Monday, February 17, 2014

RUGBY LEAGUE



RUGBY LEAGUE'S EXTRAORDINARY SEASON
After months of ominous silence by rugby league's rulers that threatened to deflate the ballooning optimism that built up during the world cup, suddenly the sport is back with a spring in its step.

First of all a quality sponsor for Super League, First Utility, an underdog energy firm taking on the big boys in the same way that rugby league fights for attention in the sporting world (thanks goodness the sponsor's not a cash loan site).

Secondly, a large slice of Sky pie, giving Super League clubs a 63 per cent increase in funds. Shame the BBC don't get the odd Saturday afternoon game, but hey-ho.

Thirdly and most importantly of all, relegation is back, with two clubs going down at the end of this season, and promotion returns next season with the top two leagues of 12 splitting into threes league of eight during 2015. Great ideas - making the Super League stronger and making the Championship teams fight in more than one game for a place in the top league.

Five of the 14 championship sides will be relegated at the end of this season to prepare for next season which will no doubt make most games absolutely do or die.

Add the all-new Salford Red Devils, it promises to be a corker of a season. Wigan v Saints grand final, London and Bradford to go down. Leeds to win the cup. Fev to win the Champ big one.

Playing The Joker, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Eddie Waring may have been loved by millions, but he spent a lot of his time in the late 70s holed up in the Queens Hotel, Leeds, because of the abuse he received from some rugby league fans who felt he was a bit of a northern Uncle Tom.

Playwright Anthony Clavane imagines an encounter with Waring and a younger man at the hotel who feels the commentator has sold out and forgotten his roots.

It's a fascinating play about the price of success and how you have to lose yourself to please the bosses. Dickon Ashworth is an uncanny Eddie lookalike (once he puts the Waring wig on) while William Fox almost steals the show as the twitchy young man grieving for his dad. Dominic Gately as Eddie's minder is also good. The violence of parts of the play is a little at odds with the humour but it doesn't spoil the whole show.




It's the eve of the eve of the Rugby League World Cup semi-finals and I'm getting nervous.

Here at last are an England team who have the skill and creativity to challenge the two best sides in the world. They've reached the semi-final, the bare minimum for this tournament, but now face the wrecking ball New Zealanders who've looked the best side in the tournament so far.

Fair play to Steve McNamara, he's endured huge pressure yet his tactics and choice of players have largely worked. The much maligned Chase can feel a little unlucky to be omitted from the squad for the semi. and Widdop has yet to prove himself for England in this tournament, but McNamara has at least selected Burrow and Roby in his 19.

I've seen five games live, all superb - from the nervous tension surrounding England v Australia, the thudding tackles at a raucous Rochdale, and Tonga/Scotland joy at a packed Fax.  Scotland were fantastic and Wales were unfortunate to face the surprise hits of the tournament, Italy and the US.

The only downside is the disappointing number of live games on the BBC and the lack of pubs showing the games on Premier Sports. No pubs in Huddersfield, the birthplace of rugby league, will be showing the Aus semi on TV this Saturday.

Interesting play at West Yorkshire Playhouse this week - Playing the Joker, a celebration of Eddie Waring, rugby league and what is means to be from Yorkshire (until November 23, from 6pm) by Anthony Clavane




WORLD CUP PREVIEW
It's here - what promises to be one of the greatest rugby league world cups and a home nation's best chance to win it.

Why a great tournament? Aus, Nz and England all look tasty. Fiji, PNG and Tonga look to offer the strongest Pacific Nations challenge in a cup for a while and Wales and Scotland are looking good. Even the so-called underdogs, like US and Italy, look to offer a challenge in what promises one of the most competitive world cups.

And stadiums in Cardiff, Wembley, Old Trafford, Huddersfield, Halifax, Rochdale, Warrington and Workington all expect decent and possibly record crowds.

Why England? A formidable pack, many of them honed in Aus, world-class centres, wings and full-back.

Why not England? Half-backs and kicking game are potential weak spots and Steve McNamara may lack flair to give the team the edge. Semi-final is a minimum because of the draw but I think England can win the whole shebang

The quarter-finals are likely to be NZ v Tonga/Scotland, Australia, who I expect will narrowly beat England in the first game, to face Wales, England v France and PNG v Fiji.




CHAMPIONSHIP AND CHALLENGE CUP
Feb 12: I don't feel the rugby league season has really got under way until the Championship starts and this season looks like being the most competitive for years.

In the Championship, Fax and Fev will tussle it out for top spot, I reckon, with Batley and Sheffield not far behind.

In Champ 1, I reckon it'll be Rochdale's year with Oldham and the Cumbrians snapping at their heels. I think London Skolars and the Crusaders could be the surprise packages and win plenty of games.

I also think the Challenge Cup Third Round is a great season landmark as the Champ teams enter the fray and with so many evocative ties - Wath Brow v South Wales (the alliteration sounds like something from Dylan Thomas), Egremont v Oldham, and Hunslet v The Royal Navy (one of three Hunslet teams in the third round and like the first tie, the tiny areas versus huge powers)

UPDATE: Rugby league, Challenge Cup Fourth Road: A special moment of the season as the big teams join the draw. I like the look of Leeds v Wakey, Fev v Cas, Hull v Hudds, Hull KR v Catalans. Fev probably have the only chance of pulling off a shock.





SAM TOMKINS - THE GREATEST BRITISH RUGBY PLAYER PLAYING TODAY
Aug 11: He’s faster than most. He can spot a gap no-one else can see. He can place a kick to perfection, catch a high ball under pressure, produce a try-saving tackle. He can dummy, he can shimmy, he can score. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Wigan Warrior, the finest rugby player playing today – Mr Sam Tomkins.

I was brought up on the Wales rugby union team of the 70s and marvelled at players like Barry John, Phil Bennett and Gareth Edwards and their way of making the impossible come true - when they were surrounded by opposition players, with apparently nowhere to go, they'd suddenly find space and were away to the tryline.

Apart from Jonathan Davies, the Wales rugby union and British rugby league great, and Wales’ Shane Williams, I haven’t been excited about a rugby player since then – until I saw Sam.

He has a chance to show what he can do on a national stage when Wigan play Leeds in rugby league’s Challenge Cup Final on Saturday at what should be a packed Wembley Stadium.

I love Sam's all-round ability. He’s only 5ft 10in and 12 stone but he can power his way through a heavily-defended line or bring down a huge forward. Not many 'Fancy Dan' half-backs can do that.

But it’s his outrageous attacking play which truly amazes. When a pass looks like the only option, he’ll suddenly go off on a mazy run, throw an outrageous dummy or charge his way through the tiniest of gaps. You can’t believe he’s going to score but he usually does. He’s only 22 but has the confidence to try anything.

Sam seems to have gone top another level this season – he’s top try scorer in Super League, he’s made the most clean breaks and is the biggest ‘tackle buster’.

What a contrast with the England rugby union team. Judging by the game in Wales recently, their strategy is less blood and thunder and more thud and blunder, with no-one seemingly having an original idea to open a defence – it’s back to the Charlie ‘Crash Ball’ Kent 'glory' days of England rugby union of the 70s.

With many national papers barely covering rugby league these days, players like Tomkins are undervalued while more prosaic rugby union players are hailed for skill that is commonplace in league – the pass out of the tackle or the run from deep, for example.

Ah well – come on Sam , come on Wigan!





MY WISHES FOR 2011 SEASON

1 More coverage in the national media
A familiar refrain and rugby league fans risk 'nutter' status for sending so many letters complaining about coverage. But have you seen the Daily Telegraph, for example? Great sports paper but rugby league coverage is on a par with hockey and lacrosse, while acres is given over to rugby union's Premiership. But the Telegraph isn't unusual - the BBC previewed February's sporting attractions on the radio, with no mention of the start of Super League.

2 Attendances go up
Rugby union's Premiership attendances are falling - no wonder. Matches I've seen are marred by scrums, rucks and penalties. Let's hope rugby league's can surpass them - tricky in this economic climate, but what a coup it would be. And it will help with the Sky contract (up for renewal this year) and - (see 1) more media coverage.

3 Widnes and Halifax go up
Widnes are a shoo-in but wouldn't it be great if Fax could go up with them? A competitive team in a rugby league hotbed with a ground that's finished at last.

4 Wigan to retain the title
Fantastic first season for Michael Maguire - thought last season would be a bedding-in one. New signings make them even stronger. 2 Warrington, 3 Huddersfield, 4 Saints, 5 Bradford, 6 Leeds.

5 Crusaders hold their heads up
Wakey have taken the heat off the Welsh club but it's going to be tough with no cash and a new coach. Hope they win a few and get another play-off place.

6 Batley for the play-offs
Great club, great rugby, great ground. Time for a play-off place, maybe a semi. Fancy Fev to win the league with Fax and Widnes running them close. Keighley to win their league, with Oldham finally winning a final to go up as runners-up.




FOUR NATIONS - IT WASN'T THAT BAD
Nov 10: Yet more defeats by Australian and New Zealand and more pessimism about the game in Britain - 'We've gone backwards', 'Players out of their depth' etc.

But unlike previous England/GB games, I didn't feel England were outclassed - their defence held up pretty well against sustained pressure from Australia and New Zealand and the English looked like they had more ideas about how to break the opposition line than in previous games.

But yet again the English were let down by basic errors and a poor kicking game. I think the Australians and New Zealanders deserved to win both games, but taking into account disallowed/wrongly-given tries, England should have only lost both games by 6-10 points.

Coach Steve McNamara's changes for the Aussie game were, perhaps, a little drastic, although justified in most cases. I'd have kept Widdop at full-back, with Tomkins at stand-off, Brown on the bench and Fielden dropped.


PLAY-OFFS
Sept 10: Just when I thought rugby league was getting an unfair hand in the media, you can't keep it out of the news. There was the excellent, even-handed Eddie Waring doc, part of BBC4's night of rugby league which also featured The Game That Got Away, a superbly filmed and observed documentary from 1969 with Salford's casino and roast dinners, Fev's small but perfectly formed team, and Wigan's bosses offering cash in brown paper bags.

Back to the present and Wigan are in the spotlight again after what sounded like the game of the season against Leeds with comebacks, end-to-end action and last-second penalty drama. Radio 5's passionate commentary team of Dave Woods, Stuart Pyke and John Kear were superb in describing Leeds' one-point win.

The play-off picture's a bit clearer now - Wigan face Hull KR on Friday 17 and Warrington play Huddersfield on Saturday 18. The winners face Saints or Leeds for a place in the final. Saints choose who they play.

In the Co-op leagues, Sheffield are blazing a trail with wins at Leigh and Barrow. They play Halifax for a place in the final against Featherstone on Thursday 16. But Halifax beat Sheff and face their west Yorks rivals in the final.

In Championship 1, Oldham are in the final afer beating York. The latter face Blackpool in the final semi on Sunday 19.

York got their revenge in the final, beating Oldham 25-4. A bit of a suprise I think but coach Dave Woods is an expert at winning these games.


EDDIE WARING DOCUMENTARY
Sept 10: I'm looking forward to BBC4's documentary about Eddie Waring on September 7. It promises to be a fitting tribute to a great commentator and entertainer who is largely forgotten about now.

The show looks like it's going to follow Tony Hannan's excellent biography by showing how he was loved and loathed.

I've written about him before but I think he had a fabulous voice - rolling his Rs in 'brain and brawn' for example. While he was occasionally lax about identifying the players, he had a wonderful way of describing the game - take Clive Sullivan's GB try or Don Fox's missed kick in front of the posts.

He was loathed by chippy, humourless Yorkshiremen who thought he was patronising the north.

The documentary is part of the Planet North season - programmes about Corrie, food and architecture and on September 7, there is also a 1969 documentary about Featherstone Rovers and a showing of the 1978 Cup Final between Leeds and St Helens. Plus This Sporting Life. Fabulous!

Eddie Waring doc trailer


MY LEAGUE WEEKLY LETTER ABOUT MEDIA'S COVERAGE OF THE SPORT
Aug 10: This is in response to a League Weekly column by Christopher Irvine who is no longer wanted as rugby league correspondent of The Times. He compared the coverage of rugby league in the national media now with the start of Super League when there was a promotional push by The Times, cricket was the main sport in the paper and there were only two football reporters. Incidentally Christopher works at Huddersfield Uni.

Here's the letter which appeared in the August 23 edition:

Great article by Christopher Irvine about the decline of rugby league coverage in the national media. I know exactly what he means – I worked for PA’s Ananova website, later owned by Orange, about 10 years ago and it was a real fight to get beyond the established order of football first and rugby union ahead of rugby league.


Never mind that attendances a lot of Super League matches would rival some Championship and League One games, every cough and spit of every English and Scottish match had to be covered. I also saw the growing dominance of coverage of English rugby union clubs (never mind Welsh clubs, even though it’s their national sport).


But as Christopher noted, this is the established order across all sports desks in all media and it will be very difficult for the RFL to change that. Start demanding coverage and that’s bound to get backs up; grovelling for coverage and they are likely to be ignored.


Even regular letters by readers to papers about poor rugby league coverage make little difference. They are printed but ignored.


What’s more galling is the increasing coverage of American football – a stop-start pantomime when there’s a slick, skilful contact sport on the papers’ doorstep.


I’m sure the RFL are constantly reminding sports desks about encouraging attendances and viewing figures in the game and about the exciting young players coming through, but I think the only way to change the mindset is more coverage on terrestrial TV, a successful London club and, most importantly of all, regular international success.


I believe rugby union takes precedence over league is the 70-80,000 attendances at Six Nations games and 20-30,000, if we’re lucky, for games here. Most sports desks won’t look beyond those figures for a reason of how they cover things.





BATLEY'S BIG DAY
Jun 10: I almost overdosed on northerness on the day Batley Bulldogs rugby league team played their Challenge Cup quarter final against Les Catalans (not a builder from Morley, the French team Les Catalans Dragons).

The rugby league, the evocative sloping ground of Mount Pleasant, Batley (and it is a lovely ground), the journey there on an Arriva Northern train, and pre-match refreshments at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms, in Dewsbury, where I watched another quarter-final on TV - Leeds v Wigan.

There was also a Lady GaGa impersonator at Batley - Barmy Lass (not really, she was called Lady Is Gaga)

The Refreshment Rooms were heaving - couples and groups of all ages having a great time. Apart from the rugby I couldn't quite work out why, but it seems many were doing a railale trail along the line. That James May programme seems to have done The Rooms a power of good.

My visit was slightly spoiled by an ignorant group of 10 people who stood right in front of me while I was watching the rugby, even though I moved out of their way to allow them room. I'm big enough to block a door but with some ignoramusses I might as well be invisible!

To make matters worse, Wigan lost in an error-strewn game in the last couple of minutes despite being the better side.

So onto Batley. If I didn't have to work on Sundays I'd be there regularly. The rugby is good, the atmosphere is great and it's one of the tidiest grounds in the country.

Poor old Lady Is Gaga was on her own on the back of a huge lorry in a maid's costume, belting out the hits to a disinterested chip queue.

The refreshment areas must have done a roaring trade - they'd run out of pies by the second half (they also had no programmes - a setback on a day like this when the 2,000-plus crowd was about three times bigger than normal. The printers were blamed).

Batley were 'dogged' by a first minute sin-binning but Les Catalans only managed a try in the first 20 minutes and the home side were only trailing 14 points with half-an-hour remaining.

But the French team (bolstered by Aussies) were a huge hulking lot. They looked baddies in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. By comparison Batley were living up to their former name of the Gallant Youths and looked small and boyish on their own line with the huge French bruisers charging at them. Final score of 74-12 to Les Catalans was very harsh.



RUGBY LEAGUE PUBS
Nov 09: Was I grateful for the Dusty Miller pub, in Longwood, Hudds, last Saturday. The England v Australia showdown and yet again I actually thought England could do it, but where to watch it?

There was no way I was going into town. I've had a rant about the lack of rugby league pubs before (see pub news, letter to Examiner) so I was hoping my local, the Fieldhead, in Quarmby, would show it.

But of course there was the Ireland World Cup game on at the same time and when I asked the barman if they were showing the rugby, two miserable football oafs who looked like two of the Three Stooges (baldy and curly) said: 'Not a chance' and gawped at me as if I'd switched over the TV myself in the middle of an England penalty shoot-out.

It's going to be great next summer when all the dribbling halfwit rednecks will be allowed to bawl their Eng-er-land shite just because they've got an Eng-er-land shirt on.

Anyway if was off across a darkened track and down into Longwood and the Dusty Miller, a cottagey pub which serves Black Sheep and Tetley's Mild in good order and a guest beer, last Saturday a hoppy St Austell one.

And it was packed, with about 50-60 rugby league fans, cheering the mighty Burgess and co and letting out sighs as the Aussies turned it on, again, at the end.

So here's to you Dusty Miller.

And here's to you Pump Room, in Halifax, another great rugby league pub that serves real ale. Why can't more West Yorkshire pubs do something different and bin the football - they're bound to get some punters in, we're living in a rugby league hotbed.

What to watch? Sky have released fixtures they're covering next year:

JANUARY
29 Crusaders v Leeds (8.00pm) Hello Wrexham!

FEBRUARY
5/6 Huddersfield v Bradford
12 Wigan v Hull KR
13 Castleford v Warrington
19 Bradford v Castleford
20 Warrington v Wigan
26 Hull v Harlequins
27 Castleford v Leeds
28 Leeds v Melbourne TBC World Club Challenge

MARCH
5 Bradford v Wigan
6 Wakefield v Huddersfield
12 Hull KR v Wakefield
13 Warrington v Bradford
19 Crusaders v Catalans
20 Harlequins v Huddersfield
27 Salford v Hull

APRIL
1 Leeds v Bradford
2 Hull KR v Hull
St Helens v Wigan
5 Catalans v Leeds
9 Huddersfield v Castleford
10 Harlequins v St Helens
23 St Helens v Leeds

Pic: Delarever from Flickr



KAISER CHIEF DIDN'T SING AT EDDIE WARING'S FUNERAL
Sept 09: I've been getting into The Word comments board - Rod Hull, Tommy Cooper discussions - marvellous. I managed to squeeze in my 'Kaiser Chief singer sang at Eddie Waring's funeral' story from Tony Hannan's biography of Eddie - but it seems Tony wasn't quite right, as he admitted in a reply to my email on the site.

Here's his reply:

"Eeeaaarly bath for moi, alas.

Since the first edition of Being Eddie Waring was published, it has come to light that the Ricky Wilson/Eddie Waring story is only a half-truth. It seems that - contrary to Waring family memory - it was actually Ricky's brother who was Eddie's godson and sang Pie Jesu at the funeral.

Ricky was there at the service, though, and so, technically speaking, will have sung something, or maybe just picked his nose...since he was nowt but a nipper at the time. His parents were BBC producers who worked with Eddie on 'It's A Knockout', among other programmes.

The connection has left me convinced that the 'Oh My God' lyrics are actually about Eddie and rugby league, though....then again, I could be wrong about that an' all!"

I prrrredict-a a riot-a!



WORLD CUP AFTERMATH
Nov 08: Bugger! Bugger, bugger, bugger! I never expected that - solid Super League talents like Wellens buggering up, basic defence on the line non-existent, up-in- the-air passes instead of whipped into the breadbasket, yet more crap kicking on the fifth tackle. I really thought we would get to the final and go down in a heroic fashion.

England looked nervous, trying to be clever before they'd established a platform. Bugger.

At least the rest of the world cup has been good - the matches involving the 'lesser teams' have been great.

Aussies to win by 20-30 points in the final.

RUGBY LEAGUE V AMERICAN FOOTBALL - MY OBSERVER LETTER
Oct 08: I was cheesed off with the measly coverage of the rugby league world cup compared with a two-page spread about an American football team in the October 19 edition of The Observer so I sent a letter which made top billing (out of three letters, ahem) in the October 26 edition's letters column.

It really pisses me off that American football, such a ponderous, ludicrous sport, is starting to get more attention in this country, probably because it's the latest trend from US. Yet we have rugby league, such an exciting homegrown sport which never seems to get enough publicity here.

Here's the letter:

It seems to be a tradition that most rugby league fans who write to national newspapers are moaning buggers, so I'm not going to disappoint you!

But, come on - one spindly column on the rugby league world cup, a major competition for one of our country's most popular sports, and a double page spread on a team playing American football, the High School Musical of sport (the latest US trend which is all flash and no substance).

Rugby league is a fast and furious sport with breathtaking skills attracting more fans every year at grounds and on TV.

American football has a languid poser looking for someone to pass to while a bunch of goons slap each other like rival packs of meerkats. Then they all have a rest and polish their helmets.

England rugby league team have a real chance of actually winning something at the world cup so let's have some more coverage please.


THE WORLD CUP - FIXTURES AND TEAMS
The rugby league world cup arrives with its usual lack of fanfare in the media - plenty of coverage about tedious southern rugby union premiership but next to nothing on such a major international event. Observer Sport, for example, ran a one-page preview piece and a massive feature on a leisure pursuit - climbing.

GROUP A: Australia, England, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea
GROUP B: France, Fiji, Scotland
GROUP C: Tonga, Ireland, Samoa

The format looks like favouring first three in Group A with one other team from other groups in semis. The top teams in groups B and C play off each other for a chance to play the winners of Group A in the semis. The second and third placed Group A teams play in the other semis.

I'm guessing it'll be Australia v France, New Zealand v England in the semis, with an Aussie/England final and the Aussies to win overall.


Fixtures:
Saturday, 25 October 2008
England 33 Papua New Guinea 22

Sunday, 26 October 2008
Australia 30 New Zealand 6
Scotland 18 France 36

Monday, 27 October 2008
Tonga 22 Ireland 20

Friday, 31 October 2008
Samoa 20 Tonga 12

Saturday, 01 November 2008
Fiji 42 France 6
New Zealand 48 Papua New Guinea 6

Sunday, 02 November 2008
Australia 52 England 4

Wednesday, 05 November 2008
Ireland 34 Samoa 16
Scotland 18 Fiji 16

Fiji and Ireland meet in semi-final eliminator. Other teams play in ranking games.

Saturday, 08 November 2008
England 24 New Zealand 36
Runner-Up Group B (Scotland) 0 Runner-Up Group C (Tonga) 48

Sunday, 09 November 2008
3rd place Group B (France) 10 3rd place Group C (Samoa) 42
Papua New Guinea 6 Australia 46

Monday, 10 November 2008
Winner Group B (Fiji) 30 Winner Group C (Ireland) 14

Saturday, 15 November 2008
Semi-final: Runner-Up Group A (New Zealand) 32 3rd Place Group A (England) 22

Sunday, 16 November 2008
Semi-final Winner Group A (Australia) 52 v Winner sf qualifier (Fiji) 0

Saturday, 22 November 2008
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2, 8:55

Matches will be shown live on Sky and highlights on the BBC as follows:
Sunday 26 October
1130-1230, BBC TWO

Sunday 2 November
1300-1400, BBC TWO

Saturday 8 November
1300-1400, BBC TWO

Sunday 9 November
1300-1400, BBC TWO

Saturday 15 November
1300-1400, BBC TWO

Sunday 16 November
1400-1500, BBC TWO

Saturday 22 November
1330-1430 , BBC TWO

BRITISH TEAMS

England:
Keith Senior, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock (captain), Gareth Ellis, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Lee Smith (all Leeds), Paul Wellens, Ade Gardner, Leon Pryce, James Graham, James Roby, Maurie Fa'asavalu, Jon Wilkin (all St Helens), Rob Purdham (Harlequins), Mark Calderwood, Mickey Higham, Gareth Hock (all Wigan), Martin Gleeson, Adrian Morley, Ben Westwood (all Warrington), Jamie Langley, Paul Sykes (both Bradford).

Ireland:
Ross Barbour (Carlow Crusaders), Bob Beswick (Widnes), Damien Blanch (Wakefield), Mick Cassidy (Barrow), Ged Corcoran (Sheffield), Lee Doran (Leigh), Liam Finn (Dewsbury), Simon Finnigan (Bradford), Karl Fitzpatrick (Salford), Steve Gibbons (London Skolars), Sean Gleeson (Wakefield), Scott Grix (Wakefield), Gareth Haggerty (Harlequins), Ben Harrison (Warrington), Graham Holroyd (Halifax), Wayne Kerr (London Skolars), Stuart Littler (Salford), Shannon McDonnell (Wests Tigers), Michael McIlorum (Wigan), Eamon O'Carroll (Wigan), Michael Platt (Bradford), Pat Richards (Wigan), Ryan Tandy (Wests Tigers), Brett White (Melbourne Storm).

Scotland:
Chris Armit (Canterbury Bulldogs), Danny Brough (Wakefield Wildcats, captain), Dean Colton (Doncaster), Paddy Coupar (Edinburgh Eagles), Gavin Cowan (Wests Tigers), John Duffy (Widnes Vikings), Ben Fisher (Hull KR), Andrew Henderson (Castleford Tigers), Ian Henderson (Auckland Warriors), Kevin Henderson (Wakefield Wildcats), Jack Howieson (Sheffield Eagles), Paul Jackson (Huddersfield Giants), Wade Liddell (Brisbane Easts), Scott Logan (Canberra Raiders), Neil Lowe (Keighley Cougars), David McConnell (Leigh Centurions), Duncan McGilvery (Wakefield Wildcats), Iain Morrison (Widnes Vikings), Gareth Morton (Widnes Vikings), Mick Nanyn (Oldham), Lee Paterson (Widnes Vikings), Michael Robertson (Manley Sea Eagles), Jon Steel (Hull KR), Oliver Wilkes (Wakefield Wildcats).




A MARVELLOUS BIOGRAPHY OF EDDIE WARING
Aug 08: Just finished this fabulous book by Tony Hannan - a book I wanted to write and one that raises most of the points I wanted to raise. How could a 1970s superstar who appeared on Morecambe and Wise and other big shows be largely forgotten? Is Sky's Stevo receiving the same treatment as Eddie from the same craggy-faced old moaners who haven't laughed since 1973 when they broke wind?

There's some wonderful detail here - the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs, then a choirboy, singing at Eddie's funeral (Eddie was his godfather); Eddie's commentary of baseball in 1930s Dewsbury; and Eddie hobnobbing with Bob Hope in Hollywood.

But it's Eddie's brilliant ideas and his generous spirit that come across most of all in this book. He was coming up with Super League-type names and advocating expansion from the heartlands in the 1930s.

He was rumoured to be a big head and aloof but gave up his time and money at charity functions and helped out fellow journos. He was also humble enough to take on criticism from the BBC and alter his commentary style.

We're already halfway through the book by the time we get to his most famous period - his TV commentaries. He was doing radio commentary in the 1930s and ran Dewsbury rugby league in the 30s and 40s, transforming its fortunes.

Hannan gives both sides of the argument about Eddie being an 'Uncle Tom' figure, playing up to the cloth-cap Northern thicko image for the posh BBC, but he rightly rejects the critics, pointing out his brilliant commentary in the 'Watersplash' final where Don Fox missed a kick in front of the posts in the last minute and his team lost. Eddie never assumed that the kick would go over, as most commentators would do, and in his wonderful rich voice gave him a warm tribute 'Poor lad' etc.

No-one mocked rugby union's Bill McLaren for all his phrases or Scottish 'R's, but there were plenty of whingeing, chippy Northerners who moaned about Eddie, ignoring his fabulous voice, his turn of phrase and his timing. Colin Welland is quoted as slagging off Eddie. Welland wrote a terrible play about rugby league with all the northern cliches in place so he's got no room to talk.

Hannan suggests Eddie was struggling with a form of Alzheimer's by the mid-70s when he was in his mid-sixties and was in a home two years after he retired in 1981. He died in 1986.

A great book about a lovely man.

CROESO CRUSADERS!
July 08: For all the understandable wailing and gnashing from Widnes, the RFL has made the right decision letting Celtic Crusaders into Super League next year. It would have been an anti-climax to let two middling sides into Super League who've been there before.

Now we've got a relatively new side with huge potential who've already made huge strides in moving up the leagues, attracting more supporters and spreading the league word around Wales.
Their entry to Super League was the main story on ic wales (Western Mail) website on the day of the announcement and there's reports of Welsh government support.

The ground is not the best but it's no worse than Wakefield's.

In an ideal world, maybe two other clubs should have got in - Widnes and Halifax - but the former had financial difficulties last year and the latter still haven't built their stand.

Elsewhere the RFL is to even up the National Leagues by allowing one team to go down from NL1 and three to go up from Div 2, two automatically. Plus they've invited a French team to join, probably Toulouse, in 2009 and 2010.

The RFL assessed the teams on stadium facilities, finance, marketing, and players, including junior development. Leeds, Warrington and Hull came top


RUSSELL CROWE IS EDDIE WARING!
June 08: Is Russell Crowe really going to make a film about Eddie Waring?

According to the legendary League Weekly writer Dave 'Nosey' Parker, Tony Hannan's recent biography of Eddie was handed to Crowe by Leeds boss Gary Hetherington.

Dave worked with Eddie at the BBC and his column is a mixture of (usually) spot-on transfer rumours and entertaining trivia (tasty sausages in the Warrington press room).

So will it be 'I am Marcus Aurelius....a big lad from Featherstone', co-starring Tom Selleck as Alex Murphy, Morgan Freeman as Billy Boston and Danny De Vito as Andy Gregory?

I'm looking forward to reading Eddie's biography. He was a huge star in the seventies but is never thought of as a great broadcaster now - partly because of anti-Northern bias and partly due to the miserable buggers up here who, in the same way as they hate Stevo, think a commentator should read a dry list of facts rather than put a bit of feeling into their voice to match the passionate game.



MIKE GREGORY, RIP

Nov O7: There are few sadder sights than sportsmen and women who pride themselves on keeping their bodies in prime conditon being incapacitated by injury and illness, and none was crueller than the fate of former Great Britain captain Mike Gregory who has died at 43 after a four-year battle with a neurological disease.

His wife, Erica, a bio-chemist, traced his illness to a tick bite in Australia while and the infection known as borrelia caused progressive muscular atrophy which has the same symptoms as motor neurone disease.

He collapsed after Wigan's Challenge Cup final appearance in 2004 - the last game he was to coach with his hometown team. He insisted he could carry on with the job and the club made an ex gratia payment to him of £17,500 after he took them to a tribunal.

Gregory played virtually his entire career with Warrington and also captained GB to two Test series victories over New Zealand.

The highlights of his international career included a long-range try in Sydney in 1988 to clinch the first British victory over Australia in a decade. This was one of rugby league's most famous tries, when Andy Gregory broke through the Aussie defence deep in his own half passed it to Mike (no relation) and he beat the chasing defence to touch down, even though speedster Martin Offiah was outside him begging for a pass.

Gregory recalled in his autobiography Biting Back in 2006. I was thinking 'If I'm going to run all this way, I may as well score.'

He began his post-playing career as assistant to coach Shaun McRae at St Helens, who lifted the inaugural title and twice won the Challenge Cup during his time on the staff. Gregory then coached Swinton before joining the backroom staff at Wigan, initially as academy coach and then as assistant to Stuart Raper.

He succeeded Raper at his hometown club in July 2004 and, after guiding the Warriors to an 11-match unbeaten run culminating in a Grand Final appearance and was given the job full time on a two-year contract.

More than 1,000 people attended his funeral and the streets outside the Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, Wigan, were lined with fans in the hours before the service

Wigan RL Chief Executive and his friend Joe Lydon said: “Gone is the powerful physique that Mike worked so hard to create, the swagger, the confidence, the banter.

"But before anger sets in at the cruel injustice, I quickly realised that what remains, what is constant, are the core values, the heart encased in a stubborn shell.

“Courage, determination, a sharp mind and a love and appreciation of family, friends and laughter. These are the qualities that deserve to be applauded and afforded the superlatives that are too often used without real merit.

“These are the qualities that define the man I have had the pleasure to play alongside and to call my friend. These are the same qualities that should stand as a reminder to us all of what must be valued in sport, at home and in life."



AUSTRALIA 12 GREAT BRITAIN 23!
Nov 2006: Was it only a few weeks ago that I was so optimistic...

Rolf Harris, Kylie Minogue, that helicopter bloke who dropped snakes on Mad Max, can you hear me now? You won the boxing match but lost the game!


Are you there Nathan Hindmarsh? When Leon Pryce said he preferred Blackpool to Bondi (wherever that is) the Aussie said about Lancashire's premier resort: "It's an exciting place to go, really. The rain, the drizzle, the cold, the depressing people, the smokes in the bath … I don't know of anyone who has been to Blackpool and enjoyed it."

Smoking in the bath, ooh how terrible.

Nathan - 23-12

And Wigan's Bryan Fletcher described Blackpool as "a shithouse". He told the Sydney Morning Herald: "I went to Blackpool - me and the missus. We got there and the wife said, 'Pick the baby up, I don't want her walking on the footpath'.

"It's so dirty. And the beach - you've got your sand, but the water's edge is about a kilometre out to sea. It's just shithouse."

Brian - 23-12.

Tom Raudonikis, a tourist to England with Australia in 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1978, told The (Aussie) Telegraph: "The north of England is too cold, full of miserable people and the beer is warm. Oh, and Leon Pryce lives there."

Ooo, ner-ner-n-ner-ner. Tom - 23-12

The Telegraph also says that in the "grimy north of England" the sun sets at 3pm, and Blackpool is bleak.

And ex-Aussie captain Laurie Daley told The Australian: "Super League is a second-rate competition. There's a couple of good sides, but the rest would be finishing in the bottom of our competition every year."

Laurie - 23-12!


UP AND OVER, A Trek through Rugby League Land, by Dave Hadfield

A book about a 220-mile sponsored walk, roughly following the route of the M62, sounds tedious but this is a wonderful book which says so much about rugby league and Northern towns and cities and also has some cracking anecdotes and laugh-out-loud lines.

Hadfield is the rugby league writer of The Independent and is joined on the 2003 walk by Sky summarisers Phil Clarke and Stevo. They are accompanied by fans from different clubs as they travel from Hull to Widnes, via Castleford, Wakefield, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Oldham, Salford, Swinton, Leigh, Wigan, St Helens and Warrington.

He points out how much these sporting rivals have in common - the loss of coal and other industries and the closure of evocative old grounds such as Watersheddings and Thrum Hall.

As Hadfield describes the tough areas and some of the brutal players in the sport, he comes across examples of the game's generous spirit - Embassy, the amateur club from Hull, who gave all their Russian Challenge Cup opponents a tenner each so they buy a drink. And then there's Barrie McDermott, the fearsome one-eyed Leeds legend who was the first person to have CS gas used on him in Britain. He turns out to be a lovely bloke (off the field anyway).

The quirky observations are often the best - how bread rolls become breadcakes, flourcakes, teacakes, baps or buns from town to town, how Halifax still displays its gibbet (inspiration for the guillotine) which was last used in 1654 to decapitate two unfortunate cloth thieves.

Hadfield also clears up a couple of myths - the first about Eddie Waring living in the Queen's Hotel, in Leeds. He actually lived somewhere in Sowerby Bridge but his commentary style was so unpopular with some league fans, all his mail was redirected to the hotel and he always met visitors there.

He also had an everlasting contract with the BBC, but by the end he had to get someone to point at players' names on a board and spent the whole match watching the board!

The other myth is the family who live on the farm in the middle of the M62 (subject of a lovely John Shuttleworth song). The road builders didn't have to divert the road especially for a stubborn farmer who refused to move - they were going to split the road anyway there and the farmer and his family opted to stay.

Hadfield has some great one-liners too - hardcore Hull FC fans won't eat bacon because it's in the red and white colours of Hull KR! There are plenty of good-natured cracks about Stevo and some about Ray French, who loses a bet with Stevo over the existence of the momentum rule and has to shout out his greatest commentary lines in Warrington town centre.

Cracking book!

Picture: Amazon

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:35 PM

    Rugby League or Rugby Union? Which is better?
    Personally I think Rugby League out classes union by far, though being a Wakefield Wildcats fan makes me a little biased! However I do admit that internationally Rugby League needs some work so Rugby Union has that on its side but what about the game itself?
    It seems that Rugby Union is just a collection of dog piles most of the time followed by short lived runs which either involve running straight into the other teams players or scoring the odd try, WHY!?
    In Rugby League I can see the point in running straight into your opponent as you have to make some ground only having six tackles to do it but in Union, its just a way of losing the ball! Fools!
    I mean I like doing a little Rugby League Betting every other week but when it comes to Rugby Union, its just boring! KICK! THERE INFRONT! KICK! THERE BEHIND!! KICK THERE INFRONT AGAIN!!! OH NO WAIT!! THERE BEHIND AGAIN! RUN THE DAMN BALL!!!!
    Anyway I’ll stop my rant here and give someone else say what they think!

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  2. I always prefered union to league until I lived in Yorkshire and watched both codes at Headingley. A bad league game was always better than a bad union game due to the latter's stop start nature caused by complex penalty decisions at scrums and rucks. However I think a good union game is better than a good league game - classic union tries seem more intricate than classic league tries.

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  3. My Grandparents ran the Dusty Miller pub from 60s to 80s, Thomas and Florance Bates, my Grandad was a Rugby Man originally from Halifax, played for Halifax and Ovenden Park Amateurs

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