Talking Rugby League: Will St Helens ever get the national credit they deserve?

Kristian Woolf made the point after Saturday’s Grand Final that St Helens probably don’t get the credit they deserve for their remarkable achievement in winning their fourth successive Grand Final.

He is certainly correct to say that St Helens deserve a lot of credit, but it’s interesting to reflect on who doesn’t give them it.

Rugby League is quite a small world and I can easily imagine that some other clubs and their supporters are envious of Saints’ success, especially because they are unable to emulate it. Unfortunately, envy is as prevalent in sport as in any other walk of life.

But going beyond that, I’m sure that St Helens are not recognised by the wider sporting public in the way that they should be.

Super League gets little publicity in the national media these days, as can be seen by the fact that no national newspaper appears to send its sports feature writers to cover the game, unless of course I happened to miss them on Saturday at Old Trafford.

Back in the early 1980s, when Wigan were the dominant Rugby League team, they would often be visited by writers from the national media to write pieces praising them as probably the best team of any sport in the United Kingdom.

That never happens any more.

Now that we have IMG on board, perhaps that organisation can find a way to turn the tide.

Let’s hope they can, so that if St Helens win a fifth successive title next year under their new coach, their achievement will be more widely appreciated.

IMG to reveal all this week

And talking about IMG, we will hear their proposals for “re-imagining Rugby League” this Wednesday afternoon.

In the first instance, IMG will focus on the league structure, which is clearly a priority because a new TV contract has to be negotiated from the 2024 season.

But IMG have a much wider brief than that and they could make proposals, for example, on changing the laws of Rugby League to create a better spectacle that would have wider appeal, and they could make proposals that relate the governance structure of the game.

They have a carte blanche, although they will have to gain the approval of the clubs at a Rugby League Council meeting this week.

So will they propose radical changes or marginal ones?

And will they lead the clubs and the rest of us into the promised land?

Let’s hope so.

The Bulldog spirit

Craig Lingard has done an exceptional job as the Batley Bulldogs coach, leading them to a remarkable 32-28 victory at Featherstone Rovers on Sunday to claim a visit to Leigh on Sunday, where they will do battle to claim promotion to Super League.

It’s very difficult to imagine them winning that game, but they deserve enormous credit for having got there and it would be unwise to write them off. They are great believers in hard work, which has repeatedly paid off for them.

But we must wonder what has happened to Featherstone, who started the season probably as the favourites to clinch promotion.

It’s difficult to imagine how disappointed most of their players, officials and supporters must be feeling today.

An episode with little appeal

Last week we saw a tale of two appeals – in more ways than one.

The build-up to the Grand Final was dominated by one name – Morgan Knowles – and yet another row over the RFL’s disciplinary procedures.

That was after Saints’ second appeal of the two-match suspension imposed on their backrower for ‘dangerous contact’ after an incident with Salford’s Chris Atkin during the play-off semi-finals.

Knowles lost his initial appeal, but 24 hours later, another was submitted – and the ban was overturned, seemingly on a technicality.

It caused a huge reaction from supporters, not just those of the two finalists, with several Leeds fans pointing out that their backrower Rhyse Martin recently had a one-match ban doubled after an appeal was deemed frivolous, a word heard on several occasions this year.

Of course the Knowles and Martin cases were completely different and no one is claiming disciplinary chiefs have an easy task, especially with player welfare such an important issue, and no system will ever please everybody.

But there does seem to have been an awful lot of confusion and claims of inconsistency over suspensions this season – and that does no good whatsoever.

How many people knew it was possible to launch a follow-up appeal – and has a can of worms, which will lead to more clubs following Saints’ lead, been opened?

One supporter, Chris Makin, recently launched a petition demanding an urgent review of the disciplinary system.

“The detrimental effect that this is having to a despairing supporter base is endangering the very nature of the game,” he explained.

When I saw Knowles’ tackle on Atkin, for which he received a yellow card, the tackle clearly looked dangerous. I thought there was little doubt he would be suspended.

But talking to several leading coaches at Saturday’s Grand Final, I was taken aback by how many of them didn’t think it was dangerous at all.

That demonstrates that we can see the same incident, but interpret it quite differently.

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