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…

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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)

 

 

Daryl Powell, 9’s and the restructuring options…

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I greeted the appointment of Daryl Powell to the role of coach at Castleford tigers with a quiet cheer.
And a note of sadness…I remember sitting in the stands at the Halliwell Jones when his Featherstone Rovers side became champions in 2011 and wondering why a club playing such attractive rugby league was outside of the super league after such a comprehensive season. Had we had promotion and relegation, I feel that the 2011 side of Powell’s would have more than held their own in the top flight.
That game, beating Sheffield Eagles, 40-4 was an outstanding display of rugby. If Powell can bring the same drive and commitment to the Tigers, then a top 8 finish is assured. Had that Featherstone side gone up, then they may not have made the top 8, but they would have been a major influence on which teams did make it. They were powerful, aggressive and had a steel about them that can only come from having committed athletes and a coaching staff who are able to really get the best out of them.
All of a sudden, the guardians of our game are once again looking at ways to improve the way it looks to those who don’t follow it. I agree, we need to do something, or our game will die a long slow death in the public eye. I’m no spring chicken at 42, but where is the youth involvement in the games HQ? OK, Brian Barwick has come in and has bags of experience and contacts to boot, but where are those who will be custodians of your game in 30 or 40 years’ time? We need a root and branch reformation of the game alright, but not perhaps where those currently at the top would want it…Inside Red Hall itself
These are the current proposals:
Option 1 – Super League reverts to a 12-team competition (from 14) and a 10 or 12-team Championship, with one club promoted and relegated each year
Option 2 – A two-division Super League with each division comprising 10 teams
Option 3 – Two divisions of 12 in Super League, with teams playing each other once to provide 11 fixtures before splitting into three groups of eight in mid-season and then playing each other home and away to provide 14 more matches
What is wrong with 2 up, 2 down? Even if the 4 clubs have a playoff system to decide the places available, at least clubs would have something to fight for. I do think that a 12 team top tier will help our national side in the long run. Why do we burn out our brightest and best and then moan because the Southern hemisphere hog all the silverware?
And what’s wrong with the RFL looking for the brightest and best in the sport to move upwards at Red Hall? One big moan I hear form a football friend of mine is that the FA is full of people who never played the game and who are only in it for honours and free trips around the globe with FIFA and UEFA. We seem to be getting the same thing happening in our game, not just at Red Hall, but on our screens with Sky and in our papers and magazines.
OK, we don’t have that sort of globetrotting at the RFL, but remember Will Carling and his Old Farts? A comment aimed after administrator Dudley Wood’s comments about England players’ alleged desire to cheat by breaking the amateur ethic.

Crowned the fasted man in Super league at last years 9's

Crowned the fasted man in Super league at last years 9’s

At the moment, certain areas of the game appear to be stifled by the RFL. Take the 9’s series. The Armed Forces would have loved to put a team in last year, but were stopped after the RFL moved the try line and made it open only to certain quarters of the game. What could so easily have been a festival of sport for all areas of the game appears to be missing from the 2013 schedule…Watching Omari Caro outpace the opposition (especially as Thierry Alibert was one of them) in the race for super Leagues fastest man title was superb! It should be a showcase of the younger talent and a couple of the old guard, throwing the ball about and entertaining the (huge) crowds every week. In fact a 9’s match as a curtain raiser ahead of each game might just induce a few more through the turnstiles rather than an X-Factor contestant or some 70’s singer on the pitch for 10 minutes. Save that for ½ time.
And whilst I’ve got my soapbox out, when will this “Dual registration” system result in a non-Super League player heading into a club to play, rather than the rather one way traffic we’ve seen so far? It’s all well and good Lee Briers trotting out for Swinton, but what about one of the Swinton lads heading the other way as part of the package? Having watched Whitehaven run them closely, I’d like to see Jessie Joe Parker given a shot somewhere. His try, was for me, the best of a close fought game.

Anyone else see the end to the Swinton V Whitehaven game on Premier Sports? No? OK, have a look at this then…

http://po.st/MPgozQ

Now tell me that you only get great rugby league in the top tier. Leave aside the Lee Briers comeback that made headlines ahead of that match, it was a great advert for all the Premier Sport coverage to come, be it NRL, Kingstone Press Cider championships and the World cup later in the year. Having a Ref Cam so you can see what he sees? Fantastic. Being able to hear the video ref as he looks over the decision and tells the man in the middle what has actually happened really makes it a great way to watch the game that the RFL & (insert sponsors name here) Superleague could do with looking at.

I had tried Premier Sports back when we lived in Leeds & as I’m going to be doing a lot with the World cup later, I thought it prudent to look over the broadcast partner again & i’m very nicely surprised. The commentary is lively, and delivered

Anyway, That’s quite enough for now, hopefully, I’ll have something more constructive on the World Cup front in the next couple of weeks as training dates are confirmed…So, See you all at the Magic Weekend & keep on loving the greatest game.