This article, written by Neil Barraclough, originally appeared in issue 399 of Rugby League World magazine. Issue 400 is currently in production and will be on sale from July 11. Click here to find out more about the magazine and to browse back issues click this link…
“Today is the first day of the Magic Weekend and I’m doing the commentary on Widnes v Salford. All the prep is done beforehand, with things like swotting up on stats, players and the two teams, and Ian Proctor – Sky’s excellent statistician – also produces plenty of research.
“I live in Denby Dale, so it’s a nice drive across the Pennines early on Saturday morning to get to the Etihad. I got there in time for breakfast – a sausage sandwich with the rest of the Sky crew – and had a chat with everyone about what was going to happen over the course of the day. It’s a busy day, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a busy event with a busy feel to it, but it’s great fun.
“I did the commentary with John Kear, Tony Rea, Paul Cullen and Stuart Cummings, and it was an enjoyable match. Kevin Brown was brilliant for Widnes and Rhys Hanbury’s try was a highlight.
“I don’t get nervous about doing commentaries, but I do get excited about the prospect of being part of a big event and anticipating what might lie ahead. I was never good enough to play, so commentating and describing the action is the next best thing. It’s a privileged position and really enjoyable.
“After the game it’s a quick dash down from the gantry to do the touchline reporting on the Hull derby. There are also the after-match interviews to do – Travis Burns was man of the match and Danny Houghton did us a turn from Hull FC – but thankfully I didn’t get soaked like Graham Beecroft did a couple of hours earlier.
“He was interviewing Kevin Brown after Widnes’ win and the sprinkler was moving its way across the field. You could see what was coming for 10 seconds or so. It was probably quite refreshing for Kevin, but less so for Graham. Thankfully we moved position for the interviews by the time it was my turn!”
“I stayed over in Manchester on the Saturday night because Sunday was another early start. I did my prep for Castleford v Wakefield in the hotel on Saturday night, and it’s a case of looking for certain things; who’s going to be playing, who’s scored how many tries, the past record between the teams, top tacklers, the guys with the most assists, what happens if either team wins – all those stats and more just give you a bit of colour to give the commentary a bit of added flavour.
“I get to the Etihad early, get the confirmed teams and crack on. I joined Sky Sports News in 1999 and then joined the Rugby League team the following summer.
“I started watching Rugby League in the mid to late 80s by going to Widnes and watching guys like Offiah, Tait, Davies, Devereux and the Hulme brothers. I started my career at Radio Aire in Leeds in 1989, and they had a Rugby League programme on a Sunday afternoon covering Leeds, Cas, Fev and Wakefield and that’s where I started cutting my teeth.”
“I got back on Sunday night having really enjoyed Magic. It’s a bit like playing, without the feeling of being involved in a car crash and an earthquake. I’m still buzzing on the action, but don’t have the pain the players have.
“Today I try to get myself organised for Back Chat, reflecting on what the issues have been over the weekend – stuff like the Wigan-Leeds game, how Wigan had done a job on Leeds, Paul Wellens’ emotional interview, Nathan Brown’s cryptic interview and what to do with Magic next.
“I go through the issues and email them to Neville Smith, the executive producer, and then to the rest of the guests. This week Stevo, Gareth Walker and Andy Wilson are on, and we’ll bounce some emails around on Monday night about what we could talk about.”
“We meet up at 9.30am in Headingley for Back Chat filming. I pick up Stevo from Leeds station at 8am, get a bit of breakfast and head up to Headingley. It’s always good fun to share a car journey with Stevo as he’s always got a story or opinion on something.
“When everyone’s arrived we’ll have a quick chat to discuss the running order of what we’re going to do, how we’ll organise the chat and who’s going to speak first – and then we get cracking on our own bizarre manner of arguing for half an hour.
“When we’ve done we’ll get a quick bite to eat in the café over the road and chew the fat for an hour, then I join Mick Miller – our editor, who’s absolutely top class – in Sky’s offices in Leeds to do the editing. Mick’s a genius, turning the three cameras into one programme, cutting from one angle to another and making the raw material into a television broadcast.
“We’ll have a chat if we need to lose a couple of minutes because we’ve run over slightly, but generally Mick’s the wizard with the editing and I just help where I can before it’s all finished and fed down to London at about 4pm for broadcast later on that evening.”
“Wednesday’s another day with Mick, editing the Leigh v Doncaster match for Boots ‘N All. We take the tries off the tapes we’ve been provided, piece them together and then I do a voiceover on top to give the pictures a bit of colour and explain the context of the match.
“On top of that I also produce a round up of Super League news stories – transfers, injuries, contracts, suspensions, that sort of thing – which gives Eddie and the studio panel some discussion points for the programme.”
“Thursday is Premier League Darts day, and tonight we’re at the O2 Arena in London for the semi-finals and final. The programme’s on air at 7pm, and I’ll get there at about 5pm having got all my stats ready. The PDC provide a stats pack, but I like to do my own bits and bats as well.
“I’m commentating on Michael Van Gerwen’s semi-final against Gary Anderson, then doing the final (where Van Gerwen lost to Raymond Van Barneveld).
“I got involved with darts about five or six years ago. I remember watching the likes of Eric Bristow in the 80s, and then got lucky when they were looking for someone to do some reporting and Dave Clark, who I’ve known for years from my local radio days, rang up and asked if I fancied it. I thought about it for all of a millisecond and it’s just gone from there.”
“I’ll head straight to St Helens from London as I’m doing the touchline reporting on St Helens v Huddersfield. I’ll get myself sorted for that on the train back, and also use that time to do my commentary prep for Catalan v Bradford, which I’m doing on Saturday.
“I also do work for the Racing Post, writing previews of the live TV games. This week I had to do a Salford-Wigan preview on Wednesday, a Saints-Huddersfield preview on Thursday and the Catalan-Bradford preview on Friday. They’re all betting focused, with stats, who’ll win and why, and what I think the best bets are. It’s a busy week, but it’s been great fun. I’m very lucky.”