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)

 

 

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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.

Week 2 begins.

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Well. I would love to know what odds the bookies were offering at the Welsh going out of the World Cup BEFORE the group stages were over. Someone, somewhere must have had a cheeky £10 on it. Certainly not my mate in North Wales, who can’t decide if he’s a Welsh Patriot or not. His quote was:

“To be honest I’d rather watch countryfile”

Not really saying much for the game in Wales going forward is it? This is a bloke who proudly fly’s the Welsh flag outside his home, and goes to every Welsh event he can find. That Semi Final against Australia looks very unlikely to be repeated if this tournament is anything to go by. Anyway, England turned up to play the Irish. For all of 50 minutes. The 2nd half was the dullest 40 minutes of Rugby League seen so far this world cup. Going forward, England seemed to have switched off and Ireland did their best to push for a score, but their heads went as soon as Ryan Hall scored his third. And how miserable is Steve McNamara? Accusing the BBC of making up stories in his post-match interview? What’s that all about? Is he trying to create a siege mentality in his camp? If so, all he seems to be doing is marginalising those sections of the press who want to see England win by being curt and off hand. OK, we now know that Zak has left the squad for personal reasons. I wish him well & hope to see him back playing next season. Whatever it is, lets give him the time and space he wants and needs to sort it out.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I never thought he was the right man for the job. He’s an RFL yes man and not a coach with a track record to be proud of. His coaching career while at Bradford contains several records that you really don’t want to highlight on a CV, such as being the first Bradford coach in Super League to fail to guide his team to the end of season play-offs and being in charge for the worst losing streak the club has seen in 20 years. And this is the man tasked with taking our pool of talent to a World Cup? Who should be doing the job? I really can’t say, but I think it’s time we looked for a coach with a track record of winning, no matter which hemisphere he comes from. Even if they took the job part time, they would still only get the squad together at odd times during the season, and (hopefully) for the 4 nations at the end of the year.

His stats?

You can see them here:

http://www.rugbyleagueproject.org/coaches/steve-mcnamara/summary.html

Not very inspiring is it?

Do I not love this?

Do I not love this?

It seems like the so called smaller teams are the ones really providing the excitement in this tournament. There has been no game outside of pools A & B that has not provided a great spectacle of the sport. Perhaps teams like Italy, France, USA, Scotland and Ireland should be playing their own tournament. What a great way to build a squad and increase the fan-base of the game in these so called emerging nations ahead of the next world cup. Just think, they could be played as double headers ahead of the 4 nation’s games. As Ireland boss Mark Aston said: “You just want the same. What you want is a consistent level of support, and I don’t think any of the home nations (apart from England) get the right sort of support. “We went into camp two weeks ago and we’ve had 10 or 12 sessions together. It makes it very tough. “It’s been thrown together and it’s been tough on the guys… but it doesn’t just happen, it takes time. “But we’ve started something and that’s the most important thing.” Please, don’t let this World Cup become just another forgotten event. The RFL really need to build on the momentum that is building. Tickets are like gold dust for most of the games that are left! Who would have predicted that Italy v Tonga in Halifax would draw a sell-out crowd on a November afternoon?

A lot of the thanks for this has to go to Sally Bolton and all her team at Media City, some of whom have been burning the midnight oil until the very early hours. The build-up may well have been slow, but it’s like a tidal wave crashing across the rugby league world now. Even as a sceptical old curmudgeon, I expected the worst & am really happy to say It’s been nothing short of brilliant.

The only gripe I’ve heard is the lack of TV coverage from the BBC. Only showing England games was a little short sighted of the corporation. The viewing on Premier Sports has been excellent, but needed a much bigger audience. Imagine if at last year’s Olympics the BBC had only shown Team GB and all other teams were on a PPV channel? There would have been an outcry, but we’ve again marginalised our sport by allowing this to happen. Imagine if the RFL had been able to stand there on December 1st and tell the world that not only was this tournament a virtual sell out, but had achieved viewing figures beyond their wildest dreams. Even if the BBC had simulcast via the red button or iPlayer the viewing figures would have been amazing. Given that it’s free to air in Australia, What put the BBC off from actually showing more than just England and then Tanya & Friends on a Sunday night? This is our NATIONAL BROADCASTER covering a World Cup in its own backyard:

“BBC Sport will broadcast live television and radio coverage of all of England’s group matches in the Rugby League World Cup, plus Wales’ match against Italy. A quarter-final, semi-final at Wembley on Saturday, 23 November and the final at Old Trafford on 30 November will also be broadcast live, plus there will be regular highlights shows”

Well thanks…Although what for, I’m not certain.

Given that (until Yesterday) there were the 3 home nations all playing, the chance to really give the sport a massive media presence has sadly passed us by. Unless of course the BBC don’t really care about Wales, Scotland?

The rather brilliant Tanya Arnold.

The rather brilliant Tanya Arnold.

 

 

Daryl Powell, 9’s and the restructuring options…

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Powell1

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.

Diary of a Rugby League World Cup volunteer

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OK, I’m not a “confirmed” volunteer yet, but the interview went OK. All I care about is that If i do become one of the chosen few, I get to see some real world-class rugby league, make certain everyone has a great time and is safe and England lift the trophy come the end of November at Old Trafford. I also hope it’s a sell out.

For too long the game has been seen as the bastard son of rugby union and played 2nd fiddle to most other sports in the UK, and to be fair, because of the geographical restrictions, its been historically difficult to get it noticed outside of the M62 corridor. Yes, the venerable BBC have always offered some sort of platform, but until Sky came along, it was still relegated to the odd challenge cup game and results on your local BBC news.

These days, there are media outlets fighting for the rights to show our game! Not only UK games but the NRL as well. All if this shows me that the game of rugby league is in the best health it’s ever been. Crowds on average are up, viewing figures are up and we have people like Dr Marwan Koukash pumping money into Salford and making bids for the brightest and best talents the game has to offer, Brian Barwick, who knows more about running sports than most have forgotten, is now at Red Hall and determined to give the greatest game a bigger national profile.

I can honestly say, as a fan of the game, it’s never looked rosier. The fans are always going to enjoy a good moan about the standards of the men in the middle & those who are running their club, but we all still turn up, pay our money, buy our sports channel subscriptions and watch as athletes put their body on the line for 80 minutes, week in week out.

Now, Along with many others, I’ve applied to work at Salford City reds in a part-time basis as a presenter on the game day team, interviewing past and present players, running quizzes and generally making the City Reds a great family place to come when the team are playing at home. I can always give my mate Pete who looks after the ents for the RFL via P10 Productions a call to help out with booking things and asking where to source items to help make pre and post game time at the City Reds the ONLY place to be.

I intend that this will be my ONLY rugby league blog, and the only place I’ll be telling people what I’m up to at the Rugby League World Cup, both as a fan & a volunteer.

If you want to buy tickets, head here:

http://www.rlwc2013.com/

I can also be followed on twitter! @Andie99uk