Talking Grassroots: Players are paramount

Talking Grassroots with Phil Hodgson of League Express

Good on Masters Rugby League organisers, who have confirmed that two festivals surrounding the 2021 World Cups will go ahead, regardless of whether the Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair events now take place.

Masters bosses had revealed on Wednesday (almost 24 hours before the shock joint announcement by the governing bodies of Australia and New Zealand that they won’t be coming) news of festivals at Jarrow – to coincide with the England v Samoa World Cup opener at Newcastle on Saturday 23 October – and at Leigh East on Sunday 21 November.

Undeterred by the stunning statement from Down Under (although am I the only person who wonders whether the Aussies and the Kiwis are actually conducting a masterly marketing strategy? Few people in this country can now be unaware that there’s a Rugby League World Cup schedule for the autumn.

Let’s hope there’s some substance to my suspicions) Masters supremo Paul Field has stressed that all three Masters events will still go ahead.

It seems, at this stage anyway, that the folk who run the English and Scottish Wheelchair sides are being similarly philosophical. Ollie Cruickshank, the Operations Director of the Scottish Rugby League, said: “We are awaiting further information from the organisers and at this stage are continuing with our planning.” And I believe that their English counterparts are adopting a similar stance, while I totally understand the stance of the Welsh, who are opting not to comment at this stage.

English Wheelchair Rugby League has, as it happens, plenty to enjoy over the next few weeks, starting with the Challenge Cup Final in mid-August. That match will be followed, quickly, by the Grand Final, so quite a few of England’s leading players will be nicely primed for the World Cup, should it go ahead, and regardless of which teams are eventually involved.

What’s coming across from the various national camps in the United Kingdom is that the people who are paramount in their thinking are the players. Questions on that score are certainly being asked of Rugby League’s leaders in Australia and New Zealand.

Sport is, ultimately, all about players – certainly at amateur level, which is of course the arena occupied by Wheelchair Rugby League. And even though the professional game is, of course, a business, players should surely be at the front of everyone’s thinking. Otherwise, what is it ultimately all about? I’ll leave it to others to ponder, and answer, that question.

Hats off, meanwhile, to Rebecca Ball-Knight at Underbank Rangers who is leading the quest to form a Girls section at the club. Rebecca – the daughter of that fine player of the 1970s and 1980s, Glen Knight – is a wholly positive member of the Huddersfield outfit and I’ve no doubt she will succeed in her ambitions. It certainly won’t be for the want of trying.

Finally, congratulations to King Cross Park, Kingswood Knights, Lock Lane and Hindpool on picking up the prizes from the first of BARLA’s monthly Club Membership draw, which was held last Thursday.

It was nice to note, too, a good geographical spread of winners, with the cash heading to Halifax, Hull, Castleford and Barrow. Many clubs around the land will benefit over the coming months and years from this excellent initiative. It wasn’t so good, though, to have so many postponements, again, in the National Conference League, with seven of the planned 22 fixtures being called off. Information on exactly why is in some cases a tad sketchy, but I imagine that Covid-19 is invariably the reason. We’re some way away from emerging from this pandemic, I have to say. For now, though, teams are battling for places in the play-offs and as the regular campaign passes its halfway stage for all but the Cumbrian section, the identity of the clubs that will be involved is perhaps becoming a little clearer week by week.

The NCL is operating on a regional league basis this year, in the face of travel restrictions imposed earlier by the government. Sixteen leading sides will contest play-offs, climaxing in a Grand Final, to determine the champions.

Those 16 teams will comprise the top two in each of the seven leagues (subject to having played at least 70 per cent of their scheduled fixtures), plus the third-placed teams in each of leagues B and F.

Other sides will be invited to take part in knockout competitions.

League placings are determined on a percentage, rather than points, basis but as of the penultimate Saturday of July League A, which contains Cumbrian outfits, has barely got going, through a late start followed by postponements caused by the impact of Covid-19. The two leading teams, Wath Brow Hornets and Egremont Rangers, are heading the standings on 100 per cent, but have played just one game each.

The other six leagues, however, are in the second half of their respective campaigns. Thatto Heath Crusaders, Leigh Miners Rangers and Wigan St Patricks, together with Pilkington Recs, are setting the pace in League B, which will have three teams in the play-offs. And Ince Rose Bridge, currently on a 50 per cent record, could certainly force their way into the equation.

Battle is certainly joined in League C, where no side is quite ruling the roost. Crosfields are currently leading but any two of the Soap, Oldham St Annes, Clock Face Miners, Woolston Rovers and Rochdale Mayfield could yet find themselves in the 16 hopefuls.

Siddal and Hunslet Club Parkside are, as generally expected, setting the pace in League D. Both Stanningley and East Leeds, however, have shown fine form this year and cannot be discounted from making the most of any slip-ups by the two pacesetters.

League E, on the evidence, looks like being a three-horse race, with Normanton Knights and Eastmoor Dragons currently setting the agenda (although the Knights win over the Dragons on Saturday was surprisingly emphatic) but Dewsbury Moor are also very much in the frame, despite the weekend’s Cross-League hammering at the hands of Siddal.

West Bowling are enjoying League F and have a 100 per cent record. Thornhill, however, have had only one defeat so far, while Lock Lane are third. Three teams from this section will take part in the play-offs, so it’s by no means unthinkable that Bradford Dudley Hill could claw their way into the knockout stages.

Any two of four clubs could make it through from League G, which involves teams from Hull and York. It would be a surprise if leaders West Hull don’t finish in the top two – the remaining spot is, on the face of it, between Heworth, York Acorn and Skirlaugh.

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