World Cup ambassadors waiting for a role

Garry Schofield suggests some great names who could and should be appointed as World Cup ambassadors for the training venues that were announced last week.

I’M a big fan of the job done by Jon Dutton and the rest of the 2021 World Cup organising team so far, and I liked the idea of marking 500 days until the start of the tournament by announcing which towns and cities would be the training bases for the various teams.

But I have to say I was a bit surprised to see the likes of Manchester United player Jesse Lingard and former footballers Dean Windass and Stuart Pearce, cricketer Keaton Jennings and boxer Tony Bellew on the accompanying video.

Yes, we also saw Shaun Wane, Mal Meninga, John Bateman and Boyd Cordner, but I’d prefer it to have been a full house of passionate Rugby League people talking up the biggest competition our great game has to offer.

But all’s not lost, because I have a suggestion to make. Why not appoint 14 ambassadors, one for each of the training bases?

Each could make a series of visits to their appointed town or city both in the build-up to the tournament and during it to help generate interest.

I’d love to take on that kind of role, and as the very proud holder of 46 Great Britain caps, why not?

So Jon, here are 13 other names to consider.

Johnny Whiteley is an obvious choice for his home city of Hull, as a legend in black and white who also coached Rovers. Not only that, but Johnny won the World Cup as a player (1960) and he was the last coach to win an Ashes series, in 1970.

Another Humberside product I’d put forward is Lee Crooks, a great forward who played for Great Britain and is a Rugby League man through and through.

Then there is Neil Fox, the Wakefield hero who was a scoring machine throughout his career and remains Great Britain’s all-time top points scorer.

I’ve heard Jon talk about supporting Leigh, so he’ll know all about the great Alex Murphy, one of the best halfbacks the game has ever seen and a World Cup winner alongside Johnny Whiteley in 1960. Murph also coached England when they were World Cup runners-up in 1975.

Mal Reilly proved himself as both a player and coach in both England and Australia, and was a World Cup winner under Johnny Whiteley in 1970.

He was coach when I skippered the Lions against the Aussies in the 1992 World Cup Final at Wembley, where we were leading with twelve minutes to go, only for Steve Renouf to break our hearts with the match-winning try.

My team-mates that day included Martin Offiah, Denis Betts and Ellery Hanley, and I’d invite the three of them to be ambassadors, with Denis, as Thunder director of rugby, a natural pick for Newcastle, where the men’s World Cup gets under way.

Denis was skipper and Martin on the wing when England lost out to the Aussies in the 1995 final at Wembley, and I’d also suggest Jason Robinson from that side.

From more recent times, I think Kevin Sinfield, Adrian Morley and Paul Sculthorpe would make great ambassadors, and the presence of Sam Burgess, who skippered England in the final in Brisbane in 2017, would also be a big plus.

Come on Jon, there’s still time to get those invitations sorted!

Let GB play England
Still on the subject of the build-up to the World Cup, I’m reading a lot about relaunching the Exiles team to provide a meaningful opponent for England this year following the unfortunate but inevitable cancellation of the Ashes.

But I believe a better option would be to set up a best-of-three series between a side selected and led by Shaun Wane, maybe called Great Britain, and an England side picked and run by an invited Super League coach. And wouldn’t Daryl Powell be great for that role?

With the right marketing, I think such a series would have real appeal for supporters, and let’s not forget, the last two games between England the Exiles, at Huddersfield in 2012 and Warrington the year after, attracted fewer than 8,000 spectators apiece.

I spent an enjoyable half-hour last week coming up with two possible teams.

Great Britain: Sam Tomkins, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival, Harry Newman, Tom Johnstone, George Williams, Luke Gale, Alex Walmsley, Josh Hodgson, Luke Thompson, Josh Jones, Elliott Whitehead, Morgan Knowles. Subs: George Burgess, Scott Taylor, James Roby, Stefan Ratchford.

England: Zak Hardaker, Jermaine McGillvary, Josh Griffin, Oliver Gildart, Ryan Hall, Jonny Lomax, Danny Richardson, Liam Watts, Daryl Clark, Mike Cooper, Jack Hughes, Liam Farrell, Ben Currie. Subs: Chris Hill, Tom Burgess, Paul McShane, Jake Trueman.

Like I say, these teams are only suggestions, and obviously, the availability of the Australian-based players would depend on when the matches were staged.

And I’m not saying the Great Britain team would necessarily be my pick for the World Cup, because these games would be all about looking at how some lads play alongside, and against, others.

I reckon some of the match-ups would be really interesting.

Another of the benefits of my idea would be that Shaun and his assistants Paul Wellens and Andy Last could run the rule in a competitive environment over twice as many players as they would be able to if it were a match, or matches, between England and the Exiles.

Why no Wigan?
It seems strange that such a stronghold of our game, one that some would say is the most famous Rugby League place we have (although I would say Leeds is on an equal footing) is playing no part in the staging of the next World Cup.

That list of 14 training bases refers to ‘Wigan and Leigh’, but let’s be fair, it’s Leigh, another passionate Rugby League town and one that is capable of standing alone, rather than being lumped in with a neighbour.

The name Wigan is known throughout the Rugby League world, and over the years Central Park and the DW Stadium have hosted some massive and memorable matches.

I know the tournament provides an opportunity for expansion, to take the game to some different locations.

But that shouldn’t be at the expense of the places that live and breathe Rugby League.

There are a huge number of fans in Wigan, so why not provide some international action on their doorstep?

Don’t throw out scrums
I’m a fan of the six-again rule, which I think has improved NRL matches from an entertainment point of view, which, at the end of the day, is why we play the sport professionally.

I’d like to see it introduced here, but I’m not so sure about the removal of scrums, even if they are no longer the contests they once were.

Like most sports, Rugby League has evolved, and roles have changed.

We talked about the loose-forward last week, and the traditional art of the hooker and props has also gone as a result of scrums becoming more about a restart than a battle for possession.

But they have always been in integral part of things, and I wouldn’t like to see that change, even on a temporary basis.

I get the point about scrums increasing the amount of physical contact between players, but the NRL, which has helped lead the way in restarting sport, hasn’t done away with them, and things seems to be progressing well enough there.

We have to accept that Rugby League is a contact sport, and that without contact, it can’t be the spectacle it needs to be.