World Cup boost already banked for amateur game

Talking Grass Roots with Phil Hodgson

Yet more excellent news to relay on the 2021 Rugby League World Cup and, as previously, not related to hoped-for action on the field of play, which seems to be still very much up in the air.

I’ve written before that the autumn’s World Cup will have been a huge success even if, because of on-going Covid-19 issues, it doesn’t go ahead as scheduled.

It will have been a success because of its legacy, which has been added to by the announcement last week of still more awards through the CreatedBy Small Grants scheme.

Amateur clubs, schools, universities, colleges, foundations and leagues have all benefited through World Cup funding, which has been facilitated through a partnership involving the Rugby Football League, Rugby League World Cup 2021, the National Lottery, Sport England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and a further £200,000-plus was celebrated last week, with awards granted to grassroots recipients at all points north, south, east and west in England.

It really is terrific and, although I’m at risk of repeating myself, the point has to be stressed that even if the World Cup has to be postponed, CEO Jon Dutton and his colleagues will deserve huge recognition for their achievements. Many Rugby League folk will have benefited regardless, and Dutton & co should be feted for their fantastic work.

It’s been difficult – and will probably get tougher – for them, for sure, given that the World Cup seems to be under threat for a number of reasons, principally travel issues from the southern hemisphere. And it’s not easy at the other end of the spectrum, where there are problems for amateur Rugby League at domestic level.

Last week, I had to reveal that Gateshead Storm had been obliged to withdraw from the National Conference League, with the various implications of the coronavirus pandemic high among the north east outfit’s problems. That news was followed by almost half the weekend’s programme being shelved, with player isolations being cited.

There may be whispers here and there that Covid-19 may be being used in one or two instances as an excuse for calling games off. I’m not inclined to give too much credence to such insinuations but it would be naive to argue that, in any team sport, use hasn’t been made of certain circumstances (adverse weather for example) to get troubled clubs out of a bit of a hole.

Gateshead, though, had no alternative other than to pull the plug, albeit temporarily, as June drew to a close. And last week that long-established Furness outfit Askam had to follow suit, cancelling their League A game with Egremont Rangers and advising the NCL that, for them, the season was over.

That came as no surprise, to be fair. The Villagers have long been one of the strongest clubs in the country, and I believe remain in rude health in their youth and junior sections, but it’s not been plain sailing at Open Age levels for a few years. And while regionalised rugby is clearly the only real option for the NCL this year, given travel issues, the fact that some teams are consequently facing opponents of a higher standard brings added problems.

Whether that was a factor in Askam’s difficulties I don’t know. But it would be surprising if it wasn’t. Players are only human after all, and we all have experience of some lads voting with their feet (“no names, no pack-drill,” I say to one or two blokes I’ve known and looked sideways at for a few years) .

Sadly, one of the other League A games on Saturday, at Wath Brow Hornets, where Millom were to have been the visitors, was called off.

On another worrying weekend for NCL bosses, three games in the Leeds area (between Hunslet Club Parkside and Milford, Oulton Raiders and East Leeds, and at Hunslet Warriors, where Eastmoor Dragons were to play, were postponed). And, in Lancashire, Leigh East v Oldham St Annes was shelved.

As the summer-based leagues head towards the second half of a truncated campaign, meanwhile, the Pennine League is looking forward to the 2021-22 season.

The long-established winter league has been affected in recent years by the habit of the RFL’s Yorkshire Men’s League to extend its season, thereby adversely impacting on what, after all, is the senior competition. That’s not on – it’s rude and ignorant at best, and sinister at worst. There’d be hell on if it was the other way round, in fact the RFL would clamp down good and hard, I’m sure, and rightly so.

The Pennine League is, as reported elsewhere, seeking expressions of interest from clubs, and observations regarding the size of divisions, together with preferred start- and finish dates for the season.

I hope they get a big response – although, at the same time, I can’t help reflecting that the Pennine League has to some degree been hoist by its own petard, having done much the same thing to the old CMS Yorkshire League a decade or two ago. It’s a case, in a sense perhaps, of chickens coming home to roost.

And on the subject of coming home, now that NCL chairman Trevor Hunt is back from a few days away I hope that he and Thatto Heath boss Mike Denning will be able to announce a date for a meeting of clubs at which the duo will, after having met the RFL recently, be able to fully explain to delegates the ins and outs of the RFL’s planned membership scheme.

Finally congratulations to that superb outfit Cramlington Rockets, who picked up their first trophy since being formed at the turn of the century by beating that other top club, Wallsend Eagles, in Saturday’s North East Challenge Cup Final. A terrific achievement for a club that has long set high standards off the field; this may well be a harbinger of things to come.

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