Martyn Sadler: Ten things that I’d like to see on Sky’s coverage of Rugby League this season

Martyn Sadler, the editor of League Express, looks ahead to this season’s coverage of Rugby League by Sky Sports

This will be a historic season for Sky’s coverage of Rugby League for one very simple reason.
For the first time since the former BSB began covering Rugby League in 1990 there will be no Stevo on the box.
How will we cope without him?
And, more importantly, how will Sky cope without him?
Eddie and Stevo always seemed to me to be joined at the hip, and their book that came out last year reinforced that impression.
So what can we look forward to this season from Sky’s coverage?
I’m really not sure, but here are ten things I would like to see from the satellite broadcaster when it kicks off the new season of the Betfred Super League tonight.

1. No one to try to replicate Stevo’s style
Stevo was unique, both in terms of his commentary persona and his use of language. He was a harsh critic, both of bad refereeing decisions and of bad defences, and he would often take aim at his targets with all guns blazing. And he had his own favourite words, with coaches always “furious” about their players’ performances, “T-R-Y” for when a team touched down, the “one-pointer” for a drop-goal, players who have “lost the plot”, or who had “claret” pouring from a head wound. And that’s just a short summary. If you want even more of his sayings, do a Google search for Stevo Bingo. But let’s not have the remaining commentators trying to copy him.

2. Fewer robots in the intro
One of Rugby League’s problems is that it doesn’t project the personaities of its players. And that isn’t helped by Sky’s presentation of robots playing the game in its introduction to its match coverage. That is also similar to the BBC’s intros, which features Desperate Dan type cartoon characters. I would much prefer to see intros that featured some of the outstanding players in the game.

3. Fewer camera shots on coaches sitting in the stand
Why do we need to keep seeing the cameras focus on the coaches? Usually they look miserable because they are concentrating heavily and the shots of them do nothing to enhance the game. Shaun Wane in particular, who is a great guy to meet, always looks as though he’s just bet his house on the Grand National and has lost all his money. Can we lay off the coaches?

4. More camera shots on happy fans
There’s nothing better than shots of fans who are obviously enjoying what they are seeing, especially when the camera focuses on youngsters who clearly love watching their heroes and Sky are good at picking those out, especially at certain grounds. So let’s have more. Nothing makes me want to be at a sporting event more than seeing fans in the audience who are having a great time. Admittedly, sometimes in cold, wet weather it can be hard to find them, but when we get to those fine summer nights let’s find the fans who are having fun.

5. Stop making the referees the centre of attention
This is a hardy perennial, but can we drop the focus on referees and endless discussion of their decisions? It doesn’t help me enjoy the game and I’m sure I speak for a lot of Rugby League viewers. If you watch the other code, for the most part the commentators accept the referee’s decision and just get on with it. Can we do the same? And let’s stop second-guessing the referees.

6. Switch off referees’ microphones
It annoys me greatly to hear a constant shout of “move” from referees, as well as the rest of their constant calls to players on the field. I know some people who refuse to watch the game on TV because they hate having to listen to referees yelling themselves hoarse. Switch the microphone off, at least until there is an infringement and the referee is talking to an individual player. That’s when we want to hear what he says.

7. Don’t talk over the refs when they are talking to players
One of the irritating things about Sky commentators is that they sometimes talk over referees just when we want to hear what a referee is saying, when he is delivering a sermon to an individual player who has committed some sort of transgression of the laws of the game. Commentators who know when to keep quiet are a great asset to a broadcaster.

8. Let’s hear the video referees
Watching the NRL Auckland Nines last weekend, without any video-referees, made me pine for the days when we didn’t have video referees at all. But if we are to have them, let’s hear them. The BBC already allows us to listen to the video-referee, but for some reason Sky rejected that approach last season. I can’t understand why.

9. Praise the tryscorers rather than blaming the defenders
Maybe it’s just Rugby League, but sometimes our commentators react to tries by slamming the defence rather than praising the attack. That doesn’t mean we should never criticise defenders for weak tackles, but let’s give credit where credit is due to creative play.

10. Let’s see more of the Championship
I’m sure the Sky Rugby League team would like nothing more than to show a Championship game every week, but the money apparently won’t stretch that far. I’m convinced, though, that they are missing out on a significant audience by only broadcasting the excellent Summer Bash and by showing the odd Championship club in the Qualifiers. Let’s hope that they eventually find the cash to start showing a competition they have in fact already paid for.