Talking Grass Roots: It’s always darkest before dawn

The Rugby Football League has thankfully been nothing but consistent, throughout the battle with the Covid-19 crisis, in its approach to the eventual return to action at amateur level.

While the Government signalled, a week ago, a possible green light by early December for grassroots sports, that was never likely to happen in Rugby League.

For one thing our game is now summer-based, other than the Student, College and Pennine Leagues, and the winter-centred Women’s Amateur Rugby League Association (none of which are likely, as far as I know, to resume anytime soon) so the notion of any fixtures before Christmas was largely academic in any case.

December has, regardless of anything else, been a difficult month for a good few years now for anyone running amateur clubs as player availability has become a major issue – to the point where many clubs effectively ‘shut down’ for a full month.

The RFL is, understandably, sticking to its ‘return to action’ timetable, with training envisaged at the turn of the year – and subject of course to any further announcements by the Government and/or another ‘spike’ in the coronavirus pandemic.

Fair enough, I think. Amateur Rugby League is now bunkering down for the rest of the year; let’s hope that the New Year brings a new dawn, and that much will be back to something approaching normal come 2021.

Although players and coaches may be in hibernation, that’s far from the case for folk at the RFL, who I imagine are working as hard (perhaps harder) than ever.

One such is Dave Raybould, who I first met some 25 years ago as a very enthusiastic administrator, alongside the redoubtable Jackie Sheldon, of Women’s Rugby League. Raybould is looking ahead to next summer, when he and such as the RFL’s Women’s and Girls Ambassador Lois Forsell (who I also know from way back, when she was an excellent Development Officer at Hunslet Hawks – I’m sure she will be delighted to know that her successor Michael Nuttall at the South Leeds Stadium is very much carrying on in the same vein) aim to boost Girls’ Under 11s Rugby League with a series of festivals or similar events.

Clubs have until next Monday to register interest; I hope Raybould finds that his email in-box is full when he starts work in seven days’ time.

Similarly, Dave is seeking to bolster the female game at Under 18s, having identified a significant loss of players between Under 16s and Open Age. This is, of course, also a concern in the men’s game; quite what can be done about it has exercised better minds than mine for more years than I care to remember, in all team sports, not solely in Rugby League. I’ve no idea what the solution might be.

The problem is, however, at least being addressed, which is a prerequisite starting point. All in Rugby League will wish Dave Raybould well in his efforts.

And all will be delighted that the Rugby League World Cup team has now rubber-stamped grants totalling over £10 million with Siddal (Halifax), Thatto Heath Crusaders (St Helens) and Victoria Park of Warrington receiving well-deserved funding.

The first two submissions included references to Girls’ and Women’s development – hopefully I’ll be writing early next year, about scheduled Girls Under 11s festivals.

Victoria, meanwhile, are particularly strong on Physical Disability Rugby League, which is good to hear, and in fact will host all games other than the final in the recently-confirmed 2021 PDRL World Cup (an excellent development – as is the news that the Wales Rugby League has impressed Disability Sport Wales in securing that body’s ribbon status.)

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