League Express editor MARTYN SADLER gives his views on the current Rugby League scene. This is his ‘Talking Rugby League’ column taken from this week’s issue of League Express.
As I wasn’t saying
If you write a weekly column on Rugby League, eventually you’ll write something that looks a little unwise in the light of subsequent events.
In my column three weeks ago I commented on a trend that I thought I had spotted, which was that winning margins in the NRL were getting larger, while margins between Super League clubs were declining.
I was referring specifically to the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, in which the average margin for the four games was 6.5 points, while there were some very one-sided encounters that weekend in the NRL.
But three weeks later, the four Super League matches played before Sunday yielded a total margin of 164 points, which represents an average margin of 41 points.
On the other hand, the margins in the NRL totalled 153 over eight games, which still gives a historically very high average margin of 19 points.
I’ve always thought that Rugby League is the greatest game in the world when matches are tightly fought. But one-sided matches are much less exciting to watch, regardless of whether your team is winning or losing.
It must have been disappointing for Sky to have three games over the weekend whose final results looked quite obvious from quite early on.
Why did those margins happen? Was it a case of four strong clubs playing against four weak ones?
Maybe you could make a case out for Warrington against Salford in that regard. But not St Helens and Hull, Castleford and Leeds or Catalans and Wigan. Beforehand the latter three matches all looked very competitive.
It would be interesting for someone to undertake some detailed analysis of those matches to try to find out why they weren’t competitive.
I’m sure that Super League and Sky don’t want too many more one-sided matches like those we saw at the weekend.
Watching Ralph Rimmer’s interview on Sky Sports last Thursday night before the game between Salford and Warrinton was a painful experience, not just for Ralph, but for those of us watching.
Faced with a dual attack from Brian Carney and Terry O’Connor, Ralph clearly struggled to answer their criticisms of the RFL’s decision to turn down applications for Academy licences to five clubs, instead only handing out ten licences to eight Super League clubs plus London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder.
It was difficult to watch Ralph struggling to respond without thinking that he was trying to defend the indefensible.
Terry O’Connor, who is the father of Jarrod, who came through the Widnes Academy at the time it closed down before switching to Leeds and eventually making his Super League debut, was clearly emotional, given that his son had direct experience of playing for an Academy team that is shut down.
And Ralph didn’t seem fully prepared to cope with such an emotional argument.
Hull Kingston Rovers have now taken an appeal to the independent body Sports Resolutions, hoping to have their Academy status reinstated. I hope they succeed. And I hope the other four clubs whose applications were rejected join them in their attempts to have the RFL’s decision overturned.
As I’ve said several times in this column, it should be a condition of membership of Super League that a club has both a reserve team and an Academy team.
So having an Academy should be a requirement, not a privilege.
And there is another point about the fact that, as things stand, four Super League clubs will not have Academies from next year.
The fact is that if a club isn’t fit to run an Academy, then surely it isn’t fit to be in Super League.
And the one thing we can be sure of is that the four clubs who have been left out will struggle to compete in future against those clubs that run elite Academies.
In a competition in which all clubs should be equal, to ensure a competitive Super League, I’m afraid that, to adapt a phrase from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘All clubs will be equal, but some will be more equal than others’.
It’s a certain recipe for failure.
Salford v Newcastle
I was very glad to see that Newcastle Thunder will be granted an elite Academy licence so that Rugby League can be further developed in the northeast.
But what interests me is to compare Newcastle and Salford, with the Red Devils having been turned down.
If the city of Newcastle and its region is a potential source of Academy and, ultimately, Super League players, then surely we can say the same about the Manchester region, with the Red Devils sitting right in the middle of that conurbation.
In their application for a licence, I understand that the Red Devils committed themselves to developing Academy talent in much of Greater Manchester. And there must surely be a lot of talented athletes that they could develop there.
Unfortunately Marwan Koukash closed down Salford’s Academy in 2017, which was a remarkably short-sighted decision, meaning that the Red Devils now have to recruit all their players from elsewhere. The current management of the club would dearly like to reverse that decision.
Although some people like to suggest that the Red Devils don’t bring players through their system, that is contradicted if you look at players like Niall Evalds, Josh Wood, Ryan Lannon, Stefan Ratchford, Mark Sneyd, Theo Fages, Jake Bibby and Jack Wells, while there’s a host of players who came through the Salford system and play in the Championship or League 1.
In last week’s column I suggested that each club that runs an Academy should have to forge relationships with at least ten community clubs so that it is at the top of the pyramid.
In the case of the Red Devils, they have the following community clubs that would form their natural constituency: Salford City Roosters, Cadishead Rhinos, Bury Broncos, Westhoughton Lions, Langworthy Reds, Folly Lane, South Trafford Raiders and Belle Vue Bees, which is nine in total.
If granted an Academy licence they would be required to take steps to increase that number in the heart of Manchester and to ensure that all those clubs would have good coaching and recruitment policies, including running junior teams at all age-groups up to Under-16s.
Given that the RFL is moving all its operations to Manchester I struggle to understand why it wouldn’t want to see this happening.
Surely one of the governing body’s major strategic objectives should be to generate far more interest in Rugby League in the city that will house its headquarters.
One day I would like nothing more than to see Salford playing Newcastle in the Super League with both teams stuffed full of players from Manchester and the northeast who have come through their own Academy system.
But as things stand, I can only imagine that the management team at Salford Red Devils must be wondering whether it’s worth carrying on, having been given an enormous kick in the guts.
And to add a final touch of irony, I believe that Warrington Wolves have recently signed up six players from Salford City Roosters.
You either have to laugh or cry!