THE 2014-15 BARLA Yorkshire Cup Final will take place on Friday (16 January) at Hunslet Hawks’ South Leeds Stadium, when Drighlington will meet Queens.
BARLA officials confirmed arrangements yesterday for the blue riband event after being obliged to resolve a complex wrangle following allegations that both Fryston Warriors and Sharlston Rovers played a suspended player in their semi-final, which Fryston won 14-10.
Drighlington, who prevailed 18-17 at Methley Royals in the other semi-final on the last Saturday of November, have since been awaiting details of their opposition in the decider.
Sharlston and Fryston both sought, unsuccessfully, to lodge appeals after being expelled from the competition, with the Warriors seeking to have the decision overturned and Rovers questioning the severity of the sentence imposed on Ryan Chalkley, who had been under a six-match suspension incurred while with Shaw Cross Sharks and who has had a further 10 games added to his sanction.
Meanwhile beaten quarter-finalists Upton and Queens met, at the invitation of BARLA, in an unprecedented elimination semi-final on Saturday 27 December (the original date for the final) to determine the other finalist.
Queens won that game, at Hunslet Hawks, 26-14 and will return to the ground this week in confident mood, having beaten Drighlington 16-6 in the 2010-11 decider at Wakefield Wildcats.
Player/coach Scott Houston said: “It’s maybe not the way we’d have preferred to reach the final, but there’s nothing any of the lads can do about that and we’re delighted to be in the decider.
“The BARLA Yorkshire Cup has always meant a great deal to Queens, in fact it’s a piece of silverware we’ve always targeted, perhaps as much as the National Cup in some ways, and we’ll be going into the game hoping to stage a repeat of the 2010-11 final, when we beat Drighlington 16-6. That result, though, will have no bearing on this year’s final. We’ve added seven or eight players to our squad this season, for whom an appearance in a major final will be a new experience. I’m sure they’ll respond well to the influence of the older lads.”
Houston, who took over as coach from the hugely successful Richard Milner, has a squad in place of extraordinary resilience. Queens, through a number of factors, were desperately short of players a season or two ago and were obliged, on several occasions, to fulfil fixtures with only 11 players. That they picked up points in the tough arena of the Pennine League’s Premier Division speaks volumes for the spirit in the camp, as does the fact that the north Leeds outfit has never defaulted on a match in a distinguished history stretching back four decades.
“We battled our way through a difficult spell,” admitted Houston. “We came perilously close to folding, maybe no one wanted to be part of the first Queens team that failed to show up for a game.
“But the experience has reminded us of what we’ve got. These are good times for us, we’re back in the Challenge Cup and it’s fantastic, despite the circumstances, to be in the Yorkshire Cup Final again.
“We’re sure we’ll acquit ourselves well. Both teams played good rugby when we met Upton in the elimination semi-final at Hunslet and we’re keen to shed the old image of us being more of a physical side than anything else. That’s never been accurate anyway; we’ve always been able to play quality football.”
Drighlington, meanwhile, left the field after their narrow win at Methley on 29 November expecting to play the final on Sunday 28 December – and with no league games scheduled in the interim following the Pennine League’s decision to show them the door immediately after their announcement that they were switching to the Kingstone Press Cider National Conference League.
Head coach Nathan Graham, who has Challenge Cup Final experience with Bradford Bulls, said: “It’s dragged on a bit and it’s not been easy keeping our players fully focussed without any matches.
“The Rugby Football League turned down our request to play Brighouse in a friendly in December, citing insurance reasons, so we’ve trained hard, with full contact sessions on Sunday mornings.
“We’ve also tried to give three or four players a run-out each week with our `A’ team, although we’ve opted not to include too many as our second team lads obviously have to be given priority at that level.”
Drighlington have argued that the match should be staged on a Saturday or a Sunday, when more of their junior players would be able to attend and there would be fewer constraints through work obligations.
“We’d planned to return to our clubhouse for a celebration, win or lose, on the original date of 28 December, and that’s still our stance,” said Graham. “It’s not ideal on a Friday night, and I’m sure that there are professional grounds available from now and into February on Saturdays or Sundays.
“The Yorkshire Cup Final is our grand finale to winter rugby, as we’ve been denied the opportunity to win the Pennine League, despite having stressed that we’d fulfil our programme regardless of us joining the National Conference League.
“We are now entering a new era, with a new clubhouse being built, and Drighlington will operate as a single unit, with teams at all age levels no longer operating almost as separate clubs. That process has already started. Our Under 13s were in the Yorkshire Cup Final in early December and eight or nine of our first team went along, with their wives and girlfriends, to support them. That’s the spirit in the club these days.”
Fryston, meanwhile, are reeling after being refused the right to appeal against their expulsion.
Their ineligible player, James Cryer, had incurred his ban while playing for Lock Lane in the Kingstone Press Cider National Conference League, the Warriors falling foul of the regulations because of confusion over the date on which the suspension began.
Fryston coach Malcolm Agar said: “We are bitterly disappointed. We accepted the punishment handed out by BARLA, and were refused the right of appeal even though it was virtually impossible for us to find out when the player’s ban started because the secretary of Lock Lane was on holiday at the time.
“Since then it has to come to our attention that the person who made the complaint about us playing an ineligible player remained anonymous, and that the email that person sent could not therefore be answered.
“Surely if someone, knowing the information about our player, is so passionate about their club they would not care who knew they had made a complaint, as long as their club got its just rewards.”
Agar continued: “I have tried, for the last two weeks, to get to the bottom of this, only to be sent round the houses.
“I have asked for a copy of the anonymous email if only for peace of mind and to put the matter to bed, only to be categorically refused sight of it.
“The attitude of BARLA officials has left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Delegates at last week’s meeting of the Castleford & Featherstone ARL had voted in favour of Fryston being allowed to process an appeal, which had been ruled by BARLA as being `out of time’.
Agar said: “The information regarding the anonymous email only came light after our appeal time had expired.”
BARLA has since confirmed that an appeal cannot be made in any case as the Warriors had paid the fine initially imposed.
ROUTES TO THE FINAL
Round one: Morley Borough (a) 40-12
Round two: New Earswick (h) 84-6
Round three: Norland Sharks (h) 36-0
Semi-final: Methley Royals (a) 18-17
Round one: Ryder Rabbitohs (h) 18-0
Round two: Batley Boys (a) 34-10
Round three: Sharlston Rovers (a) 19-14 (lost)
Semi-final: Upton 26-16 (at Hunslet)
Tony Martin, of the Oldham Society, will referee the match. His touch-judges will be Jason Woodman and Ryan Calder, while the reserve referee is Gareth Billingham, of Castleford.
The 2014-15 BARLA Yorkshire Cup Final is being played for the first time at the South Leeds Stadium, the home of Hunslet Hawks.