Heros or villains?

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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.

 

 

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Challenge cup Quarter Finals preview.

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Just the four matches to look at this week, as the world’s oldest Rugby League Cup competition takes centre stage.
All four are being televised this year, with Sky once again leading the way and giving us cup football on a Friday and Monday evenings to compliment the BBC Saturday and Sunday games.
Friday night sees the Sheffield Eagles, who won the cup under the stewardship of John Kear in 1998 take on the London Broncos. At the time of writing, Sheffield had announced that they had sold over 2000 tickets for this, the last ever Challenge cup game at their current home in the Don Valley stadium, which is being closed following government funding cuts (Olympic Legacy anyone?) at the end of September this year. Sheffield will be looking to go out on a high, given that a semi-final awaits against a Super League club at a neutral venue for the winner.
Eagles Marketing Manager, Liam Claffey said, “The interest in the game up to now has been great. I am confident that the city of Sheffield and beyond will continue to purchase their tickets for this huge clash right up to kick off.”
“Along with the match itself, we also have a number of events planned for the evening, including the Gangnam style dance spectacular at half time, a mascot race prior to the match and with the weather forecast for Friday evening likely to hit over 26°C, it will be a memorable occasion for all.”
Eagles Head Coach Mark Aston has issued a rallying call to Eagles fans and all rugby league supporters alike ahead of Friday’s massive Challenge Cup Quarter Final. Aston said, “The response to the ticket offer so far has been fantastic but I’m urging everyone snap up tickets today before the prices rise tomorrow.” “To all Eagles fans, your support so far this season has been fantastic and I’m sure you’ll make a great atmosphere at the game. “If you can make sure your friends, family and work colleagues all know about this offer and the match, gather them up and get them down to Don Valley on Friday, it would be greatly appreciated.” With no Super League games taking place, Aston also wants the whole of Yorkshire to get behind the Eagles. “Tigers, Wildcats, Bulls, Rhinos, whoever you support, come down, support Yorkshire and the Eagles and come and see Don Valley for one final time.” Don Valley hold some great memories from Bradford fans after winning the league here, Andrew Henderson’s past at Castleford, Eagles founder Gary Hethrington who is at Leeds, there is lots of connections to the Eagles and the support would be fantastic.”
London will in my opinion, go into this game as underdogs, given their poor run of form in Super League. Indeed, London Broncos head coach Tony Rea has warned his players that their futures in Super League are at stake. The side are bottom of the table, having won three matches, but as we know, in a cup game, form counts for nothing. Rea will not allow his team to look at this as a walk over. Sheffield may not be a top flight side, but the club do have ambitions to be back at the top table one day. “When people are given the shirt you get an opportunity for yourself, your club and your career. “You get marked accordingly and have to rise to these things. If you want to play in a team at the top end of Super League you have to deliver. “He added: “We are a performance-driven business and you have got to perform. That’s the bit you can’t ever hide away from. “If someone throws you a challenge you have got to meet it. If they give you an opportunity you have got to take it. That’s how you get marked.”
I see this as a much closer game than a lot of people think & can see the Eagles soaring above the Broncos, but only by 6 to 8 points.
Saturday sees the BBC take over broadcasting duties for the two weekend matches, the first of which sees Catalan V Hull FC at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
The Dragons will be looking to carry on where they left off against the Airlie Birds with a 30-4 win in the league at home back in June. They will also be looking to emulate their heroics of 2007, when they went all the way to the final, losing to St Helens 8-30. Despite sitting in the top 8 and already having a win against the opposition, the Dragons will fancy their chances at home in front of their home crowd.
Hull FC on the hand will be buoyed by the fact that Gareth Ellis was cleared to play by the RFL disciplinary committee after being cited for a dangerous tackle, and Vice-Captain Danny Houghton has stressed how much Saturday’s cup quarter final means to the club, especially the players and supporters.
Houghton has been one of Hull’s stand out performers so far this season with consistently strong 80-minute performances and will go into the match as one of the players that would want to pose a considerable threat to a fierce Dragons side than when the last time the sides met. “To put that much effort in against Huddersfield and not come away with the two points is really disappointing for us all, but it gives us something to build on for Catalans this weekend and we are all really focused on going over there and getting the job done. “It won’t be easy, it is a difficult place to go and win and they are a very good side, but we know if we perform to the best of our ability we have enough quality in our side to get the win and get through to the next round.” Despite being a regular, Houghton missed out on selection for the 2008 final, which Hull lost 28-16 to St Helens.

Over on the other side of the Pennines, 24 hours later, Leroy Cudjoe is hoping to relive the result of three years ago as Warrington Wolves take on Huddersfield Giants in QF 3.
Back then, during the Super League Play-Off series the Huddersfield Giants travelled to the Halliwell Jones Stadium to take on Warrington Wolves with inform Leroy Cudjoe scoring a memorable intercepted length of the field try and Cudjoe believes that the Giants have the ability to claim victory once again:
“We had a great win there in the Play-Offs, scoring that late try to seal it was a really special feeling, so we know what it takes to beat them at their place.
“We turned up, believed in ourselves and performed well, which is exactly what we’re going to need to do on Sunday.”
They will also be looking to erase the memory of the 2009 final when the Wolves ran out at Wembley as victors over the Giants 25-16.
I was sat in the ground that day & I honestly felt that Huddersfield underestimated the strength of Warrington at times. I can’t see this side making the same error. There seems to be a belief about Huddersfield that has been missing over the last few years. This is a group of players who believe they can beat any team that they are facing.
Warrington who have for the last few years almost made the cup their own. With wins in ’09, 10 & 2012 will really feel that if they beat the Giants, the route to the final will be cleared of one of the more dangerous clubs in Super League. With both teams hoping to field full strength sides, this one will be the tie of the round.
The final game of the round sees us switch back to Sky for a Monday evening kick off between Wigan & Widnes. Warriors Hooker Logan Tomkins will miss next Monday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup Quarter Final tie against Widnes Vikings at the DW Stadium. Logan has received a one match suspension after submitting an Early Guilty Plea for a Grade B dangerous contact, his brother the talismanic Sam is also rated as 50/50 for the game by Coach Shaun Wane. “There is a good chance on Lee Mossop being fit for next week, there is less of a chance on Sam Tomkins and a chance for Sean O’Loughlin but even less than a chance for him. I would say its 90%, 50% and 30% chance on those players being fit and ready for the Widnes game.”
Widnes will be looking to end the dominance of their local rivals in recent games. Aside from beating a weakened (but don’t tell Shaun I said that) side in last year’s league, it’s been all Wigan recently. In their 1st encounter since the Vikings’ Super League return, 2012 saw an injury-stricken, 14th place Widnes side being triumphant by a solitary point on home soil, ending the match as 37-36 victors. Tries from White, Marsh, Winterstein and Flynn, along with a double from Briscoe and 6 Gareth O’Brien conversions, helped the Vikings to recover from a seemingly irreversible 18 point deficit and level the scores. With time running out, Welsh Hooker Lloyd White landed a successful one-pointer to put Widnes ahead 37-36, who then weathered a monumental Wigan onslaught in the final few minutes to emerge with the two competition points at stake.
Widnes Coach Denis Betts is looking forward to a bout of knockout Rugby League between the two clubs, and shares his thoughts about the forthcoming game:
“I think that the competition is what it is, the Challenge Cup, if you win, you win and go through, if you lose, you lose and that’s it. It doesn’t matter about either side’s form in the league, it’s all to do with having the right attitude to perform well and work hard in the game as soon as the first whistle blows. On paper, the experts will rightfully have Wigan down as the clear favourites to win, and say that we have got our backs to the wall. But we’ll take a lot of heart from our last game against them and try to give them a run for their money again.”
So, there you go, that’s all the Challenge Cup games looked at ahead of the weekend. Enjoy the games & whoever you support, I hope you get the result you want, if not the one you deserve.

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