Stand by for another year of The Rangi Chase Show

AS EXPECTED, The Rangi Chase Show will be back for a new series next year following its abrupt cancellation earlier in 2015.
Regular viewers will recall how back in September, the Show’s run at Salford was cancelled after just two seasons, despite Dr Marwan Koukash having forked out somewhere in the region of £115,000 on commissioning it for four.
But rumours surfaced Chase would soon be back, with Leigh Centurions eventually confirming a deal to showcase the 29-year-old for two years, with the option of a third.
After starting out in his homeland of New Zealand, Chase burst onto the scene across the Tasman Sea at Wests Tigers and then St George Illawara Dragons.
And it was a move to Castleford Tigers in 2009 which brought The Show to a wider audience in England, winning rave revues and accolades in the form of club end-of-season awards, the Albert Goldthorpe Medal and Super League’s Man of Steel honour.
Yet as with many maverick performers, controversy has never been far away from Chase.
His formative years saw him exposed to drink, drugs, violence and robbery, while he received a suspended two-year prison sentence in Australia for an incident which occurred in 2008.
The on and off-field disciplinary issues continued in England, but the Show’s stock continued to rise and, amid more controversy – this time involving a family member, received international recognition in 2011.
Salford’s big-spending Good Doctor coveted the entertainment value Chase brings and, after the half-back had submitted a transfer request, he switched from Castleford for the start of 2014.
Such was Koukash’s admiration of Chase that he even named one of his racehorses after him, but this move was not one which would pan out as either party had planned.
Although there were still the occasional moments of magic, there was a growing perception the Show might not be as good as it used to be, culminating in Chase being suspended and eventually released from his Salford contract.
However, Chase has been offered another chance to showcase his talents and the latest series will see him trying to help Leigh achieve their ambition of a return to Super League.
Whether what seems like a last roll of the dice will pay off for either part remains to be seen, but one thing that can be guaranteed is there will be plenty to talk about – one way or the other.

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The price is rights – rugby league’s future on tevelsion

ANYONE who happened to glance at The Australian’s ‘Business Review’ section on Thursday could have been forgiven for thinking rugby league had gone back in time 20 years when they read the headline “NRL clubs threaten breakaway over TV deal”.
First, a quick recap: Back in August, the world’s premier club competition trumpeted a $1billion, five-year rights deal with free-to-air broadcaster Nine and subscription channel Fox Sport which they claimed would “secure the future of the sport.”
The upshot from the agreement was four live games a week – up from two and including the premium Saturday evening slot – available to those without pay TV, control of the schedule being back in the hands of the NRL, a huge influx of money into the game and no doubt much champagne cork-popping and self-congratulatory back-slapping at League Central.
Few would doubt the benefits were clear to see. Well, unless your name is Rupert Murdoch, of course.
Unsurprisingly, Fox were somewhat irked by the deal which weakened their ability to tempt viewers to sign up to their services with the promise of a large amount of exclusive live rugby league.
The News Corp-owned media in Australia went on the attack and NRL CEO Dave Smith, who has since stepped down, was the target of their ire. There were even rumblings of a breakaway competition due to some clubs being unhappy with the new TV deal, even prior to the aforementioned article last week.
(At this point it is probably worth mentioning The Australian is one of those News Corp-owned outlet, so cynics may suggest this was a bit of mischief making on their part. Perish the thought…)
However, the fact remains no pay TV contract has actually been signed over the four remaining matches each week Nine will not be showing, with the talk being Fox could show all eight games a round, simulcasting Nine’s games and thereby reducing the costs to the free-to-air network.
Added to this is the possibility of Nine, who are looking to cut costs, selling off the Saturday night game they acquired – indeed, the Daily Telegraph reported Nine CEO David Gyngell was happy to give up that game and only acquired it to prevent any of their free to air rivals getting a share of the TV rights.
Now riding into the fray have come Optus, who were key players in the Super League War and are interested in snapping up the NRL’s digital rights, as well as possibly the pay TV rights Fox so covet.
Once again, the various News Corp organs are ratcheting up the pressure on the NRL. Nevertheless, the fact remains no-one benefits the longer this all drags on without a conclusion being reached.
Back here in the UK, the rights picture is somewhat clearer, with Murdoch’s Sky Sports securing exclusive coverage of Super League until at least the end of 2021 after forking out £182million for the privilege last February.
What was interesting about the timing of the deal is that it came just under three years before the current contract was due to expire, no doubt to head off any possible bid from BT Sport, who have emerged as a credible rival to Sky’s dominance of the UK sports rights market.
The deal was widely welcomed, especially as each Super League club would receive £300,000 apiece within weeks of the contact being agreed.
However, Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan was one of the dissenting voices, feeling the competition had sold itself short – despite confessing he voted in favour of the deal.
Whether that proves to be the case or not, only time will tell. But of more pressing concern might be the future of rugby league on free-to-air television, particularly with the BBC confirming they are seeking to make £35million of savings to their sports rights budget.
It is likely Formula One, darts and snooker are the sports in line for cutbacks, with the contracts for coverage of F1, the BDO World Darts Championship and World Snooker’s three premier events – the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters – all expiring in the next three years.
Could there be knock-on effect for rugby league though? Despite the fact many perceive the BBC to treat league as little more than a curious folk game played by northern oiks, the Corporation has a history of covering it going all the way back to the Challenge Cup finals of the 1950s.
The Super League Show, which now receives a national broadcast rather than being confined to the regions, is due to continue until at least 2020 under the current deal, as is the BBC’s live Challenge Cup coverage.
Where the coverage might take a hit is the international game. The BBC have the rights to all of England’s games at next year’s Four Nations final, along with the final, and the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, which will again be shared with subscription channel Premier Sports.
After that though, the future might be considered uncertain. The RFL clearly value the exposure free-to-air coverage bring though, with the Challenge Cup final remaining as one of the events which must be made available to non-subscription channels under the Ofcom Code on Sports and Other Listed and Designated Events.
Would another free-to-air broadcaster take over coverage of rugby league in the UK though? ITV have barely covered the sport on a national basis, which would leave Channel 4 and Channel 5 as the other options – neither of which have ever seemed to show an interest either.
Although no-one is talking about it at present, it is an issue the RFL may have to face up to sooner rather than later.

The life and times of Albert Goldthorpe

ARGUABLY one of the most famous scenes in ‘This Sporting Life’ is where Frank Machin, played by Richard Harris, is introduced to Anne Weaver, the wife of the chairman of the City rugby league team.
It starts when she questions Machin as to whether he is the new star of the team.
“We don’t have stars in this game, Mrs Weaver – that’s soccer,” comes the retort from Machin.
“Well what do you have then?” asks Mrs Weaver, somewhat indignantly.
Machin pauses briefly and simply replies: “People like me.”
But while the rugby versions and the novel by David Story, who had a stint playing league for Leeds’ A team, on which it was based graphically portray the more brutal side of the 13-man code at the time, the sport has always had its stars who have shone bright.
One of those from the formative years following the formation of the Northern Union in 1895 was honoured last week with induction into the Rugby League Hall of Fame alongside one of the greats of a more recent vintage, Shaun Edwards.
That man was none other than Albert Goldthorpe, whose goal-kicking prowess and longevity helped win him admirers both at club Hunslet and beyond.
One of five brothers, four of whom played rugby and the other plying his trade in the round-ball game, Goldthorpe made his bow for the team he would go onto enjoy a 22-year career with as a 16-year-old against Wortley in October 1888.
County honours followed and he captained Yorkshire against Cheshire as a 20-year-old, followed by helping Hunslet win the Yorkshire Cup three years before the split from the Rugby Football Union.
The Northern Union Championship and another county cup triumph followed in 1898 and 1905 respectively, but the 1907-08 season was to prove both Goldthorpe and Hunslet’s finest – having originally intended to retire two seasons prior.
The concept of winning ‘All Four Cups’ was regarded as the ultimate for any team, although had yet to be achieved when the Northern Union kicked off its 13th season in the autumn of 1907.
Hunslet would soon write their names in history though, beating Halifax 17-0 in the Yorkshire Cup final, winning the Challenge Cup final for the first time with a 14-0 triumph over Hull and topping the Yorkshire League table.
They could only finish second in the combined table, but after despatching Broughton Rangers in the play-off semi-finals, Hunslet went on to be crowned champions with a replay victory over Oldham after the initial match in the final was drawn 7-7.
Goldthorpe, by now captaining the team in the halves, exerted a huge influence over Hunslet – helped in no small part by a pack which had earned the nickname ‘The Terrible Six’.
At 36. Goldthorpe brought the curtain down on his career in 1910, having established a then-record of 101 goals in Northern Union matches and being believed to have kicked over 200 drop-goals.
He went on to join the club’s committee and was appointed secretary-manager in 1924, serving in the post for seven years.
A successful cricketer too, such was his popularity that the man affectionately known as ‘Arh Albert’ was presented with a piano after getting married – the funds for which to buy the instrument were raised by public subscription.
Goldthorpe died in 1943 and is remembered as much for his clean-living and humble nature as much as his rugby league prowess, somewhat in contrast to the hard-drinking thug he was portrayed as in the 1988 film ‘The First Kangaroos’.
His legacy continues to live on with the Albert Goldthorpe Medal, awarded by Rugby Leaguer & League Express to the top player in Super League each season.
His enshrinement as one of the now-25 members in the Hall of Fame is another fitting tribute to one of rugby league’s great pioneers.

England take a small step in right direction with New Zealand series triumph

IT TOOK 17 minutes of the deciding Test in this year’s International Series for New Zealand to realise constantly kicking the ball in Jermaine McGillvary’s direction was not a particularly good idea.
The Huddersfield Giants winger, who ended the 2015 season as top try-scorer in Super League after crossing the whitewash on 27 occasions, was finally handed his England bow for the all-important encounter at Wigan’s DW Stadium yesterday.
His introduction to international rugby league saw the 27-year-old on the receiving end of a high tackle as he charged up field – leaving BBC commentator Dave Woods to remind us how McGillvary was the most-fouled player in Super League this year.
It would not be the first time the Kiwis found themselves being penalised by referee Ben Thaler in their efforts to check McGillvary’s progress, with him perfectly complementing fellow England winger Ryan Hall.
Steve McNamara’s decision to bring in McGillvary for Joe Burgess was not simply a case of having pace, power and brute force on both wings – although both the Huddersfield man and Leeds Rhinos’ Hall do provide those elements.
Both – and Hall in particular in this regard – were more than willing to come infield and take the ball up the middle early on in the tackle count, which showed their versatility and meant England did not have to rely entirely on their forwards to make the hard yards.
Defensively too, the pair and Hall’s Rhinos team-mate Zak Hardaker at full-back played a big part in keeping New Zealand at bay for large parts of the match as they sought to play a much more expansive game than the previous week’s snoozefest at the Olympic Stadium.
Straight from the kick-off, England showed their intent to try to open up their opponents by moving them around the field and the work of another player who had been called into the starting 13, scrum half Matty Smith, was key to that.
Smith embiggened the role with a cromulent performance in the way perhaps George Williams had failed to do during the first two Tests, instantly forging a good partnership with stand-off Gareth Widdop, looking to move the ball quickly and testing the New Zealand defence with an array of kicks.
The gleeful recipient of one of those kicks – via a Kiwi toe-poke – was Elliott Whitehead, who picked up the ball for England’s first try on 27 minutes, with Widdop’s conversion adding to his early penalty and giving the hosts an eight-point lead.
Like the previous week, this winner-takes-all clash was a tale of a titanic defensive struggle for much of the first hour, only much more fascinating with neither team in any danger of wondering what might have been.
Jason Nightingale’s try for the tourists three minute before the interval was an example of what makes rugby league such a thrilling sport, with his dive over the top of Hardaker’s tackle attempt capping an exhilarating, lightning-quick attack.
Having barely got a hand on the ball in the first 20 minutes of the match, New Zealand and coach Stephen Kearney may well ponder how they failed to take advantage of near-on relentless pressure during the same period at the start of the second half.
Then just when it seemed as if they might be able to get back into the match, a high shot on Whitehead allowed England to relieve the pressure and the Catalan Dragons lock was there to finish off the move from the tap restart, bouncing off several defenders and powering over the try line.
Skipper Sean O’Loughlin put the seal on the win with a try on his home club ground 10 minutes from time, but – somewhat disconcertingly – the hosts then showed that classic English sporting trait of making life far more difficult for themselves than it needed to be.
New Zealand deserve credit for exploiting a couple of defensive weakness to score two tries late on – indeed, Jordan Kahu could have strolled through twirling a cane for the second should he have so wished after finding himself in acres of space from a cross-field kick – and it should serve as something of a wake-up call for England.
Nevertheless, history will only record the match and series were secured with a 20-14 triumph, keeping the Baskerville Shield on these shores and securing McNamara’s immediate future as England head coach.
New Zealand came to England as the number one-ranked team in the world, and despite them being hit by injury and unavailability the displays in each of the three Tests showed plenty of promise from McNamara’s men.
The stiffer examination comes next year when the Four Nations resumes. The Kiwis will be back, as will England’s great sporting enemies the Australians, fresh from a year off internationals, and Scotland, who are making their bow in the competition.
Winning a Test series for the first time in eight years is a small step in the right direction and claiming a maiden Four Nations triumph would be a much greater one ahead of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Only another 12 months to wait to see if, this time, the progress can continue…

Recalling the ‘Battle of Fartown’


“THERE seems to be no getting away from headlines on this programme involving referees,” were the words presenter Bob Hall greeted viewers with as they tuned into the March 1981 edition of ‘RL Action’ featuring highlights from the Second Division clash between Huddersfield and Wigan.
The referee in question was Manchester official Vin Moss, although he could scarcely have expected this match between the two promotion rivals to transpire as it did.
Wigan arrived at Fartown on March 15 top of the Second Division and aiming for a swift return to the Slalom Lager Championship following what remains to this day the only relegation in their history.
Meanwhile, the hosts were sitting fifth, just outside the promotion places, and still harbouring their own hopes of promotion to the top division.
The signs were there this could be a hard-fought encounter from the moment early on when Wigan scrum-half Gary Stephens was cynically tripped as he went for the try line, with skipper George Fairbairn kicking the resulting penalty.
The visitors were not averse to dishing out some of the rough stuff either, with the touch judge intervening for Eddie Bowman fouling at a scrum and again when Bill Melling got into a scrap with Stan McHugh, which led to Graham Swale levelling the scores.
“Tempers are fraying just a little,” observed Lewis Jones, on summariser duty with commentator Keith Macklin for Yorkshire TV that day. It would prove to be something of an understatement.
So would Jones’ assessment of a high tackle by Huddersfield scrum half Glenn Knight, first decrying it as “the sort of tackle we must stamp out” before dismissing its seriousness as “only an impulsive sort of thing.”
This had come after Huddersfield had taken the lead through an Ian Slater try converted by Swale, although a converted try from Foy soon got the visitors back on level terms.
The physicality continued unabated though and Huddersfield’s skilful loose forward Tony Johnson in particular came in for some punishments, being inexplicably shoved over by Stevens while trying to play the ball and then being on the receiving end of a high tackle from Bowman, which led to Swale kicking Huddersfield back in front before the half-time hooter sounded.
Any hopes that the interval might give both teams an opportunity to calm down were swiftly snuffed out at one of the first scrums of the second period though.
Tensions finally reached breaking point when a mass punch-up ensued in back play which ended up involving most members of both teams and continued as Mr Moss repeatedly blew hard on his whistle to no avail.
After discussing matters with his two touch judges when the teams had finally finished settling a few “private wars”, as Macklin described it, Moss – stern-looking, slicked-back hair and firmly chomping on some chewing gum – ordered off Jimmy Johnson and Alan Hodkinson, along with Knight and Les Bolton.
Even in these seemingly-lawless times for rugby league, four players being sent off in one game was rare enough, but more were to follow when it erupted again at a scrum deep in Huddersfield’s half.
This time it was Huddersfield replacement Steve Lyons and Wigan hooker Nicky Kiss who were sent for an early bath, leaving each team to finish the match with just 10-a-side.
No further scores occurred during the game as Huddersfield won 9-7. But, unsurprisingly, the main talking point after the final hooter was how it ended up with six players being dismissed.
In scenes which would be unimaginable today, Mr Moss was called upon by Yorkshire TV to give his version of events in a post-match interview.
“I felt the first 20 minutes would be the critical point and we seemed to get over that,” said Moss.
“Everything went alright up to half time and then, suddenly, in the second half everything seemed to blow up.”
Wigan, who fined their entire team for their part in this affair, would meet Huddersfield at Central Park the following month, running out 23-9 victors and going onto secure promotion as Second Division runners-up.
As for Huddersfield, the win in the first match did not prove enough as they ended up missing out on the top four by two points. But it is a game that will never be forgotten, even if it is not quite for the right reasons.

“Are you not entertained?” – New Zealand edge England in attritional second Test

THE patrons of Hell’s Sports Bar were able to watch Saturday’s second Test between England and New Zealand, but all they got to see were endless replays of Issac Luke shanking a kickable penalty and James Graham ploughing face-first into the turf as he desperately attempted to score a try.
In truth though, those were probably the two moments which best encapsulated the match at London’s Olympic Stadium, where the Kiwis levelled the three-match series with a 9-2 victory after 80 minutes of attritional, one-up rugby.
The 45,000 crowd in attendance may well have sensed what was to come when England opted to kick at goal from a penalty after eight minutes, Gareth Widdop duly obliging, and the cautious approach from both teams was underlined by them being deadlocked at 2-2 at half time.
Penalties undoubtedly played a part, with both teams seemingly in danger of being whistled off the park by Australian referee Gerard Sutton during the opening 40 minutes.
Specifically, Mr Sutton was keen to stamp on any messing around at the ruck, with both sides penalised for not retreating from the tackle quickly enough.
Both teams seemed surprised by this, but it should have been expected. It is one of the areas NRL referees are particularly hot on and arguably should have suited the New Zealanders more, rather than falling foul of it as much as England did.
Even so, it was an incredibly cautious approach from both teams. Both had clearly been working on defence in the week following the opening match of the series, although neither Steve McNamara nor Stephen Kearney had seemed to put on many sessions for flair and adventure.
Both England and New Zealand rightly won plaudits for the way they defended in this encounter, yet it could be argued the direct style of play from both sides made it easier for the defending players to make tackles and snuff out attacks.
It was not until the Kiwis got their offloading game going that either side really looked like scoring a try and that, combined with some deft handling from Tohu Harris, led to Shaun Kenny-Dowall grabbing what proved to be the only try of the game three minutes into the second half.
Otherwise, it was much of the same after the break and even the one time England did get over the try line, only for the video referees to decided Graham had knocked on while trying to ground the ball, came after a bullocking run from Chris Hill had taken them to within striking distance.
But while New Zealand were hardly inspiring, the hosts looked completely bereft of ideas other than continuing to try to smash their way through the defence.
Jordan Kahu’s late drop goal proved the game-clinching score, ensuring everything is to play for in next Saturday’s final Test in Wigan.
That match is a sell-out, although there was mutterings of consternation that rugby league would not have won any new fans from the showpiece match of the series outside its heartland.
It brings up the question of how much should professional teams simply play to win, no matter how they achieve it, or try to entertain as well.
Ironically, the BBC’s coverage of the match included an archive clip of Oscar-winning script writer and rugby league fanatic Colin Welland interviewing the teams ahead of the 1978 Challenge Cup final, in which Leeds coach Syd Hynes said: “We make mistakes and other teams score tries, but it’s good for the game when teams play open football.”
Sometimes though, games just fall short of expectations and this one was not helped by the error count of 14 by England and 13 by the tourists.
Despite conceding his side were not at their best, New Zealand head coach Kearney will perhaps not be too concerned about whether they entertained or not. For opposite number McNamara, the challenge is to rediscover the spark and dynamic attacking play which helped them to victory in the first Test.

RLIF set their stall out with new Strategic Plan

UNLESS you have been hiding in a cave on Mars with a hood over your head and your fingers in your ears, you will doubtless be aware that Sam Burgess is officially returning to rugby league.
But amidst all the whooping and high-fiving over one of the sport’s biggest stars re-signing for South Sydney Rabbitohs after an unhappy spell in the 15-man code, those who govern the game were meeting in Paris at the RLIF Congress.
This year’s Congress was, rather grandiosely, titled ‘Global Conversion’. Although the average league fan’s views of the sport’s administrators, many would imagine such an event to involve little more than Nigel Wood, David Collier et al sitting around smoking cigars, quaffing brandy and swapping saucy anecdotes*.
Items on the programme of events included conducting the draw for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup European qualifiers and discussing the international calendar.
The major news to come out of the Congress though was the launch of the RLIF’s Strategic Plan for 2018 to 2025 – which you too can be a proud owner of by downloading it here!
Perhaps the key point to come out of the new plan is the ten ‘key initiatives’ the RLIF intend to enact during the eight-year time frame from the conclusion of the next World Cup. They are as follows:
– Create an eight-year calendar of events
– Enhance recognition of members by National Olympic Committee/nation sports agencies
– Introduce performance-related grants
– Target two additional G20 nations for expansion
– Provide context to international matches
– Grow rugby league’s supporter base
– Enhance neutrality and global consistency of regulations, officiating and Laws
– Enhance the image of the RLIF and rugby league
– Create long-term sponsorship and broadcast partnerships
– Enhance cash reserves of the top tier nations and RLIF
The majority of those points are fairly self-explanatory, but several of them bear closer examination.
One of the recurring themes throughout the Strategic Plan is the need for the Laws of the Game (always in capital letters, those Laws) and the way they are interpreted and applied by the match officials to be consistent across the globe.
Quite frankly, this is something which should have been implemented years ago, The fact the two main domestic competitions, Super League and the NRL, both operate under different interpretations, along with international matches have their own slight variations as well, is a bizarre state of affairs.
Whether or not this will see an expansion of the NRL’s two on-field referee system remains to be seen, yet there would need to be a growth in the number of suitably qualified match officials before this could even be considered.
No doubt taking a cue from the way rugby union has expanded around the world with sevens, there is much talk of growing the nines variant of league. This includes building on an under-19s nines event being an exhibition sport at last year’s Commonwealth Games.
Crucially, the RLIF recognise the importance of television coverage being balanced between subscription and free-to-air TV, which might allay fears about live coverage disappearing entirely behind a paywall as happened when chief executive Collier was involved with the England & Wales Cricket, and they decided to sell exclusive Test and domestic rights to Sky Sports.
Also listed are aims for what rugby league will look like by 2025, with one of the most eye-catching being to have half of the teams in a 16-country men’s World Cup and eight-nation women’s World Cup being able to compete for the title.
Presently, no-one outside Australia, New Zealand and possibly England could even be considered contenders for the World Cup. Even rugby union’s equivalent, with 20 teams contesting the recent tournament, could not genuinely claim to have more than – at a push – four or five teams in with a chance of going on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
To establish some depth will require significant funding to grow the game and the talent pool in other nations, to which end the RLIF aim to be distributing at least 75 per cent of their income – projected to be £35million by 2025 – among their member nations.
Yet for all the grand talk and ambition in the document, there are few details as to actually how any of this is meant to be achieved.
Let us hope this does not prove yet another false dawn and that actions of the game’s governing body will finally start back up the words.

*Dramatisation, may not have happened (but probably did)

Trying to make sense of the Sam Burgess conundrum

PITY poor old Mike Ford, for his job these days seems to consist mostly of having to deny Sam Burgess is on the verge of quitting Bath for a return to rugby league.
Ford, whose own league career included making over a century of appearances for both Oldham and Castleford, was at it again on Tuesday following the news Leeds Rhinos were the latest to declare an interest in securing the 26-year-old’s services should he become available.
In his position as Bath head coach, Ford has unwittingly found himself the media’s go-to man for comment on whether Burgess will return to his roots or stay in the 15-man code for at least the remainder of his three-year contract.
That is unlikely to change until the man himself decides one way or the other, although he is the only one who has yet to comment on the rumours that have been swirling in the wake of England’s dismal Rugby World Cup campaign.
It has been a surreal last few weeks ever since it emerged Burgess could be heading back South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he starred in their NRL title triumph last year prior to embarking on his union adventure.
Indeed, his possible rugby league comeback seems to have generated even more column inches and discussion than when Burgess’ move to Bath, whose owner Bruce Craig forked out £250,000 for his services, was first announced.
Craig will undoubtedly been eager to keep hold of a prized asset he forked out so much hard cash for, although few would blame Burgess if he decided to turn his back on union after the pillorying he received in the press after England’s World Cup exit.
For someone who only started one games – the defeat to Wales – and was a replacement in two others, the outrage directed at him could not have been much had he kicked Prince Harry up the arse and then had a picture of it blown up to 10’ x 10’ as a memento.
It is at this point your humble blogger should probably disclose he was reporting on the England-Wales game in his day job – yes, believe it or not some of us like union as well as league – and kept an eye on what Burgess was doing.
On a very basic level, it seemed he had been given two jobs that night in his role at inside centre: One was to keep quiet Wales number 12 Jamie Roberts, which he did effectively, and the other was to get the ball in hand, truck it up the middle and get over the gain line.
Burgess showed no misgivings in getting involved at the breakdown either and acquitted himself more than adequately there – let us not forget, it was England’s forwards who conceded most of their penalties there in that Wales loss.
Yet for some reason, it was Burgess who copped a sizeable proportion of the flak, perhaps due to many feeling the likes of Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell or even fellow cross-coder and Bath team-mate Kyle Eastmond should have been given his squad spot in the first place.
In truth, Burgess has at the very least progressed as well as could be expected for someone who has switched from the top level of one code to the top level of another in such a relatively short space of time, no matter how gifted technically and physically they are.
But arguably his development has been hampered by the fact no-one in union has yet agreed whether his best position is at centre or in the back row.
Even from the early days, Ford saw Burgess’ long-term future in the back row and he made his bow in that position against Newcastle Falcons back in April.
England, however, have persisted with him in the backs and the debate will undoubtedly continue to rage if Burgess decides to stay with Bath.
It is difficult to think of anyone who would not welcome him back to league, be it with his siblings in Sydney or one of the several Super League clubs who would no doubt be keen to make him their marquee player who would not count under the salary cap.
Arguably, no English forward has won so many admirers in the NRL since Adrian Morley. Well, at least until Morley clotheslined Robbie Kearns and kneed Corey Hughes in the face anyway.
You can bet the England RL press corps would not be lining up to blame him for any problems they might encounter either.

Fortune favours bold England in first Test win over New Zealand

THERE was a moment soon after England had gone 14-12 up against New Zealand through a penalty from Gareth Widdop where the hosts were presented with another opportunity to extend their lead following an infringement.
Instead – and despite BBC pundit Jonathan Davies imploring them to do otherwise – England eschewed another kick at goal and went for it with a tap-and-go.
Ultimately, their effort saw Liam Farrell bundled into touch around 10 metres out and as a result this may well be considered a somewhat inconsequential moment in the match.
However, there were two other factors to consider here. Firstly, the tourists were forced to restart from a scrum deep in their own half – England having dominated the second half territory by a nearly 75-25 percentage ratio up to this point – and secondly, it showed England were not content to take the so-called ‘safe’ option.
Soon after, in the 59th minute, they were rewarded when New Zealand were caught napping at the restart after a stoppage and Brett Ferres powered through, spun rounded and got the ball down under the posts for what was, arguably, the game-breaking try.
It was all something of a turnaround from the opening 20 minutes of the first Test of this series at Hull’s KC Stadium where the Kiwis had stormed into a 10-0 lead and looked, despite being without a number of key players due to injury and unavailability for this match and tour, every bit the number one-ranked side in the world.
New Zealand too had briefly adopted a bold approach, going for a short kick-off when England had got their first try on the board, but they soon abandoned that as handling errors and penalties mounted against them.
The conspiracy theorists out there may suggest the tourists were treated unfairly by English man in the middle Ben Thaler, yet although no-one would realistically believe he deliberately favoured one team over the other, international rugby league really should have neutral referees to enhance its credibility.
Still, Australian whistler Gerard Sutton will be in charge of the second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium, which should at least remove any doubts about impartiality.
Back to Sunday’s opening Test of the series though, and the try which set the ball rolling for England to make their comeback after an insipid opening quarter where they seemed to lack ideas and direction.
Fortune had gone against them when Chris Hill’s charge-down bounced kindly and was scooped up, setting in motion an attack which was finished by former Hull man Sam Moa on his old home ground, with the conversion putting New Zealand ten points clear.
Luck works both ways though, and after Jordan Kahu had a possible third try for the Kiwis ruled out due to obstruction, the bounce of the ball off Zak Hardaker’s knee allowed Josh Hodgson to pounce for England’s first score after 20 minutes.
Of course, had three New Zealand defenders not stood around gesturing to Mr Thaler for a knock-on, one of them may have been able to halt Hodgson in his tracks, instead of leaving a gap so big he could have probably waltzed through twirling a cane should he have so wished.
Although Isaac Luke kicked a penalty five minutes later – England captain Sean O’Loughlin ripping the ball away after a tackle had been completed – the home side finally put together some incisive attacking moves, finishing with George Williams putting Ferres through for his first score.
Having clawed their way back to being level at half time, Steve McNamara’s men never looked back – thanks in no small part to the contribution of two players from the interchange bench.
The old cliché about rugby league being a 17-man game these days has some truth to it, as evidenced by the introductions of James Roby and Tom Burgess to the fray.
Roby coming on at hooker for Hodgson seemed gave England’s attacks more impetus, with the St Helens man able to deliver quick ball from the play-the-ball.
Burgess, meanwhile, provided excellent cover for hard-running props James Graham and Chris Hill – both of whose contributions in defence and attack should not be overlooked.
First blood to England then, who sent out something of a message with this result, despite what anyone might say about this not being New Zealand’s strongest team.
But both McNamara and New Zealand head coach Stephen Kearney admitted afterwards their respective teams have plenty to work on. Regardless, it is all shaping up nicely for the second Test this Saturday.

Lebanon back on the big stage after qualifying for 2017 Rugby League World Cup

IF there was one positive to come out of the omnishambles that was the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, then surely it was Lebanon establishing themselves on the sport’s map.
It was all widely-derided when it began in 1998; a group of New South Wales-based Australian players using their Lebanese heritage to form a team and represent a country which, at the time, did not even have its own domestic competition.
Even Canterbury Bulldogs’ goal-kicking winger Hazem El Masri – who, incidentally, can count being Lebanon’s record point-scorer among his many achievements – had his doubts when the project was first mooted.
“The first time I heard about something like this, I thought it was a bit of a joke, but these guys are really serious about what they’re doing,” El Masri was quoted as saying ahead of their final qualifier against the USA.
Sometimes though, good things come from what might seem like stupid ideas.
Having comfortably seen off the USA 62-8 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the Cedars found themselves placed in Group Two with New Zealand, Wales and the Cook Islands.
A 22-22 draw with the latter gave Lebanon their only point of the tournament, but the wheels had already been set in motion for rugby league finding a home in the Middle East.
And yesterday’s victory over South Africa ensured the team, coached by captain of the pioneering 2000 team Darren Maroon, will be back at the global gathering after a 17-year absence when the next World Cup takes place in 2017.
The intervening years have not always been easy. Although Lebanon won the old Mediterranean Cup three years on the spin between 2002 and 2005, they missed out on qualifying for the 2008 and 2013 World Cups on points difference.
At home, there are open age, collegiate and schools competitions, yet these have, unsurprisingly, been affected by the continual upheaval in the Middle East.
Other issues in the region led to the recent World Cup qualifier being switched to South Africa, but this was nothing to do with the geopolitical situation.
The initial intention was for the match to be played in Dubai, with the UAE earlier in the year announcing its intention to bid for the right to host the 2012 World Cup.
As has often been the case since the great schism of 1895 though, rugby union’s rulers in the region got the hump and the whole thing fell apart following the bizarre turn of events which led to UAE Rugby League chairman Sol Mokdad being arrested.
So, a one-off match became a two-legged play-off hosted by the South Africans, Lebanon running out comfortable 90-28 winners on aggregate.
The Cedars team still comprises a large proportion of heritage players based in Australia, but the likes of Toufic El Hajj (AUB), Ray Finan, Robin Hachache (Jounieh) and Wael Harb (Wolves) plying their trade in the domestic Lebanese competition show the progress which has been made in growing rugby league there.
“This is the best day of my life,” Lebanon captain Chris Saab told the Rugby League Europe Federation website after the 50-16 second-leg win which confirmed their World Cup spot.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time and I hope every Lebanese person – as well as past and present players – have something to smile about.”
The rugby league world has been waiting a long time too and in two years’ time will get to see how far Lebanon have come since those tentative first steps.