The Armchair Pundit – How secure is a Super League coach’s job?

Chris Chester.jpg

Chris Chester became the first Super League head coach to lose his job in 2016

IT TOOK just over three weeks of the new Super League season for the first coaching casualty to occur when Hull Kingston Rovers decided to part company with Chris Chester.
Former Rovers forward Chester was relieved of his duties in the aftermath of the team being booed off following the narrow round three defeat to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – sure, you took us to our first Challenge Cup final since 1981 last year, but what have you done for us recently?!
All levity aside, reaction to the decision to dismiss the 37-year-old was mixed. Yet, on the face of it, a draw and two defeats – the other of which came against expected play-off contenders Warrington Wolves – without the likes of Terry Campese, Kevin Larroyer, Shane Lunt and the suspended John Boudebza might not have suggested change was imminent.
Of course, Chester was second-favourite with the bookies to be sacked – and they are rarely wrong about these things.
But although he was dismissed early on, rugby league at the top level has not yet adopted the hire ‘em-fire ‘em approach that seems so prevalent in football.
Eight of the current Super League head coaches have been in their job for three or more years, with Warrington’s Tony Smith the longest-serving and now in his eighth season in charge at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
He is closely followed by Widnes Vikings’ Denis Betts, now in his seventh season, while Paul Anderson and Shaun Wane are both in their fifth seasons at Huddersfield Giants and Wigan Warriors respectively.
Indeed, you have to go – perhaps unsurprisingly – to Salford Red Devils for the only first-season coach in Super League, with Ian Watson the latest to be tasked with making owner Marwan Koukash’s vision a reality.
However, the Thursday night game between the Red Devils and Wigan served to bring the visitors back down to earth after back-to-back wins…

Adventures in officiating: Last week marked 20 years of the video referee first being used in the Super League World Nines, although as the Wigan-Salford clash was not being shown by Sky Sports there was no such facility in operation at the DW Stadium.
Instead, referee George Stokes, his touch judges and the in-goal judge all missed an apparent knock-on from Taulima Tautai in the build-up to what would prove to be the winning try four minutes from time from Dom Manfredi.
Unlike the wins in their previous two games where they had got off to flying starts, Salford found themselves 16-2 down in the second after before again showcasing their lightning-quick attacking game to get back on level terms.
As for Wigan, they keep finding ways to win ugly. Head coach Wane again stated he feels his side have much improving to do in terms of performances, but their early-season results give the Cherry and Whites an ominous look.

Thursday night attendance watch: A crowd of 10,897 were at the DW Stadium to see the Warriors edge out Salford – nearly 3,000 fewer than the same fixture drew on a Friday night last year.
Over in Hull, there were 10,247 at the KC Lightstream Stadium for the Black and Whites’ clash with Castleford Tigers, which represented a slight improvement on the 10,114 who turned up for the Sunday afternoon clash between these two in 2015.
Among those in attendance were Sky Sports, broadcasting what could well have been termed the Denny Solomona show after his hat-trick of tries helped secure the win.
There was little to choose between the two sides, who were all square at 18-18 at the interval, with Luke Gale’s goalkicking also proving crucial for Castleford as he landed a drop goal to edge the Tigers ahead before Solomona’s third.
“He told me he’s rubbish at drop goals so this should give him some belief,” said Castleford head coach Daryl Powell of Gale’s late effort.

Bringing back the biff watch: Travis Burns and James Green decided to engage in a bit of how’s-your-father when Hull KR and St Helens clashed on Friday night, with both being sin-binned as a result.

The 31-22 victory for a Saints team chastened by heavy defeats to Salford in the league and Sydney Roosters in the World Club Series provided a much-needed boost for Keiron Cunningham’s men – particularly as they did it the hard way after coming from 16-10 down at half time.
Meanwhile, Willie Mason announced his return to Super League with a borderline illegal shoulder charge on Adam Cuthbertson in Catalans Dragons’ 32-28 win over Leeds Rhinos on Saturday.
Admittedly, it is still early days, but who would have predicted the defending champions would be bottom of the table at any point this season even with their injuries? Few would be betting on this slump to last for long though.
At the top of the table though, Warrington continued their unbeaten start to the campaign with a 38-8 win over Wakefield. This also ensured it was Tony who won the Battle of the Smiths between his team and elder brother Brian’s.

Chant of the week: “How shit must you be?! We’re winning on grass!” sang the Widnes fans as their team went top of Super League with a 36-18 win away to Huddersfield.
Could the Vikings be the surprise package of this year? Although many pundits point to their good record on the artificial pitch at the Select Security Stadium, it is telling that two of their three wins so far have come on the road.
Back-to-back matches against the Hull sides are up next for Betts’ men, followed by the big test of whether they are genuine contenders: Wigan away, Warrington away and St Helens at home.


There is much to celebrate at Mount Pleasant these days

Kingston Press Championship round-up: Widnes may have caught the eye with their impressive start to Super League, but arguably the team making the biggest waves in England at the moment are Batley Bulldogs in the second tier.
Full-time sides Leigh Centurions, Sheffield Eagles and now Halifax have been felled by John Kear’s men, who sit just one point behind Championship leaders Bradford Bulls following a 17-12 victory at The Shay on Sunday.
Bradford had to come from 32-6 down with 15 minutes remaining to draw 32-32 at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Leigh, having drawn 36-36 with them at Odsal last season.
Sheffield’s 48-26 win at home to Swinton Lions saw them continue to lead the chasing pack, while the resurgent London Broncos won 16-13 at Workington Town and Dewsbury Rams saw off struggling Whitehaven 20-4.
The other game of the weekend saw Featherstone Rovers chalk up their second victory of the campaign with a 20-6 triumph at home to Oldham.

Up for the Challenge Cup: Five of the amateur clubs caused upsets against the professional sides to book their place in the fourth round of this year’s competition and go to within one win of the possibility of meeting a Super League side in round five.
Castleford Lock Lane, Siddal, Pilkington Recs, Kells and Featherstone Lions – the Armchair Pundit salutes you!
The two amateurs-versus-professionals derby matches went the way they would have been expected to though, with Rochdale Hornets winning 40-14 against Rochdale Mayfield and York City Knights storming to a 66-0 win over York Acorn in front of an impressive 2,293 spectators at Bootham Crescent.

Amateur score of the week: Queensbury 48 Stainland Stags 18, Pennine League Championship. The win took Queensbury up to second in the table on points difference from King Cross Park, while Stainland stayed mid-table.
Coached by ex-professional player Danny Fearon, Stainland hail from the West Yorkshire town which is home to the mysterious Stainland Cross.

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Rochdale Mayfield and York Acorn aim to stun neighbours in Challenge Cup

Challenge Cup

WHEN the Northern Union took the step of instituting the Challenge Cup in its second season, it was made open to all members of the nascent organisation – both professional and amateur.
Among the 40 clubs who took part in the first round of the new tournament on the third weekend in March 1897 were amateur side Rochdale St Clements, who went down 11-0 to Leeds.
This would prove their only year playing in the Challenge Cup as their chairman was staunchly opposed to professionalism, with the club folding in the same year and later emerging as a football team which continues to play to this day.
Tomorrow, nearly 119 years later and with the grand old competition now under the sponsorship of bookmaker Ladbrokes, one of the town’s more established amateur sides gets the opportunity to get to test themselves against their professional neighbours.
You can almost hear the former chairman of St Clements turning in his grave at the prospect. But for Rochdale Mayfield, the third round tie at home to Rochdale Hornets – who, for the record, lost to Swinton in the last 16 of the first Challenge Cup – was exactly what they wanted.
“The mood at the club has been upbeat since the draw was made and this is a great opportunity for us as a club to show the town how far amateur rugby has come, both on and off the pitch,” Mayfield chairman Simon Howe told Rochdale Online.
“I love rugby league, for me there is no greater spectacle than a good hard game and in any sport there is nothing better than a local derby so the game has everything.
“Throw in the David and Goliath factor and you have all the ingredients for one of the best sporting events the town has seen.”
Founded in 1958 and taking their name from the Mayfield Hotel in the town, the club – according to their official history, no less – “soon established themselves as a ‘no holds barred’ set up.”
Mayfield have played Challenge Cup ties against professional teams such as Salford and Hunslet in the past, although their run in last year’s competition came to a premature end after they were kicked out for fielding an ineligible player in their first-round win over the British Police.
The league campaign proved more successful though, with the team finishing third in the National Conference League (NCL) Premier Division and then losing to eventual champions Leigh Miners Rangers in the play-off semi-finals.
Now one of the top sides in the highest level of amateur rugby league in the country get the chance to pit their wits against the nearby Hornets, who just missed out on the play-offs in Kingston Press League One last season and won the Challenge Cup back in 1922.
Mayfield declined the opportunity to switch the tie to Hornets’ Spotland ground and although admission prices have been increased to £10 from the usual £2.50 after negotiations between the two clubs, hopes are high of a bumper crowd at the Mayfield Sports Centre.
There is more than a sporting link between the two clubs as well, with Hornets club doctor Ian Sampson having played for Mayfield as a centre and second row.
“I think professional rugby and the amateur game in the town share a destiny,” said Dr Sampson.
“I just hope I have nothing to do on game day! I’m looking forward to what will be a great day for rugby league in the town.”


Bootham Crescent hosts York City Knights against York Acorn

Sunday sees another amateurs-versus-professionals derby across the other side of the Pennines as newly-promoted NCL Premier Division outfit York Acorn take on York City Knights at Bootham Crescent.
Acorn, who reached this stage thanks to wins over Sharlston Rovers and Distington, were formed from a pub in York back in 1973 and are set to have plenty of backing from the city’s other amateur teams, with York Lokomotive and Heworth old boys having bought tickets for the clash.
Indeed, demand has been so high that Acorn had to go back to the City Knights and ask for extra tickets to sell from their initial allocation of 300.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing and we’ve been telling people they can pay on the gate as well, so I’m sure quite a few more will go down on the day,” York Acorn secretary Alan Havercroft told the York Press.
“When we spoke to the Knights last week we had looked at maybe 1,500 people turning up but I now think we’ll beat that, to be honest.
“The occasion is going to be fantastic. I think it could be the biggest Challenge Cup game in the city since Clarence Street (York beat Castleford there en route to the semi-finals in 1984) was knocked down, especially in terms of people talking about it.”
That Castleford quarter-final tie saw 8,529 pack into Clarence Street to witness York Wasps – the previous incarnation of the City Knights – edge to a 14-12 victory, with all of their points coming from Graham Steadman.
The city’s professional team have been to Wembley once too, although that was back in 1931 and saw them soundly beaten by Halifax.
Sunday’s game also marks the first match for the City Knights at Bootham Crescent, which they will be sharing with York City Football Club this year, and while the expected 2,000 crowd may not be quite up there with those halcyon days of that Castleford tie, it will be a huge boost for rugby league in York.
Both Rochdale Mayfield and York Acorn will fancy their chances of causing an upset, along with getting into the hat for round four and being just one more win away from possibly facing a Super League team.
Upsets by amateur teams against professional opposition are rare, but can still happen. Most importantly though, this is a chance for clubs from what The RFL calls the ‘Community Game’ to show what rugby league at their level is truly all about.

The Armchair Pundit – Where now for the World Club Series?


“I see you’ve played knifey-spoony before”

IF the past weekend’s results are anything to go by, the best chance Super League teams will have in next year’s World Club Series is to play their National Rugby League counterparts at knifey-spoony instead of rugby league.
As pointed out by several sources, the aggregate score across all three of this year’s games stood at 118-28 in favour of the Australians. St Helens, Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos – supposedly the best Super League has to offer – were not just beaten, but soundly humbled.
True, all of the English teams were suffering with injuries to key players – Leeds and St Helens in particular.
But this is part of a trend that started even when it was just champion-versus-champion in the one off World Club Challenge.
Between being resurrected as an annual game in 2000 and 2008, Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters were the only NRL clubs to win a game. However, Leeds are the only English club to have won a game since 2009, discounting Melbourne being stripped of the 2010 title as part of their punishment for salary cap breaches.
Nevertheless, the second consecutive year of NRL sides whitewashing their Northern Hemisphere opponents in the three-match series has not stopped talk of further expansion of the concept.
“It has to go ahead,” said Super League general manager Blake Solly, almost with the urgency of a man desperately trying to convince himself as much as anyone else listening.
“The goal for us is to get all 12 Super League clubs and all 16 NRL clubs desperate to play and we’re well on the way to that.”
Anyone who recalls the ambitious but ultimately farcical 1997 World Club Challenge will be wary of expanding the concept further just yet, let alone taking it to America or the Far East as Solly spoke about prior to the matches.
The fact a bond of £170,000 needs to be lodged to guarantee the expenses of the travelling NRL teams is also reported to be putting off the likes of Huddersfield Giants and Castleford Tigers from taking part.
Nevertheless, there is still reason to be positive. Aggregate attendances were up slightly to 52,889 from 51,902 in 2015 and the novelty of Anglo-Australian clashes brought plenty of national media interest for rugby league.
The real challenge, though, is to find a way to get the Super League sides back in a position to compete with the sides from Down Under.

Friday Night Lights: When the Sydney Roosters defence stood around looking at each other as the kick-off from St Helens bounced in-goal and into touch to force a goal-line drop-out from the first play, spectators and television viewers could have been forgiven for thinking this might be the night for the hosts.
Alas, it was not to be. After weathering the storm with some impressive defence in the opening exchanges, Sydney tore into the Saints and ran out 38-12 victors, having been 22-0 in front when the half-time hooter sounded.
St Helens had no answer to the support play and lines of running from the Roosters when the visitors were in possession, while their own attacks seemed predictable and ponderous, along with being characterised by blind panic and aimless kicking on the last tackle.
Luke Walsh was also castigated for kicking on the first tackle in the mistaken assumption that the free play rule used in Super League was still in effect, forgetting the match was being played under the international Laws.
While there is no excuse for professional players not to know the Laws, moments like this underline the ridiculous situation of having different sets of interpretations for the NRL, Super League and international games.
The game needs to be played under one unified set of Laws and interpretations for the sake of its own credibility, if nothing else.

Stat of the week: In their three World Club Challenge/Series matches against Eastern Suburbs/Sydney Roosers, St Helens have been outscored 101-14.

talkSPORT make their bow: Sunday night’s World Club Challenge clash between Leeds Rhinos and North Queensland Cowboys marked talkSPORT’s first live coverage of a rugby league game since acquiring the rights to broadcast Super League matches.
Mark Wilson was joined by ex-Great Britain and St Helens player Paul Sculthorpe at Headingley, while Andrew McKenna and Martin Offiah handled things from back in the studio.
Much of talkSPORT’s output in the past has been heavily football-focussed, but the launch of their new talkSPORT 2 station next month will give them more opportunity to cover other sports, including rugby league.
Drivetime show presenter Adrian Durham is a big fan of the 13-man code too, so this additional attention for the sport can only be a good thing.
As for the match itself, the first half proved a tense battle and some sterling defence from Leeds to ensure the sides went in deadlocked at 4-4 following the first 40 minutes.
The second half proved one-way traffic though as North Queensland, led by man of the match Jonathan Thurston, stormed to a 38-4 victory in front of an impressive 19,778 crowd.
Wigan Warriors did not fare much better in the previous night’s match either, going down 42-12 to new England coach Wayne Bennett’s Brisbane Broncos.
Much worse for the hosts was the fact hooker Michael McIlorum could be out for up to six months with a broken ankle as Super League’s plague of injuries continues to mount.

Bring back the biff watch: Mitch Garbutt became only the second player to be sent off in World Club Challenge history after planting one on James Tamou, who had slapped Garbutt’s Leeds team-mate Keith Galloway following a tackle.
“There was some provocation but it was silly, he got passionate in the second half,” said Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott, who has more than a tad of experience of situations like this from his playing days.


Brian McDermott, never one to take a backwards step

Marwan Koukash Twitter watch: Never one to miss the chance to have a pop at The RFL, Salford’s most-prolific tweeter fired off another shot in the wake of the Australians winning the first two World Club Series matches in a comfortable manner.
“The RFL should accept some responsibility for tonight and last night’s results,” were the words of the Good Doctor.

Meanwhile, back in Super League…: With all the attention of the wider world focussed on the Anglo-Australian showdowns, it would have been easy to forget the regular domestic action was still going ahead as normal.
Salford Red Devils produced another turn-up for the books as they triumphed 28-20 over fellow early surprise package Widnes Vikings, never looking back from storming into a 22-point lead after half an hour.
In some ways, that flying start was reminiscent of the St Helens game the week before, although this time Widnes did threaten to peg them back before the Red Devils eventually sealed the win.
Salford coach Ian Watson was in defiant mood afterwards – and why not? But their next three games are against Wigan, Warrington Wolves and Castleford Tigers, which will provide a real test of their credentials.
The other game saw Hull Kingston Rovers host Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in a repeat of the Robins’ first Super League game back in 2007.
Hull KR won 14-9 that day, but there was to be no repeat. Instead, Wakefield took a 14-12 victory for their first win of the season.
Head coach Brian Smith played down the significance of the win, yet it will be sweet respite for Wakefield’s players and supporters.

Championship round-up: They did it again! Having beaten title favourites Leigh Centurions on the opening weekend of the season, Batley Bulldogs stunned another of the so-called big boys with a 20-8 triumph at home to Sheffield Eagles after being two points down at half time.
It is Bradford Bulls who lead the way though after storming to a 48-16 victory away to Swinton Lions in the Saturday afternoon game. Even so, Bulls head coach James Lowes felt there were improvements his side could make.
Leigh had the edge over London Broncos with a 24-20 home win, while Oldham picked up their first win of the season as they saw off Dewsbury Rams 38-16 and Halifax downed Whitehaven 20-0.

iPro Sport Cup round-up: League One is rugby league’s most geographically diverse division and the first round of the cup for lower-division teams is just the same, minus returning French outfit Toulouse Olympique.
Oxford, Cheltenham (Gloucestershire All Golds), London and Newcastle made it through to the second round alongside longer-established clubs York City Knights, Doncaster, Rochdale Hornets and Keighley Cougars.
It was a chance for National Conference League amateurs Wath Brow and Leigh Miners Rangers to impress as well, although they were beaten by Keighley and Newcastle respectively – the former going down just 10-4 at home to the Cougars.

Amateur score of the week: Hull Wyke 56 Cottingham Tigers 6, Hull & District League First Division.
Founded in 1960 as Kingston Communications, Wyke continue to play at their original home ground on Bricknell playing fields.
Cottingham represent a village claiming to be one of the largest in the UK with a population of 17,000.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

St Helens and Sydney Roosters revive history in World Club Series

Easts 1976

The 1976 Eastern Suburbs team won the first World Club Challenge

WHEN St Helens and Sydney Roosters step out onto the Langtree Park pitch for the first game of the 2016 World Club Series, it will mark nearly 40 years since the historic first meeting between the top teams from England and Australia.
Back in the summer of 1976, the all-conquering Saints side which had carried off the Premiership, Challenge Cup and BBC Two Floodlit Trophy the previous season headed Down Under for a three-match tour.
The tour included matches against a Queensland Rugby League select XIII and New Zealand side Auckland, but sandwiched in-between was a showdown at the Sydney Cricket Ground with the pre-eminent New South Wales Rugby Football League team of the day, Eastern Suburbs.
Coached by “Super Coach” Jack Gibson and skippered by no-nonsense prop and all-time great Artie Beetson, Easts – who became the Roosters in 1995 – had won the NSWRFL Grand Final in 1974 and 1975.
Nevertheless, St Helens were in confident mood having followed their 1975 Rugby League Championship triumph with a haul of three trophies.
“If we hit the form in Australia that we showed in the last month of the English season we have nothing to fear,” St Helens coach Eric Ashton told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“There is a good deal at stake, as this trip could be the start of many inter-club visits.”
Sadly, the hope of repeated trips to Australia by English club sides did not transpire. St Helens lost all three matches on tour, with the main clash against Easts seeing them go down 25-2 in front of 26,856 fans at the SCG.
Tries from Russell Fairfax – who came in at the last minute for Greg Townsend at full-back – Kevin Stevens, Royce Ayliffe, Ian Schubert and Townsend off the replacements bench, plus five goals from John Brass sealed a comfortable win.
The Saints’ only points came from a Geoff Pimblett goal, although the tour was still heralded as a success.
“I’m proud of the work our committee did to make the St Helens match a successful promotion for rugby league in general,” Easts manager Ron Jones told the Morning Herald.
However, it would be 11 years before another Anglo-Australian club meeting.

THE 1987 match between Wigan and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at Central Park has entered history as one of the most brutal encounters between the respective English and Australian champions.
David Stephenson kicked the Cherry and Whites to a famous 8-2 victory in front of an official crowd of 36,895, although anecdotal evidence suggests there were closer to 50,000 crammed onto the terraces of the venue.
However, it perhaps more some of the bruising clashes all over the field which the game is better remembered for.
A brawl erupted after Dale Shearer was lifted in a tackle and then punched Brian Case, Paul Vautin was bundled across the touchline and over a fence by a group of Wigan defenders, while Joe Lydon appeared to be kicked in the head and Rob Gibbs was sent off for taking out Lydon after the centre had attempted a drop goal.
But the real legacy of this match was it led to regular encounters between the top sides from the two nations – generally every two years until 1994, with the exception of back-to-back World Club Challenge matches in 1991 and 1992.
The Super League War saw the Anglo-Australian club matches go into abeyance until the ambitious but bloated disaster that was the 1997 tournament involving all of the clubs from Super League Australia and Super League Europe.
Beset by poor attendances and lopsided encounters, it proved particularly chastening for the European teams, which was underlined by Bradford Bulls qualifying for the knock-out stages despite losing all six matches by a combined score of 228-82.

THE World Club Challenge returned as the champion-versus-champion format in 2000, lasting for 14 years and, aside from the 2014 encounter in Sydney between the Roosters and St Helens, being held in England early on in the Super League season.
Frequently dismissed as little more than glorified trial matches by some in Australia, Super League sides dominated the first eight years of these clashes, but the NRL sides won five of the six games since 2009.
Last year saw the expanded World Club Series launched, featuring three of the top teams from each nation going head-to-head.
Once again, the NRL sides proved too good for their Super League counterparts, with St George Illawara Dragons, Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs seeing off Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors and St Helens respectively.
St Helens and Wigan are back to represent Super League again this season, along with Leeds Rhinos facing NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys in the climax of the series on Sunday.
Super League general manager Blake Solly has already talked of expanding the series further, including playing games as far afield as the USA, Middle East and the Far East.
Even the Australians are starting to view these as more than just trial games. But for now, the focus is simply on the upcoming matches and claiming the bragging rights of being the best club sides in the world.
Just ask Wigan coach Shane Wane, man of the match in that infamous 1987 clash, what it means.
“Every time I go shopping on the market, people still want to talk about it – and it’s almost 30 years ago now,” Wane told The Independent ahead of last year’s matches.
“I want the present players to have a bit of that.”

North Wales Crusaders facing more uncertainty


The Racecourse Ground is home to North Wales Crusaders

FEW clubs have endured such a turbulent history in a relatively short space of time as North Wales Crusaders and their initial incarnation.
Originally founded as the Celtic Crusaders in 2005 and based in Bridgend, the Welsh side enjoyed near-instant success in their first three years in the old National Leagues.
Then came the ultimately disastrous fast-tracking into Super League in 2009, having been controversially chosen ahead of the likes of Widnes Vikings, Leigh Centurions and Halifax for the first three years of the new franchise-based top flight.
Fast forward and the Crusaders had been embroiled in a visa scandal which saw six of their Australian players deported, dropped the ‘Celtic’ tag, moved to Wrexham, run out money and eventually wound up at the conclusion of the 2011 campaign.
Formed from the ashes of this debacle, North Wales Crusaders joined Championship One for the start of the 2012 and although they have remained there since, the past four seasons have proved relatively successful.
The reformed club picked up their first honour in 2013 by winning the first and only Northern Rail Bowl, beating London Skolars 42-24 at The Shay.
Last year saw them carry off the inaugural iPro Sport Cup as well thanks to a 12-8 triumph over Swinton Lions at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road in the opening game of the Summer Bash.
And yet, with just over a week to go before they kick off the defence of that title away to Doncaster, the Crusaders board made the announcement they are: “inviting formal expressions of interest from parties with a genuine wish to invest significant funds in the club.”
The news comes after the players and staff agreed to take a 15 per cent pay cut at the start of February and follows the decision of chief executive and majority shareholder Jamie Thomas to step down.
Despite the gloom surrounding the club, the statement issued by the board was relentlessly positive in tone. Indeed, it boasted of the club’s success since reforming, being well-placed to earn promotion to the Championship and of “attendances surpassing four figures.”
Quite where that last claim came from is up for debate as none of the Crusaders’ home Kingston Press League One home games in 2015 attracted 1,000 or more fans, with the average attendance at the Racecourse Ground being 635.
Dubious mathematics aside, the second incarnation of the Crusaders seems to have been built on more than just wishful thinking and desperation to have a Welsh presence in Super League, so it would be a blow to the sport to lose a club representing the north of the Principality.
Professional rugby league in Wales has never run smoothly though, even going back as far as the short-lived Welsh League of the Northern Union in the early 1900s which folded after just two season.
Combine that with the tight finances of the typical League One club and there must be concern the Crusaders could join the likes of Ebbw Vale, Mid-Rhondda, Merthyr Tydfil, Treherbert, Aberdare, Barry and Cardiff City/Bridgend Blue Dragons in being little more than a footnote in rugby league history.
Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom for the professional game in Wales. Indeed, South Wales Scorpions have long since established themselves as a viable team in League One since joining in 2010.
This is in spite of regularly moving home, with Caerphilly’s Virginia Park being their fourth ground after spells at Neath, Maesteg and Mountain Ash.
If both the Scorpions and the Crusaders can make certain of their long-term security then the future for the 13-man code in Wales could be very bright. However, much depends on whether the latter can attract the investment and stability they so desperately need.

The Armchair Pundit – Shocks and surprises in Super League

IT has been a tough week on the injury front for rugby league players.
First, Castleford Tigers lost influential captain Michael Shenton for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in the opening weekend draw with Hull Kingston Rovers.
Then came the announcement that Huddersfield Giants half-back Luke Robinson was being forced to retire from the game aged just 31 due to a long-standing hip injury.
It gets worse too, because’s injury database listed no fewer than 42 players across 11 Super League clubs being out injured in the build-up to the second round of matches – Widnes Vikings being the only ones who had all of their players available.
Along with Robinson’s retirement, Huddersfield were without the services of eight of their squad, with none of them expected to be back until next month at the earliest. Warrington Wolves were missing six players two, while Shenton became the fifth Tigers player to join the injury list.
Rugby league is a hard, physical sport where there is a risk of injury and the players are all aware of this. However, considering the season is barely two weeks old, the number of players on the sidelines must cause some consternation.
No-one who is a fan of the sport wants it to loose what makes it great to play and watch, but player welfare must always be the highest priority. It is worth pointing out though that most of the injuries are short-term.
Shenton’s injury came about as a result of a tackle from Hull Kingston Rovers’ John Boudebza, who was subsequently banned for four matches as a result.
This provoked outrage from Hull KR as the RFL disciplinary panel had gone outside of the recommended sanction for the offence – not because they did not agree Boudebza had not intended to take out Shenton in the manner he did, but because of the injury caused.
Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell branded the RFL disciplinary process “not fit for purpose” after the ban was upheld on appeal, with his main bone of contention being the findings of the panel were flawed.
The RFL are fairly transparent when it comes to disciplinary matters, with all of the cases published on their website. Maybe, in situations like this, further clarification on how decisions are reached is needed though.
On the pitch though, round two of Super League threw up several shocks and surprises.

Hands up if you saw that coming: No-one would have envied Kyle Amor on Thursday night in the wake of St Helens’ 44-10 mauling at the hands of Salford Red Devils.
Not only was the Saints prop smarting from a humiliating night for him and his team-mates, but he then had to go onto live television while Sky Sports pundit Jon Wells and Amor went through exactly what went wrong for the visitors.
From the moment Jack Owens fumbled a high kick which led to the opening score from Greg Johnson with barely four minutes on the clock, the signs were there this could be a long night for St Helens.
Not that Owens should shoulder all of the blame though. As Amor conceded post-match, St Helens’ defence in the first half was absolutely shambolic – not helped by Luke Walsh being sin-binned for interference at the play-the-ball – and Salford duly punished them by racking up a 32-6 lead at half time.
The Red Devils deserve plenty of credit too though, particularly half-back pairing Michael Dobson and Robert Liu for the way they dictated play. Indeed, two fine solo tries from the latter capped an impressive night for the former Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys stand-off.
The strong running of interchange forward Alex Walmsley and an improved defensive showing after the break aside, there was little for St Helens to be positive about. However, conventional wisdom would see this considered a one-off rather than sign of things to come.
Is that true for Salford though? Despite the big spending of chairman Marwan Koukash, the Red Devils have yet to finish about 10th in Super League in his three years as owner.
Another 13 new players came into the club over the winter, but Koukash insists him and Salford are taking a more patient approach rather than just trying to buy a team of all-stars.
If they can produce performances like this on a consistent basis, then there is no reason they cannot justify the confidence of director of rugby Tim Sheens. Whether they will be able to do that is another matter entirely though.

Thursday night attendance watch: A crowd of 4,386 were at the AJ Bell Stadium to watch Salford’s thumping of St Helens, which is near-on 600 fewer than the 4,975 who attended the corresponding fixture last season. Curiously, that was in the second round of fixtures and on a Thursday night as well.

Hull of a performance: With Salford’s surprise result against St Helens, Hull’s victory 38-10 victory away to the Catalans Dragons seems to have been somewhat overlooked.
Lee Radford’s side, of course, opened the Super League season with an impressive 22-point win at home to Salford and then carried on with that form in the south of France on Saturday evening.
It is an impressive start to the campaign for the team who scored the fewest number of points in the Super League regular season in 2015, so could they be this year’s dark horses?
The first two matches suggest this is a team which plays positive rugby and has players all over the park who know where the try-line is. Second row pair Mark Minichiello and Gareth Ellis, the latter of whom came off the interchange bench, are key for Hull, while Marc Sneyd’s clever kicking is always testing for the opposition.
It was double delight for full-back Jamie Shaul as well. Not only did he grab a try in the win, but his partner Chloe gave birth to their first child while he was away in Perpignan playing for Hull.

Marwan Koukash Twitter watch: “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue and the RFL is full of poo,” was the Saturday night outburst from Salford’s most prolific tweeter, who has more than his fair share of runs-ins with the governing body during his time as Red Devils owner.
He followed that up with: “The “RFL” in my last tweet was not in reference to the Rugby Football League. It was in reference to the Richard Fahey Loo. No fines please.”
Oh Marwan, you so crazy…

Wigan grind out another win: Although by their own admission they are not playing anywhere near the standards they have set for themselves, Wigan Warriors are proving adept at doing enough to get over the line.
Having edged out Catalans on opening weekend, Shane Wane’s men did it again on Friday night thanks to Josh Charnley’s try four minutes from time sealing an 18-13 win away to Huddersfield Giants.
Speaking on Sky Sports afterwards, centre Dan Sarginson revealed two of the crucial moments for the visitors were both acts of improvisation – the first of those being his part in Liam Farrell’s try which cancelled out the opening score from Jermaine McGillvary.
The original plan was, apparently, for Matty Smith to put in a grubber on the last tackle. Instead, Sarginson called for it out wide which saw Smith send over a high kick to him, with Sarginson winning the aerial battle to knock the ball back for Farrell to score.
The second moment was from skipper Sean O’Loughlin. “He runs like a prop and he plays like a half,” was Sarginson’s description of the England international – exactly the qualities you want in a loose forward – who provided the key off-the-cuff pass for Charnley to grab the game-clinching try.
Although the Giants lost, there was a welcome return to rugby league for Jamie Foster. The 25-year-old back had only joined the club on trial this week, but went straight into the starting 13 and grabbed a try.
Foster had been playing rugby union for Hull before being handed the chance to return to league by Huddersfield. Time is still on his side, so hopefully he can get his career back on track.

Another bloody Sunday: Corey Thompson could hardly have asked for a better home debut in a Widnes Vikings shirt, running in a hat-trick of tries as they stormed to a 56-12 triumph over the defending champions.
Not only was it Widnes’ biggest-ever win over Leeds, but it was also the first time in 16 years the Rhinos had been beaten in their first two matches of the campaign.
However, they too are being affected by injuries. Tom Briscoe, Ashton Golding and Carl Ablett were all forced to leave the field during the game, yet that should not detract from what Widnes achieved.
Tom Linehan was in fine finishing form as well, bagging a treble as Warrington Wolves saw off Hull Kingston Rovers 38-8.
Once again, winter recruit Kurt Gidley starred for the Wire. The Australian set up two tries for the hosts and kicked seven goals as they maintained their strong start to the campaign.
Despite their injury woes, Castleford Tigers breezed past Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the derby clash, running out 40-6 winners. It is already looking like another season of struggle for Wakefield.

Championship round-up: Such was the momentous nature of Leigh Centurions’ opening day defeat to Batley Bulldogs last week that it even spawned its own ‘Downfall’ parody.
All joking aside, everyone was eager to see whether that was a one-off or whether the wheels were coming off at Leigh following the issues which dogged them in the build-up to the 2016 campaign.
If Sunday’s 48-18 thrashing of promoted Oldham is anything to go by then it seems as if any lingering problems have been put to bed. Well, for now at least.
Week two of the Kingston Press Championship kicked off of Friday night as Sheffield Eagles cemented their place as early leaders with a 26-6 win over Halifax at their new temporary home of Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park.
Bradford Bulls stayed unbeaten too with a 46-10 thrashing of early strugglers Whitehaven, while London Broncos beat Swinton Lions 38-10 to ensure they stayed among the front-runners.
Batley were involved in another close contest with one of the expected contenders, but this time were edged out by two points as they went down 14-12 away to Featherstone Rovers.
And Dewsbury Rams made it two wins from two as they won 38-16 at home to Workington Town.

Amateur score of the week: Ossett Trinity Tigers 26 Underbank Rangers 32, Pennine League Division One. This encounter proved as high-scoring as the previous league meeting between the teams in November, where Underbank ran out 36-24 victors.
Based in Huddersfield, Underbank were founded in 1884 and were the first club of ‘Prince of the Centres’ Harold Wagstaff, who joined the town’s professional team for five gold sovereigns at the age of 15 and went on to become one of rugby league’s early stars.

Questions? Comments? Complaints? Email with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or comment below.

Phil Cantillon and the evolution of the hooker

Phil Cantillon

Phil Cantillon during his Widnes Vikings days

ARUGABLY, the transition in the role of the hooker began with Benny Elias.
Given that the Lebanon-born, former Australia international transitioned from half-back to the number nine shirt when he was first graded by Balmain Tigers in 1981, it should have been no surprise he should bring the slick ball-handling, running ability and creativity to the role.
Of course, back in the early 1980s the front row was still home to some of rugby league’s biggest and meanest bruisers. Indeed, Elias himself was not averse to bestowing physical violence on an opponent when needed – just ask fellow hooker Steve Walters, who famously clashed with him in State of Origin.
But while Elias might have been the blueprint for the role all hookers would be expected to fill in the future, there were two other changes in the game which paved the way for the change what was expected of players in that position.
The first was the decline of the contested scrum, which is virtually unseen in the modern game and removed the need for the hooker to engage in the dark arts of winning the ball at the set piece.
The second was moving back the defensive line at the play-the-ball from five metres to eight and then the 10 metres it is today in 1993, which gave the dummy-half license to run into more open space one he had received the ball.
It did not take long for teams and players to exploit this rule in favour of the attacking team, and an interview with Oldham hooker Richard Russell – who originally went to the club as a loose forward – in 1994 revealed how the changes were affecting him.
“I used to travel with Nicky Kiss (at Wigan) and he had loads of stories about what went on with hookers,” Russell told The Independent’s Dave Hadfield. “I remember thinking, ‘thank God I won’t have to play there.’
“It’s all about getting the best and quickest pass away, although, especially with the 10-metre rule at the play-the- ball, I can have a dart with the ball whenever I see a gap.”

One player who thrived during the early days of the changing demands of a hooker more than any other was Phil Cantillon, whose deft turn of pace and try-scoring ability, combined with the defensive attributes required of the role, showcased everything which would be expected from the modern day number nine.
It was Keighley during the ‘Cougarmania’ era where former Wigan youth team player Cantillon first made his mark, scoring 21 tries in 75 appearances as the club took the second tier of the domestic game by storm.
A short-lived move to Super League outfit Leeds Rhinos followed in 1997, but it was his next stop at Widnes where Cantillon really made his mark on the game.
Even now, 12 years after his final game for the Vikings, Cantillon is revered as a cult hero by the club’s fans thanks to his try-scoring exploits and all-action displays during five years at what is now known as the Select Security Stadium.
A tally of 117 tries from 152 appearances between 1999 and 2004 tells its own story, but it was under coach Neil Kelly where Cantillon truly thrived, breaking famed Wigan and Great Britain star Ellery Hanley’s world record with 48 tries in a season as Widnes stormed to the 2001 Northern Ford Premiership title – seven of those alone coming in one game against Rochdale Hornets.
The Vikings’ elevation to Super League gave Cantillon the chance to showcase his talents at the highest level. Yet a new generation of dynamic, modern hookers were already making their mark, with the likes of Keiron Cunningham at St Helens, Rob Burrow at Leeds and Jon Clarke at Warrington Wolves all blazing a trail for attacking number nines.
Great Britain honours therefore eluded Cantillon, although he was capped by both England and Ireland, along with playing in the 1996 Super League World Nines for England.
Cantillon eventually brought his career to a close in 2007 after a spell with Rochdale and a player-coach role with the now-defunct Blackpool Panthers, but his legacy in defining what the role of hooker was to become will not be forgotten by anyone who saw him play.
As for how the role will develop, who better to ask than the aforementioned Elias?
“I believe the bloke that dominates the game is the number nine because he touches the ball the most,” Elias told Australia’s Daily Telegraph last year.
“It is not by accident that the Melbourne Storm have been up there (as the NRL benchmark) for the last decade and Cameron Smith has led the way for them.
“But now we are in a new era I think where footwork and speed will be essential for a number nine.”
The Super League stats from last season seem to back that up. St Helens’ James Roby led the way with 306 runs from dummy-half, while Paul Aiton, Luke Robinson and Danny Houghton all having over 200.
But their defensive role should not be forgotten as well. Roby and Houghton led the way for most tackles made in Super League in 2015 by some distance, with 1,041 and 1,359 respectively.
In whatever way rugby league gameplay evolves, it seems as if the ever-changing role of the hooker could have a key part in it.

The Armchair Pundit – Rugby league comes out of hibernation

OH RUGBY league, how we have missed you.
In case you missed it or, for some reason, were watching rugby union’s Six Nations instead, the new rugby league season got underway over the weekend as Super League and the Kingston Press Championship kicked off.
More of that follows. Yet the big news in the build-up to the 2016 season came on the international front following the confirmation Wayne Bennett had been appointed new head coach of the England team on a two-year contract.
Despite Bennett’s glittering CV and reputation as one of the all-time great rugby league coaches, reaction has been mixed.
Keiron Cunningham and Daryl Powell are among those who believe Leeds Rhino’s Brian McDermott should have been given the job, while others felt Steve McNamara should have been given a new contract.
Bennett will remain in charge of the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos while coaching England on a part-time basis, which has attracted criticism from some quarters as well.
McNamara successfully combined his assistant coach role at Sydney Roosters with being England head coach, although it could be argued he was a lot more familiar with the Super League players in the side anyway.
Nevertheless, Bennett’s pedigree as a coach cannot be questioned. Now he has this year’s Four Nations and next year’s Rugby League World Cup to show if he is the man to turn England into a side which can regularly beat Australia and New Zealand.


“Thursday night, Sky Sports Two!”: Love them or loathe them – and for most fans, it seems to be the latter – Thursday Night Super League looks to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
The attendance of 16,168 at Headingley – more on that here – for the clash between Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves was slightly down on the corresponding fixture last season, but those who did manage to attend witnessed a thriller.
Ultimately, the Wolves triumphed 12-10 in the season-opener, with half-back Chris Sandow playing a starring role by scoring their first try and putting in the kick which led to Kevin Penny grabbing their second.
But it could have been different. As the match headed into the final four minutes, Ben Currie was penalised for obstructing Jordan Lilley as he kicked the ball, giving Leeds a penalty around 30 metres out.
Two points down, the Rhinos opted to kick at goal, but Zak Hardaker shanked his penalty attempt and Warrington were able to hold out for the win?
But should they have kicked to touch and gone for the kill? In this situation, it is easy to say they should have done the opposite, particularly as kicking for goal would be considered the safe and sensible thing to do.
Consider this though: If Leeds kick for touch it gives them possession deep in Warrington territory with six tackles and time on their side. A successful penalty would only level the score and would mean they then had to attack from deep in their own half, assuming Warrington had not gone for the short kick-off.
Going for it also has dual effect of keeping the pressure on the visitors, and challenging Leeds’ players to go and win the game. Being the defending champions, playing at home with the crowd at fever pitch played into their hands too.
Still, no-one was ever criticised for doing the “right” thing – even if it does not work out.

Different band, but the song remains the same: Another off-season and another huge turnover of players at Salford Red Devils. But if Friday night’s defeat to Hull is anything to go by, director of rugby Tim Sheens still has his work cut out for him.
Sheens’ pre-season claim this Salford squad is better than the West Tigers side he won the NRL with seems even more fanciful after the 42-20 mauling at the KC Stadium, which saw Hull 26-6 up at half time.
Elsewhere on Friday night, St Helens kicked off the season with a 30-16 triumph at home to Huddersfield Giants. No doubt the Saints will be up among the title contenders again, yet it looks as if Huddersfield might not yet be ready to break the monopoly of the so-called ‘big four’. The season is still young though.

Welcome back, Pat Richards: The Armchair Pundit has long been an admirer of Richards, so was pleased to find out the 33-year-old would be plying his trade in Super League again this season after joining Catalans Dragons.
In a curious twist of fate, Richards’ debut for the Dragons came against former club Wigan Warriors near-on exactly 10 years since he made his bow for the Cherry and Whites.
Care to have a guess which team he made his Warriors debut against? That’s right – the Catalans Dragons!
Having scored a try that day, he was on the score sheet again – this time kicking the extras after Justin Horo had gone over for the French side.
That would prove to be their only scores though as Wigan ground out a 12-6 victory, with hooker Michael McIlorum getting both of their tries in quick succession early on in the first half.
Both scores came thanks to McIlorum’s great awareness and quick reactions to the ball being loose as the Catalans – who had been training in temperatures of 20C back home in Perpignan – struggled in the ferociously wet and windy conditions.
Warriors head coach Shane Wane was left feeling his team had plenty of improvements to make though, citing the fact the completion rate dropped to 50 per cent from 86 per cent in the first 20 minutes.
As for the Catalans, they constantly seem on the verge of breaking through as a regular contender for honours, yet have not managed that. Improving on last year’s dismal away record will be key for Laurent Frayssinous’ men.

Another bloody Sunday: Sunday has long been the traditional day for rugby league – hence the name of the TV documentary ‘Another Bloody Sunday’ following the fortunes of Doncaster in 1980 – but these days Super League’s games are spread out across four days.
Just two took place on Sunday in the first week of the new season, with nothing being able to separate Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford Tigers as they drew 16-16.
Like Huddersfield, Castleford are aiming to crack that top four and get back to the sort of form which saw them reach the 2014 Challenge Cup final. However, head coach Daryl Powell was left frustrated with his side’s display and was quick to praise Hull KR’s display.
Elsewhere, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ second-half fightback was not enough as they went down 24-16 at home to Widnes Vikings. The Wildcats are tipped to struggle again this season despite head coach Brian Smith’s insistence to the contrary.
Winning the second half of the match 12-6 might at least give them a confidence boost and head coach Brian Smith’s experience suggests they could hardly ask to have someone better in charge to help turn their fortunes around.

Kingston Press Championship round-up: The fall-out continues from Paul Rowley’s sudden decision to quit as Leigh Centurions head coach on the eve of the new season.
Rowley broke his silence on the matter this week in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live, saying it was down to wanting to keep his “integrity intact” and hinting there had been a falling-out between him and other club officials – possibly outspoken Leigh owner Derek Beaumont, according to internet speculation.
What effect would this have on the defending champions? Well, the 24-22 defeat for the Centurions’ expensively-assembled squad away to Batley Bulldogs in the opening game of the season will certainly have a few people asking questions.
All credit must go to Batley though, especially after coming back from 22-12 down, but it remains to be seen whether John Kear’s squad will be able to compete with the full-time sides in the division on a regular basis.
James Lowes, rugby league’s Last Angry Man, will at least have had something to cheer about after Bradford Bulls opened the season with a 22-12 win at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Featherstone Rovers.
However, there must have been some concern over the attendance of just 4,518 in the cavernous Odsal – a far cry from the five-figure crowds Bradford were pulling in when they were at the height of their powers in Super League.
Sheffield Eagles are one team the Armchair Pundit has always had something of a soft spot for due to that whole 1998 Challenge Cup final thing, them playing an ‘On The Road’ Super League game at nearby Sixfields and having acted as interchange official in a league match at Bramall Lane against Halifax several years ago.
Mark Aston’s side have gone full-time again in a bid to gain promotion and they enjoyed a convincing 42-12 victory away to Workington Town.
The Eagles are one of the teams who have moved grounds this season, playing at Sheffield Hallam University’s sports ground while their new home is constructed.
The other, Oldham, suffered a 22-0 defeat against London Broncos at their temporary home in Stalybridge. Meanwhile, Swinton – still exiled to Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium – were edged out 26-24 by Dewsbury.
Halifax head coach Richard Marshall has set his sights on at least equalling last year’s fourth-place finish, which qualified them for the Super 8s, and they could hardly have asked for a better start as they trounced Whitehaven 52-6.

Amateur score of the week: Mirfield Stags 9 Wath Brown Hornets 6, Xamax BARLA National Cup Second Round. Amazingly, most of the points in this cup tie came in the first half, with the only score after the break coming from a drop goal.
Coached by Super League referee Richard Silverwood, West Yorkshire outfit Mirfield made headlines at the end of last year by launching a Star Trek-themed change kit in honour of one of the town’s most famous sons, Sir Patrick Stewart.
Based in Cleator, Cumbria, one of Wath Brow’s early incarnations included a player called John ‘Slasher’ Nolan who – according to the club’s official history – was “a local pugilist of some repute.”

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

Thursday Night Super League and the gates are low?


Headingley hosted the first game of the 2016 Super League season

“FIANCEE said that it was fun, even though the others won. I can’t stand anymore, ‘cos I can’t stand anymore. You were blind but you will see – tonight’s attendance one-two-three.”
So sang Half Man Half biscuit in ‘Friday Night and the Gates are Low’ – a somewhat misanthropic song about their local football team Tranmere Rovers’ historic preference for playing home matches on Friday evenings rather than the traditional Saturday afternoons.
Although HMHB lead singer and songwriter Nigel Blackwell is a fan of the round-ball game rather than rugby league, it is a song which may well chime with those 13-man code fans who despair of what Sky Sports imaginatively like to call ‘Thursday Night Super League’.
Last night marked the third season of the much-derided Thursday night fixtures as the 2015 Super League season kicked off at Headingley, with 16,168 in attendance to watch defending champions Leeds Rhinos take on Warrington Wolves.
The Thursday night slot may be beloved of the competition’s broadcasters, but is somewhat unloved by a large section of supporters – particularly in cases like last night where the fixtures necessitate trekking from one end of the M62 to the other on a weeknight with work or school the next day.
While an outwardly healthy attendance for the first game of the new season, it was still over 1,000 down on the corresponding fixture between the Rhinos and Wolves at Headingley last season, with 17,430 there for that Friday night game.
Thursday night rugby league originally started on Sky Sports when they began showing matches from what were then called the National Leagues – now Championship and League One – with many of the clubs involved putting on special offers to draw in the crowds for when the cameras came to town.
Sky has regularly broadcast matches from rugby union’s European Challenge Cup on Thursdays too, with it generally being a night where very little other high-profile sport is played.
Yet while it may suit both broadcasters and television viewers, the match-going supporter is generally less than satisfied with this arrangement.
Thursday night games first became a regular part of the calendar in 2014, with three having been played during the 2013 season – all of which had seen drops in attendances on the previous season.

2013 Thursday

Super League 2013 Thursday night attendance comparison

The first Thursday game of 2014 again involved Warrington as they faced St Helens in a derby clash at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, with the attendance only slightly down on the previous year.
Salford Reds even managed to add an extra 3,000 paying punters to the gate for their Thursday night clash with the Saints, while the Hull derby at New Craven Park on Easter weekend saw an increase in attendance too.
Otherwise, it was mostly bleak picture for 2014 Thursday night attendance in comparison to the previous season’s matches. The biggest drops saw Wigan Warriors’ home game with Warrington down by nearly 5,000 – 2,500 fewer having watched the match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, also played on Thursday – Leeds’ home game with Huddersfield Giants and the Rhino’s trip to the struggling Bradford Bulls.

2014 Thursday

Super League 2014 Thursday night attendance comparison

There may have been hope the Thursday night matches might be starting to catch on when the 2015 season kicked off with 9,223 watching Widnes Vikings’ home encounter with Wigan – up over 3,000 on the previous season’s Friday night game.
But once again, it was a familiar picture as Thursday night attendances again generally suffered drops, although in most cases nowhere near as severe as the previous season.
Once again, the Hull derby over Easter bucked the trend, with several other games seeing minor increases. Yet there must have been some consternation over the more than 5,000 fewer who turned up for Wigan’s home clash with Leeds.
Even the introduction and allure of the Super 8s did not do much to boost attendances for those matches played on Thursday, with several of those fixtures featuring teams who had played each other in regular season matches on that night earlier in the season as well.

2015 Thursday

Super League 2015 Thursday night attendance comparison

It is worth pointing out the figures in this article, compiled from the Rugby League Project database, are simple comparisons. They do not take into account factors such as the relative league positions of teams, the weather or any long-term trends in attendances rising or falling. Neither are play-off games included.
But as much as the RFL and Sky Sports seem intent to press on with the Thursday night experiment, it seems it has yet to find favour with those who hand over their hard-earned money to follow their teams.
Whether it ever will is anyone’s guess, yet as Blackwell and HMHB might say: “Thursday night and I love complaining – and no I haven’t got anything better to do.”