ASIDE from a few sporadic efforts, rugby league fans have generally not been well-served by the computer games industry.
Fortunately, Tru Blu Entertainment’s long-running ‘Rugby League’ series, which has been going for over 12 years and saw the release of Rugby League Live 3 on all formats last September, has served to address this gap in the market.
Last year also saw Alternative Software – publishers of the ‘Rugby League’ series in the UK – bring out Rugby League Team Manager 2015 on PC, allowing all supporters out there the chance to prove they really do know better than their team’s head coach.
So if you happen to be a rugby league fan who likes video games as well, you have arguably never had it so good. Not that the 13-man code has been completely ignored by developers in the past though.
Even EA Sports, better known for their ‘Madden’ and ‘FIFA’ franchises, made a foray into the sport back in 1995 with Australian Rugby League on the Sega Megadrive which, despite the name, also included Northern Hemisphere and international sides.
The following year came Wembley Rugby League from Audiogenic Software, with their PC-only title allowing players to pick their favourite English professional team and play friendlies or through a Challenge Cup-style competition right from the opening round to the final at…erm…Wembley.
At the same time, Alternative first dipped their toe in the water with the seemingly Sensible Soccer-inspired Super League Pro Rugby, which featured fully-licensed teams and the vocal talents of Sky Sports duo Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson on commentary duty.
It was then four years before Midas Interactive – “the sponsors of Super League referees” being their proud boast – decided it was time to bring out a rugby league management sim, no doubt in the hope of replicating the success of Championship Manager et al.
Unfortunately, Super League Championship Rugby Manager was heavily-derided. Complaints included unrealistic basketball-esque scorelines, not being able to sign overseas players and stuttering in-game commentary from Eddie and Stevo.
This was not the first attempt at a rugby management game though as D&H Games had brought out Rugby Coach back in 1992, which allowed one to four players the opportunity to take charge of a team of their choosing.
Rugby Coach was unique in that it had the option of managing either a league or a union team, with all of the sides from the Rugby League Championship and Second Division, and the top three divisions of unions Courage Leagues featured.
Pressing either ‘L’ or – if you were so inclined, for some reason – ‘U’ at the start of the game allowed you to pick your code of choice.
However, as both seasons ran concurrently, players were still able to view results from the other side and attempt to engineer cross-code transfers. Not that any money changed hands between clubs and players in union before professionalism was legalised in 1995, of course…
Unlike many sports management sims, you could not simply select from any team to manage. Rather, you had to select from five teams who offered you a job at the start of the game – in the case of league it was Second Division outfits Dewsbury, Fulham, Doncaster, Trafford Borough or Huddersfield.
Playing the game itself was a simply affair. You just picked your team based on which 13 players had the best overall, try-scoring and goal-kicking statistics and away you went – not so much as an attempt was made at differentiating between positions.
There was no setting up of match tactics or being able to view in-game action, with the week’s results randomly generated and the player praying to the computerised Rugby League Gods while clicking through to find out if their team had won that vital match away to Runcorn Highfield.
The County Cups and national knock-out competitions were included as well, although the pendantic will have been infuriated by the Challenge Cup and “Silk Cut Cup” being two separate competitions, especially as the Challenge Cup was effectively the Regal Trophy in this virtual world.
As might be imagined for a DOS-based game, it was all pretty basic, yet there were still the options to set training routines, appoint coaches, a scout and a physio, plus a full transfer market and financial overview of the club. Even here though, running a rugby league team was a tortuous exercise in balancing the books – especially if your team was not winning.
Neither was Rugby Coach without its flaws. Yet, somehow, it was all strangely compelling too as you found yourself clicking through the days and weeks thinking “just another game”, more so if your team were on a cup run or in a title battle.
More by accident than design, Rugby Coach serves as something of a time capsule as well, being based on the 1990-91 season. It was the last of the winter seasons where the professional game was split into two divisions, the last time Rochdale Hornets were in the top flight and the last season before Fulham became London Crusaders.
A quick scan of the Second Division also shows some long-forgotten names, such as the aforementioned Trafford and Runcorn, Chorley Borough, Nottingham City and Carlisle.
Rugby Coach is well-worth seeking out for video game fans and anyone with an interest in rugby league history alike. Now, back to trying to get Trafford into the Stones Bitter Championship…