The Garry Schofield Column: Show us evidence of Rugby League’s ‘great future’!

I’m glad Gary Hetherington is confident that Rugby League in this country has a “great future”.

But I’m not sure too many of the rest of us share his optimism.

A lot of the people I talk to remain worried. And the feedback I get is that there is a mixture of disillusionment with, and apathy towards, our game.

This needs to be addressed with urgency, because issues which existed before Covid have been heightened by the pandemic.

“Six or nine months ago there was a real desperation in the game; we were almost panic-stricken in a sense,” the Leeds chief executive said in last week’s League Express.

“Super League had gone through the disappointment with Rothschilds in relation to private equity funding and we had learned that our broadcast income from Sky Sports was set to fall significantly.

“A lot of people were making statements to the media who were fearful for the future of the game.

“But I think we have now achieved some stability.”

Really? The good old paying punters, whose numbers are falling, just to add to the problems, are yet to see some evidence of that.

Gary points to the Channel 4 broadcast deal, and along with the Premier Sports agreement to screen live matches from the Championship. That’s good news.

But we’ve not even been told how much either are paying, and given that “significant” drop in income from the Sky deal, which will have to be renegotiated in two years and could decrease again, will it cover that shortfall?

Gary also points to the realignment of Super League with the RFL, which has been talked about for months, but still hasn’t happened.

That’s after the initial breakaway proved costly and in the opinion of me and many others, achieved little.

Something else we seem to have been talking about for far too long is the future structure of the divisions.

“There are loads of assumptions that we are definitely going to be moving to a ten-team league,” added Gary.

“But we can say categorically that nothing at all is pre-determined.”

So despite months of speculation, clubs still don’t know exactly what they are planning for, but are splashing the cash, with all the risk that entails, just in case.

The strategic group of which Gary is a member seems to me to be made up of the same old faces (Ralph Rimmer, Karen Moorhouse and Eamonn McManus, for example) who have got us into the current plight.

Why doesn’t it include anyone with fresh ideas who is coming at the situation from a different direction?

While Gary and Ian Lenagan, his opposite number at Wigan, and two of the biggest hitters in European Rugby League, carry on fighting like cat and dog, he tells us: “Our aim is to produce a strategic document that will present a bigger and brighter future for everyone in the game.”

Now where have I heard that before?

Gary likes to say things are busily going on behind the scenes, but that nothing will be reported publicly.

Why not? Come on, give us a sign of what to expect, and give us some confidence that these major issues are being tackled before even more people drift away.

Well done, Alex!

Congratulations to Alex Walmsley on being awarded a testimonial year.

It’s a well-deserved accolade for a top player who has performed consistently well in a tough position. Alex has been key to the great success St Helens have had in recent times.

Could he celebrate by helping them to a fourth consecutive title and second successive Challenge Cup success? The odds won’t be that long.

And of course with the World Cup in less than a year’s time, there is every incentive for him to maintain his performance levels as he tries to book a place in Shaun Wane’s England squad.

Let’s face it, he has to feature, because he’s among the best props on the planet.

As Saints chief executive Mike Rush, who back in March, tied him down to a contract through to the end of 2024, said: “Alex has been a terrific servant for our club.

“Both on and off the pitch, he is a true professional and his performances on the field have been world class for a number of years.

“He is without doubt, the best prop in Super League.

“Alex had a rapid rise to the top since we signed him from the Championship and year on year he has got better and better.

“He is an example of someone who has worked hard, through the lower leagues and progressed on to international honours.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. And as I have noted previously in this column, Alex was one of the BARLA Young Lions I was proud to take on tour to South Africa back in 2010.

He was playing for his local club Dewsbury Celtic, but there was no doubt in my mind that he had the ability, if given the chance, to perform at a far higher level.

When we got back to the UK, I recommended him to my two former clubs Hull and Leeds, as well as Castleford.

None of them took him on, and I’m still convinced that was because he hadn’t come through the Scholarship and Academy system, which so many people seem to place so much emphasis on but which to me is far from perfect and given far too much kudos.

There are always going to be players who are missed at a young age, develop later on, or follow a path which doesn’t give them the time to go down the rigid so-called development route.

It doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough, and what better example of that could you present than Alex?

He continued his university studies, became the National Conference League Player of the Year in 2011, and was taken on by John Kear at Batley.

It wasn’t long before Saints came calling. And now look at him!

Richie Myler’s rebirth

Christmas has come early for Richie Myler in the form of a new three-year contract at Leeds.

But I can only say well done to the former Salford, Warrington and Catalans Dragons man, who has proved his critics wrong.

When Richie first arrived at Headingley after two years in France, he was tasked with being the main organiser at a club with a rich history of talented halfbacks and where the expectations and demands from fans are high.

But that’s not his game; it didn’t work out and at one stage, a few years ago, he seemed to be pretty much told to look for another club.

Rather than sulk or spit the dummy, Richie rolled his sleeves up, got stuck in on the training ground, fought for his place and carved out a new role for himself at fullback.

He has grafted the skills and knowledge he has from being a supporting halfback to his current position, where he plays a bit like a second stand-off and has shown himself to be very effective indeed.

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