The Garry Schofield Column: Do boxing and Rugby League go well together?

Featherstone will be keeping their fingers crossed that they aren’t left on the ropes before a ball is touched in 2022.

I’m intrigued to see that Joey Leilua, their high-profile recruit from the NRL, is involved in a boxing match next week.

The Samoa centre, who has played for Sydney Roosters, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers – not a bad CV – is fighting former Wests, Cronulla Sharks, Newcastle and England forward Chris Heighington.

The bout in Sydney a week on Wednesday is a support to the headline clash between ex-Australia international Paul Gallen and Darcy Lussick.

It’s a twist in this tale that Lussick made an appearance for Featherstone on loan from Salford this year.

He also played under new Rovers coach Brian McDermott at Toronto Wolfpack.

Featherstone won’t be too worried about him, but they must surely have a bit of concern over their recent signing Leilua.

This is no fundraising knockabout, rather a full-scale professional contest between two heavyweights capable of inflicting significant damage.

I know Brian Mac boxed while in the Marines and retains a big interest in the sport.
That also means he’ll realise the potential pitfalls of the involvement of Leilua, who has already had his training interrupted by a bout of Covid.

I presume the boxing deal was signed and sealed before the Featherstone contract and at a time when he had made a messy exit from Wests and wasn’t sure what the future held.

The other obvious plus is that he should be in decent shape physically when he flies to England in the New Year, but hopefully not carrying any injuries.

If he can focus on the job at hand after a turbulent year in which he was out of the Tigers’ team more often than he was in it, he’ll be a huge asset for Featherstone.

You have to take your hat off to Chairman Mark Campbell, who is determined to get his club into Super League.

After the disappointment of losing to Toulouse in this year’s play-off final, he has shown real ambition by bringing in Brian as coach as well as a string of new players.

With Mark in the blue corner and his equally determined opposite number at Leigh, Derek Beaumont, in the red, it’s shaping up to be another big battle in the Championship.

Let’s hear about some progress

Another week, another statement promising plenty but providing very little to back the words up or reassure those of us who are being criticised for showing our genuine concern about the future of the game we love and desperately want to succeed.

I might sound like a broken record, but not nearly as much as the people supposedly governing Rugby League.

“The discussions (on the realignment of the RFL and Super League) are progressing constructively,” said RFL chair Simon Johnson after last week’s RL Council meeting.

“It is reflective of a mood of genuine co-operation within the game that such progress has been made over the last two months. We continue to talk to try and reach the finishing line.

“The meeting presented the opportunity to update clubs on that progress, and also to provide clarity for all about what will be at stake in the 2022 season in terms of promotion and relegation.

“After the unprecedented challenges of the last two seasons, there is every reason to be upbeat about what lies ahead.”

So the only change that has been confirmed is that there will be no change.

Then Ken Davy chimed in on behalf of Super League: “A considerable amount of time has gone into the discussions.

“I believe the ‘can do’ and ‘solution driven’ spirit with which both sides have approached the talks will ensure the sport will be in a stronger position to be able to take advantage of the exciting opportunities in the future.”

Yet more words which tell us virtually nothing and leave us wondering why something so vital is taking so long.

Come on, let’s have some transparency, not bland talk.

Tell us more about the “progress” which has been made, inform us of why the sport will be in a stronger position and give us even one example of an “exciting opportunity” coming our way.

It is only the paying punters, the people who are the real lifeblood of the game, who are being kept in the dark.

The folk I really feel for, and who deserve better, are the fans, especially those of the lower-division clubs.

We get called out for talking the game down when the reality is that we’d love to talk the game up, if only we were provided with reasons for doing that.

Simon and Ken, the ball is in your court.

The enigma of Odsal

It’s a dump, but it’s our dump…

I really sympathise with Bradford supporters and the way they have stayed so loyal during some pretty tough times.

And even though I’m not a fan of Odsal, I get why they have an affinity for their ground, given the history the club has there, and the place it has in Rugby League folklore.

I was interested to read about Nigel Wood’s vision for turning it into a “21st-century facility befitting modern-day sports watching” in last week’s League Express.

It sounds great, but is it practical? It would certainly take some doing.

It’s a vast site (it once held more than 100,000, don’t forget) at which the Bulls are tenants of the Rugby Football League, currently on a short-term agreement, and given the condition the venue is in now, it would take some serious money to redevelop.

Who is going to have that sort of money? Surely neither the club nor the RFL!

As Nigel says, every stadium development in our game over the last 20 years has been underpinned by significant figures from the public purse.

I see Wakefield Council have made £2 million available to each of the three clubs in their area, Castleford, Featherstone and Trinity, for ground improvements if certain criteria, including community use and the promotion of Rugby League at grass-roots level, can be met.

That’s great news, especially for Castleford and Wakefield, who both know their current homes are well below the level required.

Both clubs are planning to redevelop existing venues, and that’s a sensible move in the current climate.

But Odsal is on a bigger scale than either Wheldon Road or Belle Vue. Given that it’s a gigantic bowl, how easy, or cost-efficient, would it be to redevelop or even demolish and create a new-build in its place?

And given the financial pressures on all local authorities, would Bradford Council be able to contribute enough to make the project a goer?

Having had that stint at Dewsbury, Bradford need to be playing in Bradford, that’s for sure.

A groundshare at Valley Parade is an obvious thought, although it doesn’t seem popular with supporters.

Perhaps building a new facility at another location on the Bulls’ side of the city could be the best way forward.

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