It wouldn’t be the start of a season without a crisis somewhere. Yet again, it’s Bradford Bulls. As a Hull KR fan, I know all about watching your club live on the edge of disappearing. Neil Hudgell has wrought miracles keeping the club afloat, and with a new board member John Keable putting his financial clout in to the mix, hopefully, the days of week by week worry are behind them.
Bradford just seem to lurch from one crisis to another at the moment though. After all the money the fans pumped in to save the club (twice), they are now one game away from being on zero after the six points they were docked for entering administration and looking like (two players jumping ship aside) a team with real purpose. I can’t blame those players who left. After all, they have mortgages to pay, bills will become due and good will only goes so far. All credit to Francis Cummins. He has been a rod of iron during this latest crisis.
Is it about time the RFL just allowed a club to go under? It matters not that the club is one of the oldest in the competition, it would hopefully serve as a reminder that the pot of money in our game is not as deep as we would like to either hope or believe it is. Even the “new” Sky deal only slowed down the need of a few clubs to avoid calling in the administrators if rumours are to be believed.
In an ideal world, every club would have a Mr Keable or a Dr Koukash, but life just isn’t that fair. Sometimes the herd needs to be thinned out.
If the fans got together and as was suggested by Rod Studd, either bought the club or started a new one like FC United of Manchester, who knows? If the RFL gave grass roots clubs the sort of support they need, then perhaps in the new world of promotion and relegation, we may well see either a reborn Bulls or even a Bradford Northern once again grace the top flight of the game in the UK, and challenging for honours.
Talking of Dr Koukash…
After a fantastic first forty minutes against Wakefield on day one of Super League, Salford have been brought back down to earth with a bit of a bump.
The mauling handed to them in front of their home crowd by Saint Helens prompted the charismatic owner, Dr Marwan Koukash to tell fans that the team would not play like that again. In the intervening period before last night’s Widnes game, I’ve heard people (some of whom should know better) that Brian Noble was out of top flight coaching for too long, and had become little more than a media darling with his work at Premier Sports and in the printed press.
If any coach has had a close up look at modern day tactics, it’s Nobby. He attended almost as many RLWC games as were possible, and from his media eyrie, and with the access to the players and coaches he will have had, you can guarantee he was making more than a mental note of what plays were working and how they were put together.
I do believe that Salford as a team need a couple of things.
A week without a player being side-lined for a month would be nice, and any club that brings in 13 new players will take time to gel on the field of play.
I can see the owner’s frustration, and can to a great degree share it, being a season ticket holder, but I’m also a realist. You don’t become a bad coach overnight, just as you can’t build a great team overnight, especially in a sport as reliant on communication between players as ours is.
At the shirt presentation, Dr Koukash said his relationship with Brian Noble was more than the usual coach/owner one you will find in sport. I hope that Brian is given time to make this squad into the team they have the potential to become, because if not, Phil Clarke will look a right idiot backing them to win everything this season!
With a little over a week to go before he would see the fruits from the first wave of his “Redeviloution”, Dr Marwan Koukash opened the doors of the A.J. Bell stadium to fans old and new to personally present shirts to the squad that he firmly believes are capable of finishing in the top four of Super League XIX and to show off his vision for the Salford of the future.
It was a chance for the fans to not only get up close and personal with the players, but to have a good look around the stadium, with pretty much all areas open to them, from the new gym, put in so that the squad didn’t have to travel to Leigh sports village through to the dressing rooms. Even setting foot on the hallowed turf was not forbidden!
Marwan is a man who divides opinion, and it’s something he revels in. To be fair to him, he’s made certain that Salford have probably had the lion’s share of press during the close season, be it his ideas on the salary cap, or how to move the sport in the UK forward without the perceived interference from Red Hall. One of the first things he said ahead of the shirt presentation was how he felt about undoubtedly his biggest signing, Brian Noble. When Noble said that he needed to bring in about four of five players, Marwan laughed and said in his own unique way, bloody hell mate, we need to only KEEP four or five.
When Marwan says that his relationship is not the usual one of chairman and coach, you believe him. This is a man who has fought tooth and nail to get to where he is today, and will fight just as hard for anyone in his corner as he will argue against anyone he feels is not.
As he says, a 300% increase in season ticket sales may not be as large a number as Saints, Warrington or Leeds, but he understands that the fans have had years of wait and see promises that have gone undelivered and that many will still pay on the day, and (hopefully) many more will buy once they start to see the fruits of his actions on and off the field paying dividends. He has already approached Red Hall to ask for an exemption on the cap to bring in a marquee player who he is confident will be a game changer.
He also says that on paper, there are not many better teams than Salford. Problem is, the game is played on grass and on Sunday, against Wakefield, Marwan started to see his dream become a reality.
I asked Brian Noble just before kick off if he was feeling nervous and he said he was probably more nervous than the players, but they had a job to do and were looking forward to getting it done. With that, Brian shot off to finish his pre match preparation.
As the time for kick off drew ever closer, it became clear that something special was happening at the A.J. Bell, because the press area was rammed with journalists from all forms of media. Not all of them hung about for the final whistle, but they will all have a copy of the team sheet and a souvenir programme to be able to tell their grandkids that they were there…
With all the preseason hype surrounding the club, it was no surprise to see the touchline full of photographers, TV cameras and the entire Koukash family all soaking up the atmosphere. The Red Devil parachute display team were due to arrive at 2.15pm, but were delayed in taking off from Manchester Airport by about 15 minutes, but when they did arrive (bedecked in Salford shirts!) they were greeted with cheers by the waiting crowd, who had just been told that due to crowd congestion outside the ground, kick off would be delayed by 10 minutes to allow everyone to safely get inside.
Once 3.10 arrived, the Devils and Wildcats took to the field and it was obvious that Salford were not about to let the visitors spoil the party, with Gareth Hock going over after five minutes to score his debut try for the club, easily converted by Jake Mullaney to give the Devils a 6-0 advantage.
Wakefield’s first spell of pressure culminated in a goal line drop out after eleven minutes, but that was pretty much it for the Wildcats, who seemed to be getting most of their advantages down the left hand side, where Salford looked a little shorthanded at times. It wasn’t until the twenty fifth minute, when England international Rangi Chase went over in a challenge and hurt his knee, forcing Noble into a few tactical changes that Salford really started to pile on the pressure with Harrison Hansen scoring after twenty eight minutes, again converted by Mullaney, to extend the lead to 12 nil.
Four minutes later, Andrew Dixon also went over, making it 3 unanswered tries, all converted to allow the devils an 18 point advantage at the break.
So far, so good. Brian Noble must have felt like taking the second half off! The only fly in the ointment was the man in the middle, Mr Child, who seemed to not understand the onside at the play of the ball rule meant that the players (on BOTH sides) must retreat 10 meters. To say he looked out of his depth was an understatement. The RFL needs to seriously look at the standard of refereeing in our game. Steve Ganson is now supposed to be in charge, but over the last 5 years, on average the standard of refereeing has slipped in my honest opinion.
After the break, Wakefield looked to really take the game back to Salford and break the hearts of the home crowd, who as Dr Koukash had said have had so many broken promises, he understands that they are wary of yet another promised golden dawn not becoming sunrise.
It took just five minutes for the fears of the crowd to look like coming true as Matt Ryan scored for the Wildcats, and just another four for them to go over again in the guise of Samoan international Pita Godinet, this time converted by Paul Sykes to reduce the deficit to 18-10, the Wakefield faithful really started to make their voice heard. Not to be outdone, the Salford fans found themselves in for a very nervy finish, once Ali Lauititi went over not too long after being held up over the line, a fact coach Agar disputed in the post-match press conference. To quote Richard, ‘I’ve never seen anyone stop Ali one-on-one that close to the line’. He said: ‘Well, he didn’t’.
With Sykes only managing to convert one of his chances, Agar could well rue not coming away with at least a point from the game, if not two.
As it was, Salford got their much anticipated season off to a winning, if nervy start. Coach Noble said post-match that Chase had a muscular knock and at that point it didn’t look too bad and that Junior Sau had tweaked his groin, but that they would both be hopefully fit for Salford’s next game, away to London.
One other thing from Richard Agar was his unhappiness at a four day turnabout for both Wakefield and Bradford, with them playing this Thursday in front of the Sky cameras. Given the lack of preparation he’s had with overseas players, it’s understandable to want to get some good recovery and preparation under their belt before the next match, but it appears that it’s out of both his and the RFL’s hands with Sky making the decision to show games Thursday and Friday, at least until the end of the football season…
The announcement this week of a new deal to broadcast Super League was met with scepticism in a lot of ways.
Firstly, why did the RFL decide to add five years to an existing deal rather than put out to tender the rights?
After all, Sky have lost the Champions league and some Premier League games to BT Sport, the NRL and State of Origin are on Premier Sport, meaning that as one of the so called jewels in the Sky Sports locker, the game could have easily attracted more money and better coverage had the rights gone out to tender.
As the RFL is a closed shop effectively, the same people running the sport and the international game and (lets be fair here) delivering one hell of a World Cup, it means that there is no transparency in its dealings and the same few people decide what will happen and where. To give clubs just 24 hours to accept the new Sky offer was a joke.
How are the clubs supposed to look over the contracts and properly take in what they will win or lose in that space of time? They just have to take Nigel Wood & co.’s word that it was the best they could get.
Don’t get me wrong. Sky have done wonders for the sport, and as a former publican, I loved having a pub full of fans on a Friday and Saturday nights, all having differing opinions on the game and a load of banter, but aside from that, the coverage is excellent, but take a look at Premier Sports coverage of RLWC 2013 and the Championship games. It was also fantastic. What BT sport are doing with their football coverage is just as revolutionary as Sky when they first started showing the Premier league.
As Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan told League express, it’s a dreadful commercial decision to agree, with three years left to run on the current deal, a new deal to run from 2017 to 2021. He believes that for the RFL to pretty much bully the clubs into this deal is a sign of the bad governance at Red Hall, and I agree.
As he says, it’s the responsibility of the Governing body and Board of Sup League to make certain the right decisions are taken in the interest of the sport as a whole, but these two entities are largely made up of the same people!
He also feels the Chief Executive is too closely involved in driving through his own personal view of the restructuring, rather than the inclusive and open minded approach a Chief exec SHOULD lead with.
Lenegan regrets that due to the nature of the RFL’s take it or leave it offer, he voted for the deal for the sake of unanimity. He also believes that fans should realise that the process followed by the governing body was seriously flawed and will hopefully result in a major review of the management structure of Super League and dual involvement of the RFL in that management.
Martyn Sadler gives a breakdown of where the cash will actually go as well in the pages of League Express, but I for one hope that the RFL is looked at and the sort of breakaway that led to the Premier League being formed outside of the FA is looked at.
We have a great product.
We also let the RFL virtually give it away.
So, here we go with probably the most important season of domestic rugby league since the introduction of summer rugby.
With the reintroduction of promotion and relegation at the end of the season, all 14 current clubs will know what’s at stake should they fail to deliver on the field.
Round one though is the clash between Wigan and Huddersfield who are kicking off early to allow Wigan time for the World Club Challenge later in the month.
This is going to be an interesting game for both clubs, who on the face of it have had a lot to do since we last saw them in the play offs.Wigan have lost Sam Tomkins, Pat Richards, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and six others have all left for retirement or pastures new since last we saw the Warriors at Old Trafford in October.Wigan coach Shaun Wane is pretty confident that his squad will not only still be good enough to compete on all fronts, but to even win them all as well.Let’s face it, they put pretty much everyone else to the sword when the chips were down last season and Wane will ask no less of the squad this time around. Four trophy’s on offer. I’d bet on them making at least two of them home at the DW stadium again.
Just over the Pennines, it’s been a much quieter preseason at the John Smiths Stadium. Having won the league leaders shield for the first time in over 40 years. Paul Anderson has looked to build on a powerful squad with the addition of Antonio Kaufusi just one of the additions that fans of the Giants will this season take them that next step beyond a playoff semi-final and on to the big day out at Old Trafford for the Grand Final itself. As Luke Robinson told SLTV, they have been building at the club for a number of years now, and it’s time for that to pay off. Paul Anderson hit the nail on the head when he said that the bar had been raised for the club after 2013 and that the club as a whole needed to make sure that the standard is maintained going forward.
See more of what the Wigan and Huddersfield players and coaches have to say on Super League 2014 here:
So, it looks like this is going to be another season of off field turmoil for Bulls fans. After all the glory years at the start of the summer era, you’d hardly believe this was the same club who brought so much razzamatazz to the game. New chair, Mark Moore has rubbished any suggestion of the Bulls returning to administration, but they have revealed the club may have to make redundancies because of debts left by the previous owners. Moore took over as chairman at Odsal from Omar Khan in September. The local support has as always been superb, but a lack of play-off football again will hinder the Bulls chances of attracting the sort of high calibre players like Robbie Hunter-Paul, now the Bulls CEO, that they have in the past. The Bulls have extended their dual registration deal with Championship club Dewsbury Rams for a further year. All members of the Bulls squad, with the exception of overseas players, will be available to play for Dewsbury. Head coach Francis Cummins said: “Playing against fully-grown men is absolutely vital for the development of some of our younger guys. “A fantastic example is Adam O’Brien, who played so well for Dewsbury he won a place in our first team.” Dual registration aside, Cummins will be looking for his established stars to be wary of the younger talent that the Bulls will be keen to nurture if they are to enjoy the sort of success that they have in the past. For their opening game, Bradford Bulls host Castleford in a West Yorkshire derby at Odsal. Last season the Bulls won this fixture, 38-12.
I’ve already written elsewhere about the Tigers coach Daryl Powell and how his chance to coach again with a top flight club was long overdue. Daryl’s record as a coach is a 70% win rate with Leeds, Featherstone and so far with Castleford, so no pressure there then… 2013 now behind him, Daryl will be looking to push on and hopefully, with a stable base to build on and a strong squad both on and off the field, we should see a return to the “classy Cas” rugby of old. Powell’s teams are known for an attacking style of play that excites (and frustrates at times) the fan on the terrace. With Ryan Boyle signing a two-year contract extension to stay at the club to the end of 2016, the future is certainly looking good for Tigers fans. The 26-year-old Cas academy graduate played 17 times for the Tigers after returning from Salford in April in a swap deal involving prop Ryan Emmitt. Boyle told BBC Radio Leeds: “We’ve got a good competitive squad so fingers crossed it will be a big year for us.” I felt like I was playing the best rugby I’ve played in my career for the last third of the season.” He added: “The coaches Daryl Powell and Danny Orr have really brought my game on and they’re really fair blokes.” I think the fans can be really optimistic. With the side we’ve got you have to think top eight is a possibility.” Having been beaten by Bradford last season, they will be looking to put one over them at Odsal when they meet on the 16th February.
Strictly speaking, Catalan have had more players involved in the World Cup than any other club. 16 of the first team were in the French national squad that went out to England in the quarter finals. So, they should be pretty much the most match fit team in the league come February. Catalan Dragons full-back Morgan Escare has signed a new three-year contract, keeping him in Perpignan until 2016. Escare broke into the Dragons squad in 2012 before becoming a regular last term, a season in which he scored 14 tries in just 17 Super League games. That form won him a place on the shortlist for young player of the year at Super League’s Man of Steel awards. Also Catalan Dragons have signed winger Michael Oldfield from Sydney Roosters on a two-year contract. Oldfield, 23, was part of the Roosters squad that won the 2013 NRL title, having also been part of the Manly Sea Eagles side which did so in 2011. He also won his first international cap for Tonga earlier this year. Dragons head coach Laurent Frayssinous said: “He is a young and fast player and his pace will be a great value in our backline next season.” Oldfield is the Super League club’s third, and probably last, close-season signing. “We found an agreement with the Sydney Roosters and his agent to release Michael from the final year of his contract and allow him to join the Dragons,” said chief executive Christophe Jouffret. “After the signings of 2011 Lance Todd trophy winner Jeff Lima and Ben Pomeroy from Cronulla, we were looking for a fast winger and we are delighted to welcome Michael to Perpignan.” Having lost their last league match of 2013 away to Hull FC 14-4, they make the trip back to the banks of the Humber to open their season in 2014, hoping for a better result.
What more is there to be said about the Giants after last season? Apart from the fact that they managed to almost prove all of the critics wrong by going on to finally win the league leaders shield, but then going out of the playoffs to finalists Warrington, 30-22.
Close season signing Jodie Broughton from Salford Red Devils on a four-year deal. Leeds-born Broughton, 25, scored 12 tries in 22 Super League games for Brian Noble’s side this season. He is the third player to sign for the Giants in the last two weeks after Chris Bailey and Antonio Kaufusi joined from London Broncos. “Once I’d spoken to [coach] Paul Anderson I knew this was the place to be,” Broughton told BBC Radio Leeds. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Salford albeit we never finished in a play-off place. It was a good experience but coming here now will help me to push on. “I needed a new challenge and this was it. I think they can come away with some silverware next year.” With reigning Man of Steel and Scotland captain Danny Brough organising things, and Eorl Crabtree who narrowly missed out on a place in the England squad for the World Cup, the Giants will certainly be there or thereabouts when the business end of the season kicks in. The Giants will be opening the season away to the current champions, Wigan, on the 7th February, ahead of other clubs to allow the Warriors to take part in the World Club challenge.
The Arlie Birds will be on the hunt for silverware this year under new coach Lee Radford. With a host of new faces, the Old Faithful at the KC will have plenty to smile about with players like Fetuli Talanoa, former rugby union international Tom Biggs, Tonga’s World Cup forward Mickey Paea, ex-New Zealand prop Feka Paleaasina, Wigan forward Chris Tuson and utility player Jordan Thompson all arriving through the doors ahead of 2014. With Joe Westerman and Richard Whiting also signing new deals until 2016, Radford will be hoping to lure silverware and success to the stadium as well as top class support and talent. Off the field, Hull have partnered with local firm Veolia Environmental Services has further strengthened its partnership with the Hull FC Foundation after becoming one of the first local businesses to back a new project aimed at improving the lives of local people. A key supporter of the foundation’s State of Mind project in recent years, the UK’s leading recycling and waste management company will now play an active role in supporting the club’s mental health awareness workshops as part of the new “Play80” initiative. Recently launched by the Black and Whites, the scheme will deliver a range of health projects in the local community focused on obesity, healthy hearts, lifestyle and mental health. Gavin Smedley, business manager at Veolia Environmental Services, said, “We are delighted to be involved in the Hull FC Community Foundation partnership. “Social value is at the heart of our business and we look forward to working closely with Hull FC to inspire, educate and engage students across the city.” Hull FC’s community director Richard Munson added, “Once again, we are delighted to have Veolia on board with another exciting project for the Hull FC Foundation. “They have been excellent partners ever since I joined the club and their passion for helping the local community really shines through in the support they offer to a wide range of projects. “With the State of Mind scheme and now Play80, they have shown a particular passion for the mental health side of our work and we look forward to continuing our ongoing partnership into the New Year.”
HULL KINGSTON ROVERS
Across the great divide that is the River Hull, the Robins will be preparing for life after Dobbo. The talismanic playmaker who has headed off to the Newcastle Knights was the go to player for the club for so long, it’s now up to players like Greg Eden and Travis Burns, along with returning player Ben Cockayne to step up and take charge on the field and lead the robins to another top 8 finish. Last season Coach Craig Sandercock started the campaign with 17 players either injured or unavailable. That’s an entire first team, out. Hopefully, barring any injuries, He will be able to start with his strongest team from game one. The recruitment has been thick and fast at MS3 Craven Park. 10 new players have arrived, whilst 9 have left. Hopefully, Craig will be able to mould a team spirit into the squad that will allow them to make progress on the field and secure a top 6 spot. Rovers kick off 2014 at home to the Leeds Rhinos. Last season’s meeting ended 10-44 to the Rhinos, but with the addition of the new North stand being filled, it is hoped that the swell in numbers on the terracing will translate to atmosphere around the ground and improved performances on the park.
After a season that will be classed as a failure by some, the Rhinos will be looking to take the Super League title back to Headingly in 2014. Success on the pitch is vital to this club who have had more than their fair share over the last ten years or so. It’s not luck that wins you as many titles as the Rhinos have done, its hard graft and planning. With a settled squad, the signings have mostly been making certain that the crop of younger players are tied to the club until 2016, with players like Jimmy Kleinhorst and Alex Foster committing to the cause alongside newcomer Paul Aiton, although the loss of young signing Andy Yates will be a blow to the coach, The St Helens-born prop joined the Rhinos from Hunslet Hawks for the 2014 season but will now face a lengthy spell on the side-lines after an operation earlier in the week. Commenting on the news Head Coach Brian McDermott said, “We are all desperately disappointed for Andy, especially at the start of his time at the club. However, the six months will not be wasted time for him, instead he will have a full programme of rehabilitation from the conditioning staff and we will get him fully up to speed so he is ready for the step up to Super League. He is in the best possible hands here at the Rhinos and I am sure this will just be a minor setback for him given the determination he has already shown to succeed.” Leeds will be buoyed by the fact that their England stars all came through a tough tournament without any serious injury, add in the players they lost towards the back end of last year, like Danny McGuire, returning and you can be certain that Leeds will be back on the silverware trail.
After a close season of turmoil (yet again), the Broncos will be glad to start the season at the Hive, home to Barnet FC and actually get on with the task of avoiding relegation at the end of the season when Super League reverts to a 12 team structure for 2015. As it stands, the Broncos have avoided a point’s deduction by not going into administration and probably some very frantic calls between Red Hall and Barnet to secure the use of the ground. I’m not one of those who feels that a London based club in the top flight is essential for the good of the game, because at the grass root level, there are plenty of clubs beginning to grow regular interest in the sport. Another problem will be has Sean Long got enough players, because looking at the amount of support the club has on twitter (8000+ followers) if half of those who claimed they want to see rugby league in the capital actually turn up, then they should be a roaring success OFF the field, but as we all know, it’s the on field success that brings in the fans.
SALFORD RED DEVILS
It’s been a very quiet close season at the newly named A.J. Bell Stadium…Only 14 or so new signings and none of any real note.*
Just a real mixture of youth and experience that will (according to the good Dr Koukash) ensure that the way the game is played and run in the UK will change forever. When you sign players of the quality of Harrison Hansen from the champions on 4 yearlong deals and then look at who he will be joining, former Castleford Tigers star halfback and international Rangi Chase, and fellow England player Gareth Hock. The former Warrington Wolves captain Adrian Morley, ex-Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ Tim Smith, and Samoa internationals Francis Meli and Tony Puletua, both formerly of Saint Helens, complete the signings from Super League teams. Signings from the Australian NRL were the former Parramatta Eels fullback Jake Mullaney, ex-Melbourne Storm centre Junior Sa’u and Steve Rapira, previously of New Zealand Warriors. Also signed were former Salford Academy product, Jason Walton, and Greg Johnson, both from Championship side Batley Bulldogs. You know that the club means business. With one of the most experienced British coaches in charge, this season the place to be is the A57, just before City Airport, Salford. The wealth of talent on display is breath-taking and if Dr Koukash has his way, once the salary cap is raised, he will no doubt be bringing in more quality over the next few seasons as the Devils push for the silverware that the Dr has promised the loyal and vocal support that the club has.
Here is a club that is building on the foundations laid last season by new coach Nathan Brown. Only 5 new signings, but a new 5 year deal to James Roby says a lot about the direction the club is moving in. With Paul Wellens saying he is happy to hand the No.1 shirt over to Jonny Lomax, shows a maturity within the club that only comes when you move talent like Keiron Cunningham into the back room to give a club a sense of continuity. I see a couple of fallow years for the Saints, but they will as usual make the top 5 and the quarter finals, if not the semi-finals of the Challenge cup. With players like Luke Walsh at 7 and the arrival of Matty Dawson, who says says his goal is to play as many games as he can this season. The 23-year-old’s signing from Huddersfield Giants has gone under the radar a little with the arrival of Walsh, Mose Masoe, Richard Beaumont and Kyle Amor, but he is keen to make his mark. “I only played a few first team games at Huddersfield so it’s understandable I’m under the radar,” he said. “Hopefully that will help me.”I was coming off contract and I heard Browny (Nathan Brown) was interested in signing me. He took me from Castleford to Huddersfield but I never had the chance to play for him because I had some bad injuries. The loyal saints following will be looking to actually take silverware back to Langtree Park, but they will have to wait at least one more season in this writers view before the club hits the heights of seasons past.
Another club who have been very busy recruiting are the Wildcats. After losing players like Paul Aiton, Justin Poore and Ben Cockayne move on in recent weeks, they have recruited players like Samoan international Pita Godinet, former Parramatta Eels forward Matt Ryan, Scott Anderson, Paul McShane and Richard Moore to the cause and Richard Agar will be hoping for a larger points tally than the 21 garnered in 2013. After his stint coaching France in the World Cup, Agar will arrive in 2014 with some fresh new ideas to make certain that he isn’t relegated at the end of the season. An opening fixture against the Salford Red Devils will give fans and commentators alike a good idea of where the Wildcats will finish. A six game losing streak towards the end of last season undoubtedly cost them a place in the play-offs, but a strong start to the season will be needed and better fitness levels across the full eighty minutes will see them make it over the line this year I think.
The perennial cup kings will be looking to go one better in 2014. Last season’s beaten grand finalists will still be smarting from the defeat to Wigan at last year’s grand final, and nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal! Tony Smith is one of the shrewdest coaches in the game, and his policy of recruitment has paid dividends in the challenge cup and is beginning to show it in the league as well. As Smith told the clubs website: “We just want to be one of those clubs that’s up there competing. There’s no guarantees, as we’ve found out over the last couple of years, as to whether you win those trophies or not. A lot of things have to line up and fall into place but we’ll certainly be up there competing for those and giving ourselves every chance. I’m excited about the young talent that we’ve got. We are going through some transition but I think it will be fairly smooth as there’s an opportunity for some of the young guys to really step up and some are ready and fully prepared now. It’s only natural that as your team ages and matures that some need to move on. We are really grateful for all the contributors who have helped to bring this team on but it’s all been preparation for this team to come through. We’ve got plenty of depth and competition for places this year which is really healthy.”
Head coach Denis Betts will remain with Widnes Vikings until the end of the 2016 Super League season after agreeing an extension to his contract. Betts, 44, has overseen a steady progression since He took over in 2010. The ex-Great Britain forward guided Widnes to 10th last season and has sights on a top-eight spot next term. “We are in a really strong situation. We have a very good board of directors, playing staff and fan base but there is still so much to do,” he said. Widnes Vikings have signed prop Paul Johnson on a one-year contract after his release by Hull FC. The 25-year-old only joined the Black and Whites last year but was released early from his two-year contract after struggling to stay in the first team. The former Wakefield and St Helens forward joins recent new signings Danny Tickle, Danny Galea and Liam Carberry. “I’m confident that moving back home will show itself in my performances,” Johnson said. On signing Johnson, the Vikings head coach Denis Betts added: “As an out-and-out front-rower, his work ethic, ability and no-nonsense approach make him the person that he is. “There were certain times last year when we were missing those character traits, and his inclusion will certainly go a long way towards steering us in the right direction.”
So, we finally come to the current Champions of Super League.
The big question here is how will they fare without a certain Sam at one and perfect Pat at 5. In coach Shaun Wane is probably the hardest man to please at any club. He demands nothing less than 100% commitment and perfection from his players. I’m certain that He will have looked at the squad, made a few alterations and that the Warriors will once again finish in the top 2. You don’t become a bad team overnight a good friend of mine often says, it takes years of hard work, but losing those two plus Harrison Hansen to Salford will mean that Wigan will need a period of adjustment on the field. Shaun won’t allow anyone to rest on their laurels, and you can be assured that preseason will be tougher this year with a trip down under to look forward to as they take on the Sydney Roosters for the world club challenge, the first time it’s been contested outside of the UK since 1994, when Wigan beat Brisbane. I can see Wigan bringing back the trophy that Leeds allowed Melbourne to borrow last season home to the UK and then they will embark on a run of tough games in Super League.
It’s been 2 days now since Australia won the 2013 Rugby League world cup and I feel like I’ve lost a limb. After 5 weeks of covering the event as a social media journalist, I really don’t know what to do with myself. OK, there is the 2014 domestic season to look forward to, but that is over 12 weeks away! Between now and then, there is only Football, and the sight of fully grown men rolling about like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan after someone breathes heavily on them is no replacement for rugby league.
This has been the best attended, most watched and most profitable world cup ever. We know that because Nigel Wood has told us so, and for once, I am inclined to believe the powers that be. No one outside of the most diehard fan (and even then, it was a stretch) predicted that this would be as successful as it has been. A lot of the credit has to be removed from Nigel Wood and be given to the real person responsible for delivering, General Manager Sally Bolton. Her team spread over Media City in Salford and Red Hall in Leeds really have worked miracles at times. The hours they have put in to ensure that everything has gone to plan would give an HR manager apoplexy. I don’t think they even know what the “working time regulation” is. I know for a fact that Emma Neve has been in the office until 3am on some days sorting out emails, answering questions (Sorry Emma!) and confirming last minute details. 48 hours a week was seen as a minimum…They all deserve a real pat on the back and a couple of weeks off, somewhere warm & sunny.
Backing every single one of them up were the members of Team 13, all 702 of us. For me, the chance to actually work as a journalist was too good a chance to miss after writing for Forty-20 and Weloveleague.com and presenting on the radio in both Hull and Leeds over the years. The uniform was a tad bright to say the least, and as we found out at Rochdale when someone forgot 6 of us were waiting outside, the jackets were waterproof. Thanks Martin! Team 13 were drawn from all over the volunteering spectrum. Some were professional volunteers, who had been at the Olympics and post Cup were heading off to Glasgow for the commonwealth games in 2014, whereas most had had little experience and just wanted to be a part of an event for a sport they loved. Meeting these people and working with them has been amazing. Everyone has given their time and although we all had the odd moan about things here and there, to a person, every one of Team 13 would hail the tournament a success. I’ve met people I know I’ll keep in touch with and meet again, just as I hope many others did. Team 13 were the people that made the tournament flow. OK, we didn’t all stand about doing the viral dance as was predicted, but as someone in a senior marketing position for a well known multinational said to me, the thing about viral is it’s a growth idea, It has to be organic and good. You can’t just call it viral & hope everyone will take it up…Social media mangers take note!
The legacy of the cup has to be at international level. In an earlier post, I mentioned that perhaps getting the smaller nations to play in double headers in a mini tournament parallel to the Four Nations might be a good idea. I’d certainly go to see Fiji v Tonga before England v France or Samoa v Italy before Australia v New Zealand. That way, the teams can be alternated and the emerging nations can continue to grow between world cups and we can have even less of the blow outs scores that have thankfully not been seen too often this year.
From game one in Wales to game twenty eight in Manchester, the cup has shown that there is some real talent out there. No one expected Wales to be dumped out at the group stage, just as no one expected the USA to get past it, but that’s what tournaments are all about, minnows overcoming the odds. For me, the team of the tournament were Tonga. The pride and passion that the smaller emerging nations had been exemplified by this island nation and its leader, Charles Tonga. Both on and off the field, they conducted themselves with far more dignity than quite a few other nations did, believe you me. Below Dave Woods lists his team of the tournament, and it’s very hard to disagree with him. My player of the tournament is a close run between Sam Burgess & Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but I would have to give it to the Kiwi. For me, he was immense in every game I saw New Zealand play in and his loss in the final was not the turning point, but it certainly helped the Kangaroos.
So, we turn in the domestic realm once again to governance. After 6 clubs (Catalan Dragons, Huddersfield, Hull FC, Hull KR, Warrington and champions Wigan) all walked out of a meeting in October, Super League fans were once again left wondering what was going on at the “elite” level of the game. In a statement published on the 23rd October by Super League, Brian Barwick was quoted as saying “It is very disappointing that we were unable to take a vote on such important issues because some clubs chose to leave the room and refuse to participate further. “In many ways this form of action is unprecedented. These proposals would have had a positive impact on the whole sport but they were halted by a minority of clubs. “Clearly some of the clubs have deep-rooted issues and between us we have to find a way of resolving our differences for the benefit of both Super League and the wider game. “It is my view that this was a very unsatisfactory way for the six clubs to demonstrate their frustration.” Brian, the clue is that you (The RFL) don’t want to discuss the actual problems that you have within the game, all the clubs want is an open and frank discourse on the governance and commercial management, or lack thereof before allowing you to push through the reforms. Brian, Nigel and anyone else at Red Hall who really does love this sport and wants to see it grow, please, stop being so insular and listen to the clubs and the fans. We make the sport and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, just because we don’t work for you or don’t wear the right tie. Without clubs in the heart of the community, there is no Super League, no Championship and no NL 1. Grass roots governance will spread upwards and pay benefits for decades to come. Look after the penny, not the pound. That photo shoot of the England lads wearing their feeder club shirts that I’ve placed just below, that’s what inspired each and every one of them to play the game, a club in the heart of their community…
England players in the colours of the community clubs that gave them their start in the game.
Back row: Lee Mossop (Hensingham ARLFC), Kallum Watkins (Latchford Albion), Chris Hill (New Spring Lions), Thomas Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), Sam Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), George Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), Leroy Cudjoe (Newsome Panthers), Liam Farrell (Wigan St Patricks), Ryan Hall (Oulton Raiders).
Middle row: Tom Briscoe (Featherstone Lions), Zak Hardaker (Featherstone Lions), Brett Ferres (Smawthorne Panthers), James Graham (Blackbrook) , Carl Ablett (Hunslet Parkside), Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan St Patricks), Ben Westwood (Normanton Knights), Michael McIlorum (Queens).
Front row: Josh Charnley (Wigan St Patricks), Rangi Chase (Dannevirke Tigers), Rob Burrow (Featherstone Lions), Kevin Sinfield (Waterhead), Sam Tomkins (Wigan St Patricks), Gareth Widdop (King Cross Park), James Roby (Blackbrook).
Below are a couple of links to other writers who have covered the tournament. I particularly like Ian Ramsdales ideas for expansion of the domestic game.