Page XIII editorial, first published 2nd March 2012 in Rugby League World, Issue 372 (April 2012)
Rugby League: the game that never stops giving. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along come St Helens and Catalan Dragons to serve up a match with a conclusion more implausible than an episode of EastEnders. Daryl Millard’s winning try for the Dragons in a game that Saints had led 26-8 at one stage provided an astonishing moment of sporting drama that must have had the entire TV audience on the edge of their seats. Those who hadn’t switched off earlier, that is, when Sky’s misfiring margin meter predicted that Saints would win the game easily by thirty points. The poor old margin meter, it really has come in for some stick, but deservedly so. The only thing to be said in its favour is that it has proved beyond doubt that Rugby League is wonderfully unpredictable, and in the process, confirmed the utter pointlessness of the margin meter itself.
A WORLD AWAY
Whenever a British club wins a World Club Challenge match there are calls for the event to be expanded. When you get a game as exciting as Leeds v Manly, in front of a packed stadium it’s only natural to want more, but there are numerous obstacles in the way of that. Not least the cajoling necessary every year to get the Australians to take part and the worry that even when they do, they may not be taking it quite as seriously as we do. Then there’s the conundrum of just how you shoehorn any more fixtures into what is already a crowded calendar for our elite players. No matter how plausible the proposals for change put forward now might be (and Jon Wells makes a solid case on page 14), I can’t help feeling that this time next year, nothing will have changed and the World Club Challenge will still be a one-off game in the UK in February. I’m not going to stick my neck out and predict which two teams will be playing in it though!
Of greater concern than the future of the WCC in my view is the ridiculously early start to the Super League season. Ok, I know that we’re all gagging to get out to a game again within a fortnight of the last season ending, but given the way the weather wrecked the opening weekend in February this year, the urge to dig the car out, perhaps brave a trip across the Pennines and then sit (or stand) out in the arctic cold for a couple of hours in the name of entertainment suddenly seems far less appealing. It does wonders for TV viewing figures, with Sky reporting record numbers tuning in, but we need to make sure we have enough people paying to go through the turnstiles too. Salford’s big opening night at their new stadium was ruined by a snowstorm and the threat of last minute postponements hung over a number of the other fixtures too. Hats off to all the staff and volunteers who worked so hard to ensure that there were no cancellations, and to the fans who braved the cold to go and watch.
So what’s the solution? A later start and fewer club fixtures to accommodate it. Is that likely? About as likely as a World Club Challenge final in Dubai, Hong Kong or Las Vegas any time soon. It baffles me, when so many will say so often how superior the Australian domestic competition is to our own (and how many times that message is reinforced by international results) that we can’t learn the most obvious lesson from it. It’s not coaching, not nutrition, not promotion nor skills. It’s the number of rounds they play. If we ever match them on that, we might one day be able to match them in more than just a one-off club game at the start, the middle or the end of the season.
GOING FOR GROWTH
There have been some encouraging developments taking place outside the top flight. The news that Hemel Hempstead will be joining Northampton in an expanded Championship One in 2013, with two more new clubs still to be announced, is a clear demonstration of the continued organic growth of Rugby League in the UK. It’s a very different approach to expansion than has been tried before. Hemel have a long established Rugby League pedigree and deserve the opportunity to progress further. It will be interesting to see which two others will join them.
John Drake, Editor