Perhaps it all comes back to something I flagged up the other week – that society as a whole should conduct a debate as to whether we should remain ‘locked down’ or whether, for the sake of the economy, education (not to mention sport, theatre and a host of other sections of society) we should all simply get on with it in the knowledge that a certain number of people will sadly, but inevitably, not survive. Hopefully the imminent vaccine will remove any need for such a debate. And hopefully we will then be able to enjoy amateur Rugby League games again, even if only locally at first.

The notion of localised rugby could well lead to District Leagues coming into their own. At the Castleford & Featherstone ARL, for example, we’ve still got a final held over from last spring, which the RFL has been very supportive of in terms of logistics. And it was heartening to get a call from Lock Lane’s coach Paul Couch last week in which he reasoned that our competition would suit any ‘return to action’ plan by the RFL superbly. So, too, would other District Cups around the land, as it happens.

The sooner volunteers can get back to spending Saturday mornings setting up pitches again the better. And here’s a thought for them to carry in their minds as and when they do that, particularly when they put up post protectors and install corner flags.

It so happens that Hunslet – so often the leaders and innovators in Rugby League, I think you’ll find – ‘invented’ post protectors, back in 1937-38. And I believe the south Leeds club also led the way with ‘moveable’ corner flags.

If Hunslet had had the forethought to patent their post protectors they would probably now be the richest Rugby League club in the world, possibly by a distance. Maybe everyone should send them a tenner this Christmas, if only as a gesture of goodwill… On the other hand, lots of folk might want to sue them for introducing the concept of a coach, the Parksiders having appointed the great Jack Walkington shortly after the Second World War. A good move at the time, perhaps, but has the existence of coaches ultimately done Rugby League any good? Thoughts on a postcard, please…

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