Talking Rugby League: The players to admire in 2021

The year 2021 has been a momentous one for Rugby League.

It should have been a year in which we celebrated the biggest ever World Cup.

But unfortunately it wasn’t to be and instead the tournament was postponed for a year when the Australian and New Zealand Rugby League authorities unilaterally pulled out of the tournament with an announcement to that effect in August.

At the time it felt like a devastating blow.

But with hindsight, with the tournament now scheduled to begin in October 2022, the postponement doesn’t look as though it will have done the tournament a great deal of harm.

An additional twelve months to prepare will probably help some of the nations that will be involved, especially the French, who have a group of younger players currently coming through the ranks and who look likely to be much stronger in 2022 than they would have been in 2021.

And that prospect is truly worth anticipating.

Meanwhile I was looking through the League Express Rugby League Yearbook 2021-22 to look at the appearance totals of each club.

In doing so, the thought struck me that we should surely admire a special group of players – those who played in every match of their clubs’ seasons, in both Super League and the Challenge Cup.

In such a difficult year, which started with teams playing behind closed doors, while there was continuing uncertainty due to the pandemic about whether fixtures would go ahead, it’s a remarkable achievement for any player never to have missed a game.

So here is the list of those who managed that achievement in Super League, the Championship and League 1.

To be good enough to be selected in every round and able to avoid absence due to injury is a remarkable thing and the ones on this list surely deserve our admiration and gratitude as we approach the end of the year.

Perhaps the biggest accolade should go to Wigan winger Jake Bibby.

Wigan were the only club to fulfil all their fixtures in 2021. So Jake played 28 matches in 2021, including 26 in Super League and two in the Challenge Cup. And he started in each game.

Joe Shorrocks and Harry Smith also played in all Wigan’s games, but those two players were not always in the starting lineup.

Super League players who played in every club game in 2021:

Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Kane Linnett (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Jez Litten (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Tom Briscoe (Leeds Rhinos)
Brad Dwyer (Leeds Rhinos)
Ben Hellewell (Leigh Centurions)
David Fifita (Wakefield Trinity)
Jake Bibby (Wigan Warriors)
Joe Shorrocks (Wigan Warriors)
Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors)

Championship players who played in every club game in 2021:

Ben White (Batley Bulldogs)
Rhys Evans (Bradford Bulls)
Brandon Moore (Halifax Panthers)
Abbas Miski (London Broncos)
Liam Bent (Oldham)
Danny Langtree (Oldham)
Max Roberts (Oldham)
Aaron Brown (Sheffield Eagles)
Olly Davies (Sheffield Eagles)
Mitch Cox (Swinton Lions)
Johnathon Ford (Toulouse Olympique)
Mathieu Jussaume (Toulouse Olympique)
Deon Cross (Widnes Vikings)
Adam Lawton (Widnes Vikings)
Will Tilleke (Widnes Vikings)

League 1 players who played in every club game in 2021:

Carl Forster (Barrow Raiders)
Dan Coates (Coventry Bears)
Reece Rance (Coventry Bears)
Dave Scott (Coventry Bears)
Jack Miller (Keighley Cougars)
Neil Thorman (London Skolars)
Jordy Gibson (North Wales Crusaders)
Gav Rodden (North Wales Crusaders)
Josh Jordan-Roberts (Rochdale Hornets)
Ashley Bateman (West Wales Raiders)
Rhys Clarke (Workington Town)
Jamie Doran (Workington Town)
Conor Fitzsimmons (Workington Town)
Carl Former (Workington Town)
Brad Holroyd (Workington Town)

Following the NFL’s lead

I was interested to read a news article about the NFL, the governing body for American Football, giving six of its clubs the right to market themselves and grow their respective fan bases in the UK with the launch of a ground-breaking NFL initiative.

Rights in the United Kingdom have been awarded to the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.

The new initiative grants clubs access for marketing, fan engagement and commercialisation as part of an important, long-term, strategic effort to enable clubs to build their global brands while driving NFL fan growth internationally.

Those clubs will have access to the UK market for at least a five-year term, during which they will have rights to pursue activities that are consistent with what they can do in their domestic markets.

This includes in-person and digital marketing, corporate sponsorship sales, fan events and activations, youth football activities, merchandise sales and co-marketing relationships with other sports and entertainment properties in the market.

They can begin to activate in their awarded markets on January 1, 2022.

The NFL will use its best efforts to ensure that those clubs play their international games in the UK, where possible.

We have to admire the NFL’s dedication to marketing its competition.

But it makes me wonder why we can’t do something similar with Super League clubs.

Back in 1998 we took Super League games on the road to a variety of venues across the country.

If we are ever going to raise the profile of our leading clubs, surely we should be doing that again, particularly when we have loop fixtures, meaning that our clubs play some other clubs three times during the year.

So could we allocate individual towns and cities to some of our Super League clubs and tell them to go out and market themselves in those locations?

I’m sure it would be worth it, if someone had the imagination and the commitment to making the game bigger.

And on that note, can I wish all my readers the compliments of the season.

I hope you manage to avoid the Omicron variant and that, like me, you will return to this column on 3rd January after you have enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and a terrific New Year.

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