As usual, Steve is a voice of reasonable argument…
Possibly one of the best writers on the sport of Rugby League, and he knows a fair bit about rock music!
Never a bad combination.
By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not overstating things that there has been something of a paradigm shift in out game as a result of the recently-completed Four Nations.
I have a favourite saying about the warring factions within our game: the parochial populists and the outward-looking anoraks: if the meek are to inherit the earth, then the geeks will get rugby league.
And with Jarryd Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess walking out on us all at the same time, the non-geeks are finally starting to get it. Fencing ourselves off and resigning ourselves to always being a regional sport just isn’t an option.
It never has been, but they couldn’t see that.
It works like this: the NFL and Major League Baseball and European soccer bring their teams to our doorsteps and try to make money from us. The money we usually give them would otherwise have gone to…
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Rugby league has a new coaching superstar.
Yesterday was the first time I’d met the London Broncos coach Joe Grima, but what an impression he left! He was honest, open and it was refreshing to have a coach who, despite a defeat, was smiling away and happily chatted to the gathered press at the A.J. Bell after his defeat to Salford Red Devils without reserve.
For my money, I hope he’s still in charge when (if) the Broncos head back to the top table following this seasons relegation. You can hear his post-match comments in full below, but he had a lot more positives to take from the game than certainly I expected.
On the other side of the coin, Iestyn Harris looked like his dog had just been shot despite a ten try haul that included a pair of hatricks, one for Greg Johnson and one for Josh griffin, who scored a total of thirty points, for his side and a much improved performance after the drubbing they and the clubs fans suffered the previous week, losing 42-6 to Wakefield. After last week, Harris had said that it was not possible to perform like that in a Salford shirt and as usual, the clubs owner Dr Marwan Koukash, was very vocal on social media about his feelings.
As it was, I thought Salford looked incredible for long spells of the game, and it was only in the last quarter that London started to make headway as the week’s hard graft that Harris had put his players through after last week began to take its toll and Salford began to look laboured.
As Iestyn said himself, he feels that after a real pre-season, Salford will have all the plays in place and the fitness to go toe to toe with any other club in the league. Given the undoubted beasting that the players endured over the last week, I don’t doubt it either.
As one fan commented to me, the club have the right man, the right players and all they need now is a chance to put plays together in the off season and gain the confidence in each other as a team that they sometimes look like they are missing on the pitch.
Either way, for me, the stand out man of the entire day was Joe Grima. The game needs more personalities like him at the helm of clubs. Coaches who are not scared of telling the truth or who are looking to hide behind referee’s decisions on the back of a bad result. London, I salute your club and wish you well for the future. You have the nucleus of a good young team who looked as if they will do well in the Championship, and should make the playoffs for a top table spot in 2016. Your signings have been astute and well thought through, with no panic buying of big names to buy your way back, but solid, reliable players with experience and a good blend of youth, I think the future of Rugby League in London is looking brighter by the year.
Please don’t let Joe go though!
Castleford v Widnes
Following Tuesday evenings disciplinary hearings, Castleford will go into the game missing arguably two of their more influential players in Weller Hauraki and Justin Carney, the former having lost an appeal against his ban for striking with the knee and Carney, who had pleaded guilty to making a Grade B dangerous throw on London Broncos’ Thomas Minns last weekend, the very same game in which he scored a hatrick of tries.
Understandably, Tigers fans are up in arms about the bans, given that Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield actually head-butted Luke Dorn and it was only cited as a grade C offence, allowing him with his exemplary record in the past to only miss two games with an early guilty plea.
As it is, Castleford will still field a strong side, one that has for some been the surprise package in the top flight this season.
Widnes Vikings on the other hand have no such problems and actually welcome back Kevin Brown following an injury scare. Brown, who suffered a knock two weeks ago and was thought to be a doubt. The form of ex-Huddersfield man Brown has been key to Widnes’ rise to eighth in the table, although a recent dip in form had seen Hull KR close to within a point, but the Vikings victory over the Robins last weekend has seen the gap increase to three points.
Chemics face Castleford Tigers in an eagerly anticipated semi-final at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday, and Betts is hopeful that his men will be in the best shape possible to go and claim a spot at Wembley. “We have to put all our focus on getting over this massive game, putting a really strong performance in, and dealing with what we can deal with, and getting on and performing the best we can,” he said “My job this week is to prepare the side and put them in the best possible shape to get to the start line and let them go. “This is a great rugby league town, it’s a massive thing for them. The Cup has always been held dear over the years. The ‘Cup Kings’ of the 1980s, and the great teams that played, players like Andy Gregory, Kurt Sorensen – they’ve got some fantastic history at this place. “But we’re writing our own history at the moment. We had to start again a couple of years ago, but we’re still aware of what our tradition is, and what this town is, and what it means to have a great rugby league side in this town.
Both clubs will beat the eager to put on a show for the packed Leigh sports village and also for the viewing audience on BBC 2 in the UK
The game on Sunday between the two is a sell-out, meaning a capacity crowd of 12,005 will be in attendance at Leigh Sports Village, eager to see which team will make it to Wembley for the first time in over twenty years. “It is fantastic to see the last remaining tickets get snapped up,” said RFL Marketing Director Mark Foster. “These fans are clearly hungry for what is sure to be a fascinating semi-final tie. Leigh Sports Village is a top-quality venue and I anticipate an electric atmosphere on Sunday. The fans of both Widnes and Castleford are incredibly passionate, so we can expect the decibel levels to be sky high”
Warrington v Leeds
Leeds and England skipper Kevin Sinfield will return from his two game suspension to lead the Rhinos in yet another semi-final for the club he has served since 1997. The Rhinos have not lifted the cup for 15 years and have lost three finals in the last four years. Sinfield has publicly stated that the team are firmly focused on the game against Warrington and no further, although adding to their tally of six grand final wins must seem like a dream they will never fulfil given their record in finals since 1999.
Sinfield is rightly disappointed in himself for his behaviour, but is determined to show the Leeds fans that he is fit, focused and ready to lead the rhinos on to another Wembley appearance.
Warrington have had a steady build up, and Ben Westwood is relishing the tie. “We all look forward to these kinds of games as rugby league players. We’ve been fortunate over the last few years to play in some really big games. “We’ve got some experience in our team, some older heads who’ve been in this situation, and we look forward to all a good tough game. “Hopefully we’ll do a good job and come out winners.” Westwood is well aware of the threat posed by many of the Rhinos’ star names. “Leeds have got some dangerous players,” he said. “Rob Burrow has always been a threat all his life. But he’s been really good for them since he’s come back from his injury. “They’ve got Kevin Sinfield who’s coming back from his first ever ban, so he’ll be looking to repay his mates for being missing. “Jamie Peacock’s played in numerous finals and semi-finals. He’ll bring all his experience for the young guys there. “So they’ve got players who can be dangerous and hurt you, but so have we. We’ll be looking to do a pretty good job on them, and hopefully it’ll be good enough.”
Leeds were beaten last week by already relegated Bradford Bulls. Westwood knows that form goes out the window when it comes to cup clashes. “I’m not reading anything into the Bradford game, I know they had a few players missing, and rested a few,” he said. “Form goes out the window when it comes to the big games. Anyone can win in these. “It’s just down to whoever performs well on the day. “Both teams will want to perform well, and it’s a question of who comes out on
Back when Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager at Manchester United, it was widely reported that there was a drinking culture rife throughout the club.
Fergie decided to put a stop to this and slowly but surely he weeded out those who were overly fond of a few pints no matter what time of day, and began to instil his own methods of discipline in the way the players trained and rested. Fergie walked into a drinking culture at United and chief culprits allegedly were fan favourites Whiteside and McGrath. It was unpopular but to cleanse the squad and prove his iron fist selling the pair was a vital early decision. The drinking school Fergie discovered on his arrival allegedly featured Captain Marvel. Though Whiteside and McGrath were sent packing, Robson’s commitment and performances never wavered despite off-field partying. Fergie stuck by his skipper and Robbo remained a key figure.
Now, back in the late 80’s, going out and getting mullered was seen as a manly thing to do as a sportsman, even Bobby Moore advertised a visit to your local. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s very much the opposite unless you happen to be a rugby league player.
Last year’s World Cup. England, all together as a squad with high hopes of reaching the final. Gareth Hock ignoring the coach and not only going out for a drink, but taking other unnamed players with him and he lost the chance to represent his country on the biggest stage possible for the sport, and this was AFTER his rehabilitation from a two year ban after testing positive for cocaine! Another who was due to shine was Zak Hardaker, sent home for “personal reasons” only to be fined after a Leeds Rhinos club investigation and who has been back in the news for a different reason lately. Zak made a stupid comment in the heat of a TV game that was caught on camera. Who hasn’t said something stupid in the heat of the moment? Only we’re not professional sportsmen and we didn’t have a camera on us at the time. There were even people who wanted him banned for life! Now, you go and ask anyone in the LGBT community what they think and they will tell you he’s a d**k head who made a mistake.
And things have altered a lot this season. Gareth has been in sensational form for Salford and no one hears about his off field antics, which is great, but there are others who seem to think that every Monday is Mad Monday, or that it’s OK to drink drive because you’re a local hero, or try certain substances because they are offered to you on a plate for free, because of your job.
I appreciate that players need to let off steam after a game, but the advent of social media (mainly twitter) means that everyone gets to see your indiscretions as soon as you make them.
In the past week, the Cronulla Sharks have fired Todd Carney for posting a “lewd” photo of himself and Hull KR have fired Wayne Ulugia for “repeated breaches of club discipline”. He was two months into an 18 month contract, and you’re telling me the bright lights of Hull sent him off the rails?
Come on, don’t be so naïve.
Hull KR have had their fair share of players who liked a drink and then wanted to drive home, or lash out at someone after too many pints of scotch on a Sunday night just as all clubs have. I grew up in East Hull, and the rumour mill on a Monday was always alive with who drunk what or slept with another of the local bikes after having had too many, but I’m sure other clubs were just as bad, just better at either keeping out of the papers, or had fans with a little more discretion.
I really thought those days were long gone, until 2011 and Ben Cockayne. He allegedly posted the racist remark “p*** c***” on his friend’s Facebook Wall. Ben is another who has really turned a corner in both his private life and on the field. Another from the Hull stable of bad lads turned good is Paul Cooke. In October 2006, he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm following an altercation in Pozition nightclub in Hull, and then in 2008 a conviction for drink driving. Again, Paul has turned things around and is doing a great job at Doncaster, Josh Charnley, posting a nude photo of himself on what must have been a very, very cold day (Sorry Josh) was lucky. He just had people rib him about it. Another player who has spent time working in East Hull…
But why do rugby league players seem to think that it’s still OK to act like an idiot?
Todd Carney is claiming his mate’s brother lost his phone which led to “that” photo going viral and him being fired from his au$650,000 a year job. Whatever the reason for it getting out there, the fact is that players need to wise up when they are out socialising, and it’s up to the clubs who employ them to make certain that players coming through academies and those already on top contracts get taught what’s right and what’s wrong.
Journalists will always follow the story and when you’re an athlete in a sport as community centric as rugby league, you can bet your bottom dollar that any whiff of scandal will be plastered all over the news. Not to try and damage you, or your club, but to garner more views or sell more copies in a dog eat dog world. That’s just the way it is. Remember Gazza and the kebab night out with Danny Baker and Chris Evans? Just before a tournament, and he’s daft enough to be led astray, the golden boy of English Football as he was at the time.
Be it Hull, Leeds, Castleford, Wigan or Sydney, players will have to learn that there is no one who won’t sell their story or photo to a local paper if the money is right. Money talks and morals walk. I pride myself on keeping a confidence, and even as a journalist, I wouldn’t wilfully post a rumour that would hurt either a club or a player without checking all my facts first, or I risk losing the confidence of players, coaches and media mangers and then my job is pointless.
There has to be a sea change at club level as well. It’s OK having suites of people who look after your clubs media image, and who proudly claim to be a media manger, but who teaches the kids in the academy how to handle the press, or some of those players who may not be as tech savvy as others? Clubs need to act now to ensure that players and staff at all levels are not just aware of their responsibilities where social media is concerned, but also teach them how to use it properly, after all, it’s another tool in their bag to showcase themselves and connect with fans worldwide.
I’m very pleased to say that those I’ve mentioned here are the minority and they have all returned to the game reformed characters. You never hear of Jamie Peacock rolling out of a nightclub drunk, or Sonny Bill Williams lashing out at someone. Hell, Sonny is playing the next month without breaking his strict religious views as its Ramadan. He should be on the front pages of every paper for putting his body on the line like that. No food or fluids after 7am? Rather him than me…
Let’s celebrate the fact that on the whole, our superstars are actually decent, hardworking people who thrill us week in and week out with their skills, rather than focusing on the minority who give the rest a bad name.
It would appear the Marc Green is determined to drag out the Bradford Bulls point’s saga for as long as possible.
Or maybe it’s not Marc…
I think I speak for most fans of the sport (not Super League, but the sport as a whole) when I say enough is enough.
No real fan of rugby league wants to see the Bulls go out of business, but that club has been badly run by a number of people for a while now. Every couple of months, there was a new investor waiting in the wings, the fans would be owners of the club or some other such line trotted out by another suit.
This time, when the Bulls went into administration, fans of other clubs couldn’t quite understand how they were allowed to remain in the top flight, after all, this was a second offence. Mr Green rightly asked for a review of the RFL decision, and lost. At one point, the club turned up and didn’t even have its own paperwork in order, yet still expected to win!
Now on “legal advice” he has decided to take his battle to the high court. A club statement read: “The Bulls’ legal representatives have reviewed the independent panel’s decision and decided to further pursue legal action against the RFL. The decision to do so has not been made lightly and will be continually reviewed to ensure that any action taken is beneficial to the club, players, partners, supporters and the sport as a whole. “We would not embark upon such an exercise without good reason and cause. We are not doing this just for us as a club, we are pursuing matters for the good of the wider game.”
On what planet can the possibility of the relegation of a club from the top flight of a major UK sport being decided in a law court be good for the “wider game”?
Don’t forget, this is a club which had to cough up over £500,000 in compensation to Leeds after the Iestyn Harris saga rumbled through the courts.
There can and will be only one winner here.
Who gets paid if it goes to court?
Who will advise the Bulls to take it further if they lose this round?
Who will drag the whole of the RFL and Super League to the Court of Arbitration for sport if they lose?
Anyone else beginning to see a pattern here?
Did any of the clubs who failed in the last round of licencing take the RFL to court? No. Because the clubs all agreed to abide by a set of rules and regulations. It appears that Bradford’s new chairman feels that these rules and regulations don’t apply, and just because he’s new to the game and wants to suckle at the teat of the RFL and Sky for a little longer.
Sometimes you just have to accept what’s happened and move on. If Mr Green is so certain he can hang on to the players he’s got, and bring in new ones, then perhaps he should back them to bounce back into the top flight at the earliest opportunity.
All in all, it’s the loyal fans of the club I feel for. They have had to put up with so much in the last few seasons, and they are desperate for the glory days to return to Odsal stadium. The Bulls were the first club to really bring the razzmatazz into the sport. Sadly, this, along with the silverware has dried up.
Fans of Bradford, I for one truly hope that this time, you have a chairman who isn’t there just to collect some kudos and cash from the RFL before bailing and leaving you in administration for the third time.
I can sympathise to some degree with Marc Green and his determination to try and get the clubs six points back, following their time in administration. I’m also certain that like other fans of the sport, that Bradford were not that hard done by. After all, six points was at the lower end of the sanctions that could have been levied.
One of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing, over and over again, but to expect a different outcome.
For Mr Green to make the following statement:
“In respect of the point’s deduction, despite this being unpopular with others in the game, the club will be making a decision next week as to whether to take matters to the High Court. While I appreciate the comments made suggesting we should accept our medicine and move on, I can only acquiesce to such thought process if I am satisfied the original decision was correct,” he said.
“Just because a doctor provides a diagnosis, it does not mean you are not entitled to a second opinion. The issues surrounding the point’s deduction and our appeal were and remain extremely complex.
“However, we believe the decision reached by the Sporting Sanctions Appeals Panel was not only flawed but completely wrong and, as a result, I am willing to continue fighting the fight for this great club.”
Just shows how determined he is as chairman, but surely, the time has come to just say enough is enough, lets fight for our survival.
No. Let’s sack the bloke who worked for free when this club was in its darkest hour, because it’s obviously his fault we’re in this position. It can’t be the players that went off whilst he (loyally) stayed with the club.
This was the second time the club had been in trouble, and in all probability they could have been kicked out of the top tier just for that, but the point’s deduction was a fair and reasonable way to deal with this. Mr Green’s point that it was the fault of the previous owners also has its merits, but he knew when he went into this that the club were in a bad way. He had his second opinion at the review panel, but it seems he wants a third! Where will it end? At Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne? The previous owners of the club should be barred from ever being involved in the sport again. Bradford has a long and proud history in the sport of Rugby League, and overall the sport would be poorer if they disappeared from existence.
Let’s look at it another way. Liverpool FC also have a long cherished history, but if they were to go bust and out of business and left the league, everyone (apart from a few Everton and Manchester United fans) would agree that the competition would be a lesser one without their name taking part.
What I can’t understand is the continuing appeals process. Why can’t people just accept the decision that was made by an appeals panel? Especially when you are told that one of the two parties involved couldn’t get all their paperwork in order for a date and meeting that could very well decide the fate of a club for the next few years. Appeals are all well and good, but sometimes you just need to admit that you’ve lost and move forward.
Mr Green should now look to set up the club for life outside of the Super League, at least for one season, given the announcement of the sums of money to be distributed to the clubs at the end of the season. With that sort of money and an increased salary cap in the Championship, Bradford may well bounce back if they can keep hold of their core support and (hopefully) increase it. Judging by some of the comments made, they will be one of only a couple of clubs able to be promoted!