Hats off to the RFL

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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…

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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!

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)

 

 

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.