What is wrong with the clowns at Red Hall?

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Is a question often asked by fans of the game. It’s now a question being asked more often, and with a louder voice by the administrators and owners of the clubs as well, and not just Dr Marwan Koukash over at Salford, but in the games heartlands as well. And it’s not just Nigel Wood that has irked the men who in more cases than we would like to be reminded of keep our clubs afloat…
Recently, Hull KR chair Neil Hudgell was fined £1000 for comments made about the disciplinary panel, or more specifically, the match review panel. You can read the excellent piece on both Adam Pearson and Neil Hudgell by the Hull Daily Mail’s James Smailes in this month’s edition of Forty-20 magazine, although I notice that the RFL are consistent in their inconsistency, not fining Pearson, but fining Hudgell, but I want to ask another question of those idiots at Red Hall.

Why schedule Magic Weekend for the same date as the FA Cup final?

OK, what no one could have foreseen was that both Wigan Athletic and Hull City were in with a chance of actually making it to Wembley for the final, but what was wrong with holding it on the Bank Holiday Weekend like in 2013? Better weather, bigger crowds all means more money in the pockets of Red Hall.
If like me, you are a Hull KR fan who also follows City and happens to also have a Son who is a Wigan Athletic supporter (It’s his Mothers fault. Don’t ask!) What should I do if Wigan make it to Wembley? I can’t send him on his own. And if Hull make it, do we both go and miss the only day of Rugby that’s worth watching this year?
Someone at the RFL should have looked at the sporting calendar and realised what a huge mistake they were making. Only a moron wouldn’t realise that the sporting press would rather be in London than Manchester for the day!
Is this just a case of the RFL not actually thinking before doing, or were there other factors? Either way, as the RFL is such a secretive pain in the arse, we as fans will never know, but I bet the FA are laughing their socks off at Rugby League trying to stage one of its biggest events on the same day as the FA Cup final. And they wonder why those both within and without of the game think that Red Hall is a joke. The left hand is too ignorant to even acknowledge that the right exists where other sports and the fans are concerned. The fans are little more than revenue machines to be fleeced whenever possible.
A few years ago, I was at Headingly for a World Club Challenge game. The RFL had taken over the catering and the prices had all been raised. Why? No one was willing to say, but I was told at the time that it was nothing to do with the club.
Personally, I won’t make it to either as an old friend is being enthroned in her new church in West Kirkby that day, and I made a promise that I would be there to watch, as neither the FA nor the RFL were willing to move their games…
Trust me, I asked!

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The Redeviloution is well underway

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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.

Just…

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…

Salford:

Mullaney (3/3 Conv), Johnson, Walton, Sa’u, Meli, Chase, Smith (MOM), Morley, Lee, Tasi, Hansen (T), Hock (T), Puletua

Replacements: Griffin, Dixon (T), McPherson, Howarth

Wakefield:

Mathers, Fox, Collis, Keinhorst, Lyne, Sykes (1/3 Conv), Godinet (T), Anderson, McShane, Smith, Lauititi (T), Kirmond, Washbrook

Replacements: Raleigh, Ryan (T), Tautai, Walshaw

Att: 7102 (Stadium record)

A “New Deal” for the sport?

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Hardly.
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.

The end of Days…

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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.

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.

 

http://ianramsdale.tumblr.com/post/68702289407/rugby-league-world-cup-2013-success-one-step-closer-to

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-league/25105316

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/rugbyleague/article3937527.ece (PAYWALL)

 

 

Wembley, the “Big Hit” 23/11/13 & Where do England go from here?

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So, after a 200 mile drive, a two mile walk to the stadium, what felt like another mile up to the complimentary, but cheap seats in the gods, it was time to say goodbye to two more of the teams at Rugby League World Cup 2013.

Today would decide who would contest the final itself at Old Trafford. New Zealand would take on England, and Australia would try to best Fiji in back to back games at one stadium.

From the off, England seemed to look to take the game to the Kiwis, and indeed, took the lead through a Sean O’Loughlin try, converted by Sinfield who also added a penalty mid-way through the first 40, but the Kiwis struck back, thanks to a miracle flick pass from Dean Whare which allowed the man who for me was man of the match, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score. Again, it was a penalty that allowed the Kiwis to draw level at eight a piece going into the break and indeed Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was fortunate to avoid being put on report for a swinging arm to a prone Sam Burgess.

The second 40 started in much the same vein, with England defending set after set. And New Zealand were quick out of the blocks in the second half, Hall’s missed interception opportunity allowed Tuivasa-Sheck to score his second try of the game.

Wembley from the Gods

Wembley from the Gods

As Tomkins waited underneath a high ball, Gareth Widdop was penalised for obstruction, to give New Zealand another penalty in front of the posts, which Johnson opted to kick, giving the Kiwis a six-point lead. However, England started to gather momentum, and a fresh set of six was enough to close the gap. Sinfield found Leeds Rhinos team mate Watkins who went over, with Sinfield unable to level the scores with his conversion attempt, something that would come back to haunt England. Hall might have put England ahead again after he came up with the ball following a scrappy period of play with 15 minutes left but the Leeds winger slipped as he ran towards the line. When England went into the lead thanks to Sam Burgess with 15 minutes left on the clock, the England fans in the crowd began to finally hope that they would get to see the lads in one more game at Old Trafford.

Some sloppy defensive kicking gifted New Zealand possession and then a penalty allowed then to run at our defence and with some superb ball handling skills, find a gap in the defence and slip over for the winning try.

So, it’s (hopefully) farewell to the most negative period of coaching England (or indeed Great Britain) has had to put up with in a VERY long time. McNamara is no coaching genius, that is certain, but whomever is responsible for deciding to start playing the game in a Rugby Union style and kick every penalty needs shooting. It’s a negative tactic that the game can easily do without. It basically says to the opposition, “We don’t think we can cross your try line, so we’ll play it safe, and hope to get a penalty in your 20m zone”. The aim of Rugby League is simple. Score tries. They are worth 4 points and win you games.

OK, it keeps the scoreboard ticking over, but it stagnates the rest of the game. How can we have a flowing, exciting and expansive game of rugby league if all the coach has said is if you get into their half and can get a penalty, kick it, don’t run the ball? The simple answer is we can’t. It’s a worrying trend that is creeping into the game at all levels. Take the 2, don’t run the ball.

Every member of that England team played with pride, passion and commitment, of that there can be no doubt, but negative tactics often come back to haunt you. There is no guarantee that you will score a try, but a set of 6 in the oppositions last ¼ will more often than not mean that you will turn over the ball on or near their touchline. England’s decision to “take the 2” has meant that they took the pressure off the Kiwis who soon realised that if they messed up and gave away a penalty, rather than have to defend it & become fatigued, they had to stand, wait for the kick and then return the ball and make England play all the way down the pitch, having only lost a possible 2 points rather than a possible 6. Yes, the Kiwis also kicked a penalty in the 1st half, but they always looked like they could cross our line. At times, our leadership both off and on the field looked weak, a case of if I kick this & we win, I’m a hero, if I kick & we lose, we fail as a team. It is, at the end of the day a team sport, and I lay no blame at the feet of any individual who pulled on an England shirt for the defeat, rather it lies at the feet of those in charge of coaching the free flowing rugby we all love and that the Aussies & Kiwis play to such great effect. We have weak leadership at the RFL who seem to know nothing about sport or business at times.

Who gives away a TWO year sponsorship deal, cancels it after one and then expects someone to pay? Nigel Wood & Co. No wonder six clubs wanted a review of the competition’s commercial management and governance, before talking about how the league should be structured. It’s only right and proper that the Clubs themselves are run on a sound financial footing, but it seems that the RFL are exempt from that.

Perhaps the time has arrived and the RFL in its present guise is no longer fit for purpose. An overhaul is needed, of that there can be no doubt, but where do we start? With the clubs, or with the administration of the game that has let the clubs down?

They have brought in Brian Barwick, a man who left the FA under a cloud after he failed to agree with its first independent chairman, Lord Triesman, how it should move forward. He has less experience in running a successful business than I have! OK, Barwick has only been “in post” for just under a year, but let’s face it, he has an uphill struggle to convince fans that he can turn around the commercial fortunes of the sport, especially if others at Red Hall are unwilling to look at sponsors who don’t fit the family friendly face of the game they are so keen on pushing.

Gary Hetherington, for all his perceived faults by other people within rugby League has at least since 1996 made Leeds Rhinos into arguably the biggest club in English rugby league. Why are we not looking at people like him to run the game? Or is it just a merry go round for people like Barwick? Where next? Volleyball England for a couple of years, or the International Federation of Dominos perhaps? Let’s face it, he must be very busy as a member of the Board of Directors at Hampton & Richmond Borough F.C. In February 2012 he was appointed by Liverpool F.C owners to the management hierarchy of the club as well as chairman of the RFL, so I’m not surprised he very rarely gets to anything but games like the challenge cup final, world cup opening games, semi & final. OK, we as fans don’t get to see behind the velvet curtains at what is going on, but again, isn’t that what the clubs are also asking for? A little bit of clarity and assurance that things will get better commercially?

Oh, and Australia demolished Fiji…

1/4 final 4 – Samoa v Fiji

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What a weekend of ¼ finals that turned into. From Friday and the Kiwi lads blowing the Bravehearts of Scotland away, England once again stuttering to a win over the French, through to Sunday’s bone crunching encounter between Samoa and Fiji, the 4 games could not have been more diverse.

No one ever expected to see Scotland and USA in this round, but they can hold their heads up high as despite being outclassed score wise, they more than held their own and refused to lie down and roll over for their more illustrious opposition.

I was lucky enough to be at the Samoa v Fiji game and I can attest that even from the press box, there were a few hits that made even hardened journalists wince in sympathy with the players on the pitch. It’s hard to think, but with only 700 miles separating these two nations, they have only played each other once before this RLWC2013 quarter final.

The pre match favourites with the bookies were Samoa, but there were two fully committed sets of players on that Warrington field. Believe it or not, I had worn sun glasses leaving Manchester in the car to take the short hop along the A57 to Warrington, but didn’t need them by the time I arrived! It was a dull grey drizzly afternoon at the Halliwell Jones, but even as I arrived 2 hours ahead of kick off, there were fans beginning to make their way into the ground and getting ready for the afternoons entertainment.

Once I’d grabbed a brew & a quick chat with the rest of the Team 13 media pack, I headed out to the stands to take a look around. After bumping into the Event 360 manager, Pete Nuttall, I noticed that one of the 2 clubs involved in the build-up game were my old friends from Crossfields RLFC, where the annual Tom Sephton memorial trophy takes place. Date for your diary, its back next season on the 28th June when the RLC team will attempt to wrest the trophy from the lads. If you’re in the North West, there is no other place to be on that day, as the ONLY Super League match is London v Widnes so no excuses for helping make the day an even bigger success than it has been in the past.

Crossfields Masters

Crossfields Masters

Anyway, kick off arrived and a crowd of over 12,000 began to roar on the local team of Samoa, turning this small area of Cheshire into the South Pacific for just over 80 minutes. You can hear what Matt Parish had to say about the people of Warrington post match by clicking on the link below.

It was an entertaining match, and to hear a group of proudly Fijian soldiers out chanted by a group of school kids from beginning to end, whilst egging them on to even louder chants just shows how great this game is and its strength in its communities.

Although Fiji looked like easy winners with the score line of 22-4, it was anything but easy. Aaron Groom, who went on to be named man of the match, and Wes Naiqama both scored first-half tries while Vitale Junior Roqica went over later in the game. Naiqama converted all three tries and kicked two penalties for the Fijians. Antonio Winterstein scored the only try for Samoa, who lost Penani Manumalealii to injury in a lack lustre display.

As Petero Civoniceva told the press post match, “its great feeling to know that potentially my last game will be played at (one of) two amazing venues. I feel I’ve been very blessed. I started this rugby league ride in 1998 and to be still here, I feel very proud of that. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the week, taking it all in with my team-mates.”

As for Samoa, they can be rightly proud of their campaign in this World Cup. They have played with grit and determination, winning new fans wherever they have been. The sight of what looked like 100 local kids doing a traditional Samoan dance at half time will make me smile as long as I live.

This could (not) have started any better…

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International media launch day for the Rugby League World Cup dawned with the usual leaden sky over Manchester. Team 13 were again there, handing out accreditation to the world’s media, showing players & coaches where they were to wait until everyone was ready for the big announcement.

Only problem is, despite being told on more than one occasion by those in charge of the World Cup that they couldn’t do it without us, once we had served our purpose, we were left in an ante room to wait for the media to finish, before we were allowed anywhere near anything…And by that time, the whole place was emptying and we waited ¾ of an hour to be told thanks, you can go now.

Today, once all the media were in the Europa suite, it would have been nice to allow those of us that were there just to stand at the rear of the room so we could feel part of the team, and not left in a room like some mad old aunt who is an embarrassment to the family… I had to hope things would get better as the tournament went live…And boy, did it get better!

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New Zealand V Samoa at the Halliwell Jones in Warrington.

Thankfully, once Sunday & the Halliwell Jones arrived & my first “actual” game (New Zealand V Samoa) 99% of the wrinkles were ironed out. Martin Johnston & Tom Coates who were running communications, PR & press for the event were like a pair of ducks on a pond, serene on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath to make certain that everyone got what they needed as soon as possible.

The event for me kicked off as I arrived at the ground at just gone 2pm, ready for a 6pm kick off. I was expecting (and was told) that there would be a lot of sitting about doing nothing but waiting, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Our two volunteer leaders, Marc and Dan, sat us all down and gave us a team talk ahead of sending us on a tour of the areas we would be in (for me, the press rooms, media area and press box) during the game. We had just been told to kill an hour, when Tom & Martin arrived to get us all set up in the press box.

For today, this meant me updating the twitter feed for the 1st half and then spotting the 2nd half. It took us a while to get set up, as usual with big events like this, we found ourselves at the mercy of the all-seeing god that is Wi-Fi, or lack thereof. Martin to his credit was running up and down between the corporate office and the press box, trying to find out why the press Wi-Fi was not working and eventually one of the IT guys came to his rescue by setting up the 5 of us in the social media team with a hotspot for the match.

I have to say that from arriving, to kick off, everyone involved, from the very top to the very bottom, was giving it their all for the tournament and making certain that everything was running smoothly. Once we were up and online, there was just time to use the loo & grab a hot beverage before I grabbed a quick chat with event manager for Event 360, Pete Nuttall, whose job it was to make certain everything ran to time with regard to on field entertainment, of which there was plenty. From the handing over of the match ball, to the dancing at half time and making certain every single one of those involved knew where they needed to be and was there doing what they should. Pete was desperate to get out from under his headphones and do what he loves most, which is to be on the pitch, with a microphone, announcing matches.

As the press took seats around us, we had the legend that is Ray French behind us, fresh from his last ever live BBC TV game, on the mic for Radio Merseyside, and next to him, Dave Woods doing the same job for BBC 5 Live.

To find ourselves working with such esteemed reporters really added to the occasion, and made us feel as if we really were part of the World Cup Family.

Once the game kicked off, we really had to be on top of our game. For the 3 of us responsible for the Twitter feed, it meant one spotting, one tweeting and one fact checking with the responsibilities swapping about after the ½ time show. This meant making certain we included the game hashtag in each tweet, as well as a uniform look to them where possible, and make certain no names were spelt wrong…Not an easy task when auto correct kept changing Mannering to something totally different and some of the players’ names were just plain impossible to get past that darn auto correct.

Things were going really well until about the 65th minute when our Wi-Fi went down. Despite attempts to reset, we were told not to worry and get ready for the post match press conferences by both teams. Again, we found ourselves surrounded by both the dead tree press and broadcast media as the captains and coaches answered (almost) every question put to them ahead of copy being filed, meaning given SBW & his show boating slip up, some interesting answers from Stephen Kearney…

So, all that was left was to grab my gear, head to the car & make my way back along the A57 to Manchester and get some sleep before going to Rochdale on Monday to do it all again…

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Monday dawned and every outlet was telling the world that Southern England had been hit by the great St. Jude storm the night before. This meant that under a fifth of the country had been a bit windy overnight, but the day in Manchester, and by extension, Rochdale, a few miles away was sunny and quite mild.

Once I’d sorted all my gear out from the night before, I began to head to the game, using public transport for a change. Easy enough to get to Spotlands, but getting home would be a lot harder with the last bus leaving well before the press conference was under way. As has become the norm, Team 13 pulled together as one and I was offered a lift home from one of the other members of the team.

By the time I had arrived at the meeting point for pre match briefings, the weather had changed. For the worse. What felt like 3 inches of rain fell in under an hour…

At least we knew now that our uniform jackets were waterproof! Once again, we were in the capable hands of Martin & Tom who showed us to the press box, asked us not to eat the food laid out for the members of the real press, and left us in the hands of Brian, our team leader for the night. After a quick get to know you chat with everyone, I took my seat & began to tweet the build-up and atmosphere ahead of the hotly anticipated clash between Fiji and Ireland. For the 2nd night running, I was part of a sell-out crowd, and a record for a rugby league game in Rochdale. By this time, the other members of the press were not only getting used to us being in their midst, but actively helping us out by sharing info. It did help that I’d written for a number of them in the past & would like to thank Phil Caplan & Tony Hannan for offering to sneak me food from the press table, mainly because Tony gets heartburn from eating cake…

The game more than lived up to the hyperbole that had gone ahead of it, with a partisan crowd easily making this a Fijian home game, not a surprise, given that Rochdale has the largest Fijian population outside of Fiji in the world! Everyone at Rochdale Hornets are rightly proud of the connection between this south sea island and this small mill town in the Pennines, and they really made certain that this game was well publicised and a sell out ahead of kick off. There were people outside actually trying to buy tickets in the hope of getting in, but no one was selling their seat for this game.

So, 2 games down and I can have nothing but praise for the organisation that has so far been almost faultless. Teething problems aside with ticketing, rotas and no one knowing what to do with Team 13 before the actual matches started, its been an experience I would heartily recommend everyone should have at some point in their life.

I’m in St. Helens on Saturday for the Australia v Fiji game. I know that a certain pair of journalists are attempting to get to both that days games, the first being England v Ireland in Huddersfield.

I hope they make it, because they are going to be 2 games that you will NOT want to miss.

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