Salford v London

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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!
Smiling Joe Grima

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Hats off to the RFL

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EtihadStadium


Magic weekend is over for another year. 2014 will go down as the year that the festival of Rugby League really came of age.
Day one was easily the best single day of rugby in the events history. Close fought games, full stands and great entertainment on and off the pitch. No fan could have asked for more, although it would be nice when buying food and drink if the person on the stand asked for less!
Every single game on day one was a hard fought battle for both teams involved. London almost breaking their duck for the season in a 22-24 loss to Catalan Dragons, Widnes Vikings narrowly beating the ever improving Salford Red Devils 30-24, an epic battle (again) between Hull KR and Hull FC which ended in a 38-24 Robins win and finally, the match of the day as the (according to Shaun Wane) understrength and unfancied Wigan Warriors took Leeds to task in a fantastic 18-14 victory of psychology over tactics.
The day was outstandingly well organised from start to finish. As usual, fans were in party mood, the sun was out and everyone was having a great time.
Sadly, day two was a series of mis-matches. Wakefield pussycats were left needing the RSPCA after the Castleford Tigers ripped them apart, 12-50, the Huddersfield Giants rampaged across the Etihad turf, crushing the Bradford Bulls (HA! More like calves) 54-16 before the only match of the day that looked like a 2 horse race, Warrington Wolves v St Helens, took place. Warrington looked like racing away with this, until a late surge from Saints reeled the wolves back in.
Over all, it was a real festival. The only gripes I heard were complaints about the lack of diversity in the food department. There was not one vegetarian food stall anywhere, want Kosher or Halal? Sorry mate, you’re out of luck.
As usual, the staff at the Etihad were superb. Polite, courteous and always willing to help anyone who needed it.
It really is the perfect venue for such a weekend and the RFL need a really big pat on the back for sticking with it when people didn’t see the point early on. Nigel Wood, Blake Solly et al have really put the game on the map with the Magic Weekend.
Next year, (as I write) we don’t know where it will be. Newcastle is looking favourite at the moment, despite Stevo saying it hasn’t the hotels to cope on Backchat, but Anfield has been mentioned as well.
I’m led to believe there is a window to have the event at the Etihad, but it would have to be the first weekend AFTER the football season as the week after the cranes arrive to start installing the new seats.
If that’s true, then I hope the RFL move quickly to secure the place. The Etihad is the perfect modern stadium for such an event. Outside areas with (limited) food and entertainment areas, space for sponsors to show their wares and superb transport links. I must give a mention to the staff at Metrolink who coped admirably on both days with the crowds, having a laugh with fans and helping get everyone safely on the right tram.
If we do have to leave Manchester for a year, then I hope its to somewhere with similar facilities, but either way, I’ll be getting my Magic tickets again…

Super League preview 2014

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BRADFORD BULLS

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.

CASTLEFORD TIGERS

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.

CATALAN DRAGONS

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.

HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS

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.

HULL F.C.

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.

LEEDS RHINOS

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.

LONDON BRONCOS

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.

*Sarcasm alert

ST HELENS

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.

WAKEFIELD WILDCATS

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.

WARRINGTON WOLVES

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.”

WIDNES VIKINGS

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.”

WIGAN WARRIORS

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.

PREDICTIONS

Top 8 (in no order)

Wigan

Warrington

St Helens

Hull FC

Salford

Hull KR

Wakefield

Catalan

Challenge Cup

Leeds Rhinos or Salford

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)

 

 

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.

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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What a start to the season!

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There can hardly have been a better start to a season of rugby league than the one we have witnessed this year.

Anyone truly is capable of beating anyone this year in the super league it seems! Having watched my club, Hull KR, demolished in the 2nd half of their match with Salford, who were then soundly beaten by London Broncos, all whilst the “big 4” seem to also be no longer having all their own way, with Huddersfield Giants determined to lead from the front and stay there this season.

Leeds, although beaten in the World Club Challenge seem to be waiting until late August, early September before mounting an assault to win (another) grand final, but from lower than 5th place for a change of scenery. It really says something about that group of players that they can win the end of season tourney from 5th. They have exceptional players in so many areas, and in Kevin Sinfield, they have a leader on the field who is admired by those OUTSIDE of the game for what he’s done.

Lower down the table, Salford’s new owner, Dr Marwan Koukash promised after the club’s defeat to London that it would not happen again & no one’s job was safe…2 days later, Phil Vievers was consigned to Salfords history and Alan Hunte was installed as interim head coach. I was sat in the stands for that match, and have to say, I thought Salford looked very light in comparison to London. It’s not just coaching that needs to alter & I fear it could take longer to build a winning team than the good Dr is willing to wait…

Back to the smoke, and “London is a unique opportunity,” Nigel Wood told BBC London 94.9.“It is almost inconceivable to consider yourself a national sport without having a strong presence in the capital. We just have to make sure that we get that presence right.”It is probably not right as it is and we need to work with all the stakeholders to improve that.

“It is extremely important that we ‘do London’ and ‘do London’ well in terms of rugby league.”

Now, as we’ve had a London club competing against the Premier league, Football league and all the rugby union clubs, its heartening to see that the RFL still think that the future for the game in our capital is bright. Looking away from Super League, inside the M25, there are more teams than ever to go and either watch, or even play at than ever before. From Ravens wood college in Bromley all the way north to Southgate (http://www.barnetsouthgate.ac.uk) there is more to the game than the Broncos.

The season rolls ever onwards, and I’ve already got my ticket ready for the Magic Weekend at the end of May (http://bit.ly/ZpYOE9) and sales are looking as good, if not better than last years event. It really is a festival of rugby, and great to show that despite what we might think about other clubs, we will happily sit with fans from other clubs and enjoy great games, no matter which 2 clubs are playing.

Anyway, there is a lot of matches between now and then. This Friday, Leeds take on Wigan in the tie of the round.

I did ask on twitter before the start of the season if Leeds fans would swap Sinfield for Tomkins. The answer was a resounding NO! I wonder given the start that both clubs have had, if the answer will be the same AFTER Friday’s match?

Anyway, enjoy your Rugby league, who ever you support, and I’ll see you all at the Etihad over the bank holiday.