Talking Grassroots: Lots to look forward to

The 28 amateur teams that are taking part in next year’s Betfred Challenge Cup will know, within the next 48 hours, who they are facing in the first round (and, for that matter, ten League 1 sides will be aware of who they’re paired with in round two, and I imagine a few might well be worried about the prospect). 

Barring a miracle beyond miracles, none of the teams going into the hat at tomorrow night’s draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will be involved in the final, but all will be aiming to enjoy an adventure involving two or three rounds or more, notably such as Thatto Heath Crusaders and Thornhill Trojans, who have done exactly that in the recent past.

The Rugby Football League’s President Clare Balding OBE, whose term of office has been extended to December next year, will certainly be more than interested in the draw and she can expect to enjoy the company from next summer of the British Amateur Rugby League Association’s Chair (since 2013) Sue Taylor, to whom congratulations and best wishes are due (I think I’ll leave it at that, having found in the past that Sue and her colleagues on the BARLA board are not necessarily over-keen on being praised). As BARLA Vice-Chair Steve Manning says elsewhere in today’s issue, she has helped make the Association what it is today.

Taylor has been nominated for the RFL’s Vice President from July 2022 to December 2023, following in the footsteps of Kath Hetherington and Pat Crawshaw as the third woman to hold the position. And, in pairing up with Balding, she is forming Rugby League’s first all-female President and Vice President team.

It’s a diverting and welcome development, while I’m delighted that Tony Martin will be inducted into the RFL’s Roll of Honour. Tony is well-known to TV viewers as a Super League touch-judge but many people who read this page regularly will, I’m sure, think of him primarily as a top amateur official. Indeed, he is one of the very best referees I’ve encountered at the grassroots and it’s fair to say that he has been the ‘go-to man’ for the kind of games that require not only firm control but finely-honed man-management skills by the appointed match official. It’s an honour that’s richly deserved for a bloke who, I can vouch, is always approachable.

That’s a key attribute in referees at all levels, including in the National Conference League – the competition which, I think it’s sometimes forgotten a little, had a sporting ethos as its central theme when it was launched back in the 1980s.

Happily, such standards remain as important as ever in the amateur game’s flagship league and aspiring match officials aim for NCL appointments for their own sake as well as important stepping stones in the direction of the professional arena.

Whistlers will, I’m sure, be watching out with interest for the Conference’s fixtures for 2022; drafts are currently with member clubs for possible tweaking here and there and the agreed schedule will be announced, I believe, this Friday.

I’m always most interested, when the schedule is issued, in who the reigning champions are paired with on the opening day – and on who any new clubs are set to face.
Titleholders Thatto Heath Crusaders have, if their draft fixture remains in place, been given a humdinger on the first day of the 2022 campaign, which is on Saturday 5 March. Incoming sides Bentley and Seaton Rangers also have very attractive games in prospect – more on all this in next week’s issue, when I also hope to be able to name the squads for the England Student Rugby League’s North v South Origin clash in February.

That’s the third stage of a well-honed selection process which other sections of Rugby League in this country could do worse than emulate. We’re carrying reports in today’s issue of the three regional games in Birmingham, which themselves followed trials for the Midlands, the North East, the North West, the South East, the South West and Yorkshire. England coaches Richard Tate and Kevin Deighton are, I’m sure, grateful for a process that must make their deliberations over selection so much simpler.

As it happens, the three regional games were played in testing conditions, with temperatures dropping throughout. That’s something that Rugby League players these days aren’t all that used to (although the thought occurs that quite a few of the Student players in Birmingham may have been brought up on rugby union) and I wonder whether that fact might explain a couple of recent episodes.

The first is the news that Dewsbury Moor have withdrawn from the Women’s Amateur Rugby League Association’s competition, which is of course winter-based. Dewsbury, it seems, can no longer get enough players to commit, the feedback being that it’s too cold for some of them.

The second is the revelation that a recent BARLA Yorkshire Youth Cup tie was apparently abandoned because it was raining and cold. I’ve not had that officially verified, to be fair. I can’t help wondering, though, what some of my coaches might have had to say if, as a player, I’d have asked to come off because the weather was inclement.

Meanwhile, an update for League Express readers who, after reading last week’s article, are getting behind Joe Stearne’s ‘double marathon’ early in the New Year, in which he and others are running from Old Trafford to Ossett in aid of the Macmillan charity.

The match official has updated his Just Giving page to

Get behind it if you can, either with donations or with actual physical help.

Joe is taking on the challenge on Saturday 8 January after having experienced at first hand Macmillan’s tremendous work in supporting the families of people with serious illnesses, his partner Charlotte having been diagnosed earlier this year with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He can be contacted by emailing

Another referee, Andy Sweet, is also running the route and donations will again be welcome by visiting

West Hull, meanwhile, are supporting the important local charity Hull Women’s Aid (HWA) which – and this is a sobering thought – is the sole provider of safe and secure refuge accommodation on the north bank of the Humber for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

Some of the Green & Golds’ young players are pictured with 72 shoeboxes packed with gifts for ladies, boys and girls, which will be handed over to HWA before Christmas, together with two large bags of toiletries and the like to be used for emergencies. A heart-warming gesture by Fionna Everson and all at Wests, although it’s deeply saddening that it’s necessary in this day and age.

HWA’s 24-hour helpline number is 0800 048 9944 (or 01482 446099 – and press 1).

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