James Segeyaro and the lost art of hooking

Leeds scrum

Leeds Rhinos win a scrum against the feed at Hull KR

ANYONE who tuned into Sky Sports’ coverage of Hull Kingston Rovers’ home Super League game with Leeds Rhinos last Thursday would have witnessed something unusual.
No, not the Rhinos making it three wins in a row and thereby securing four home games for the Qualifiers – although, given how this season as gone for the defending champions, that might well in itself qualify as unusual – but the sight of a team winning a scrum against the feed.
The incident in question occurred in the 52nd minute after Leeds’ James Segeyaro had thrown a forward pass little more than 20 metres from his own try-line.
Perhaps desperate to make amends for his error, along with taking advantage of some absent-mindedness from Rovers scrum-half Matty Marsh, the Papua New Guinean hooker decided to resurrect the lost art of striking for the ball at a scrum.
And it proved successful too. Not only did Segeyaro win possession back for his team, but it was quickly followed by the visitors being awarded a penalty for a dangerous tackle and setting them up to move deep into Robins territory.
How much of an impact this had on Leeds going on to take a 24-20 victory it up for debate, but it produced much incredulity from Sky co-commentators Mike Stephenson and Barrie McDermott – both of whom are undoubtedly familiar with some of the dark arts of the pack from their own playing days.

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It is unlikely that Segeyaro’s throwback to the days when hookers actually used to hook the ball will lead to a sudden upsurge in contested scrums and the abandonment of the gentlemen’s agreement which came in following the contorted mess this set piece had become.
But what it does underline is how this much-maligned aspect of rugby league still has a purpose and offers the option for teams to surprise their opponents.
Unlike the 15-man game, which is often subject to minutes of delays due to scrums being reset before a penalty is mysteriously awarded to whichever team the referee feels deserves one at that point, there is nothing in the Laws of league specifying those players on the field as props, hooker, second rows and loose-forward must pack down at a scrum.
This, therefore, opens up a number of opportunities for running plays off the back of the scrum involving forwards lining up in open play or taking up other positions in the scrum, which is what Hull KR seemed to be planning.
At this particular juncture, the Rovers front row consisted of second row Kevin Larroyer, and props Adam Walker and Dane Tilse – the former in the hooking role – while hooker John Boudebza went in at loose-forward, which is a tactic favoured by many teams these days.
Leeds lined up with the more traditional two props and a hooker, which Segeyaro took advantage of, although it was interesting to note their full-back on the night, Liam Sutcliffe, was positioned at loose-forward and was the man who first got his hands on the ball following it being hooked back.
There are, of course, those who will continue to call for the abolition of the scrum in league and insist it should be replaced with a handover.
However, occurrences like this show it is an area teams can exploit with a bit of imagination and that there is perhaps more going on at the scrum in each game than meets the eye.

Ground issues leave York City Knights’ future hanging in the balance

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York City Knights have been sharing Bootham Crescent in 2016

AS the Kingston Press League One Super 8s got underway this weekend, there was one match which ominously had ‘P-P’ next to it on the fixture list.
The game in question was York City Knights’ home encounter against Doncaster, with the postponement brought about by stadium issues which are threatening the immediate and long-term future of professional rugby league in the city.
The City Knights have been effectively homeless since leaving Huntington Stadium at the end of the 2014 season and, after splitting last year’s home games between York RUFC and Heworth ARFLC, currently find themselves sharing Bootham Crescent with York City FC.
This was set to last until the long-delayed York Community Stadium is finally built – latest estimates for completion are 2018, although construction is still yet to start – providing a home for both the rugby and football clubs on the site of the former Huntington ground.
Indeed, the first rugby match at Bootham Crescent was something of a celebration of the 13-man code in York, with a four-figure crowd showing up to see the City Knights facing amateurs York Acorn in the Challenge Cup back in February.
However, nearly six months later the City Knights are on the verge of extinction due to financial problems caused by the move and allegations of the terms of their tenancy agreement not being adhered to by City of York Council.
The final straw came when the City Knights were informed they would not be allowed to play their Super 8s match against Doncaster at the venue due to concerns about overuse of the playing surface, particularly as York City had arranged a pre-season friendly for the day before.
That led to the club’s directors issuing a statement last Thursday stating they were closing it down and laying the blame at the door of the local authority.
“It is the belief of the club that the training and playing venue contracts which are in place with City of York Council have neither been adhered to by third parties or enforced by CYC which has made even the simplest of tasks an arduous process,” read the statement.
“This has left the club in a worse position in terms of the training and playing facilities available to them than either what had been agreed in the interim period or when at Huntington Stadium.”
The City Knights have a somewhat unusual agreement with regards to playing at Bootham Crescent as their contract is with City of York Council, which in turn has a contract with ground owners York City to allow the rugby club to play there.
Part of the deal states football and rugby matches cannot be played there within 24 hours of each other. As a result of City kicking their friendly with Bolton Wanderers at 1.30pm on Saturday, the City Knights therefore proposed their game would kick off at 3.30pm.
This was subsequently knocked back by City of York Council, who insisted to local newspaper The Press prior to Thursday’s announcement they had made it clear the City Knights would not be able to use the ground for these dates as far back as May.
The club responded by stating it was only “likely” rather than certain they would not be able to play these matches at Bootham Crescent and received no response from either the council or football club until after The RFL had published the Super 8s fixtures.
Not only that, but the City Knights insist the council has reserved the use of the ground for rugby every Sunday under their contract with City.
Financial problems caused by being unable to exploit certain revenue streams after leaving Huntington Stadium have contributed to the club’s plight too, but, more worryingly, the planned move to the new Community Stadium might not be enough to secure the City Knights’ long-term future.
“The financial situation within the club shows no promise of improving with a move to the new stadium as the club faced additional overheads and a very limited scope for generating meaningful new income streams,” said the statement from the City Knights.
“This has and will leave the club financially disadvantaged from its position when at Huntington Stadium in 2014.”
Not since the old York Wasps were forced to sell their Clarence Street ground for housing in 1989 has professional rugby league in the city had a proper home – Huntington being a multi-use athletics stadium.
There is some hope the club will at least be able to finish the 2016 season and head coach James Ford hinted in an interview with BBC Radio York there were parties interested in coming forward to take over the running of the City Knights.
If they do and the club are able to continue beyond this year, the new owners will still face the conundrum of where they are going to play.
It seems it could be possible for the City Knights to extend their groundshare at Bootham Crescent for next year. But if moving to the Community Stadium is not viable, then the search will be on to find an alternative venue – either existing or new.
Given how slowly the wheels of local government have turned in regards to the current plans though, any possibility of York City Knights having a home to call their own seems even more remote than ever.

The Armchair Pundit: Huddersfield Giants ready for Rick’s age of Stone

Rick Stone

Rick Stone is Huddersfield Giants’ new head coach

WHEN he gave his first interview since being sacked as Newcastle Knights head coach last year, Rick Stone spoke of how he would like to try coaching in Super League if the chance arose.
“England is something that really interests me, and I’m hunting around a bit for an opportunity over there,” Stone told the Newcastle Herald’s Robert Dillon in March earlier this year.
“Obviously the right sort of job has to come up, but that’s something I’d like to have a crack at.”
One would perhaps imagine coming into a club battling to avoid relegation might not be “the right sort of job”, but that is exactly what the 49-year-old Australian has chosen to do after being unveiled as Huddersfield Giants’ new man at the top.
Certainly, no-one can accuse Stone of a man being one to shirk a challenge. After all, the Giants are now definitely destined for the Qualifiers following the 20-19 loss to Hull Kingston Rovers last Friday.
Stone will therefore have two games – St Helens at home this Saturday and Warrington Wolves away a week later – to adjust to life in Super League and prepare for the mad scrap to avoid dropping into the Kingston Press Championship that is the middle eights.
And he has definitely been making all the right noises, at least as far as the pre-prepared statement issued by the Giants in announcing Stone’s appointment is concerned.
“Top jobs such as this one don’t come around very often so, yes, I’m ready to go and really can’t get there quick enough,” Stone said.
“The UK will be new to me, but I follow the Super League and at the end of the day we all start with 17 against 17 and the same chance as each other.”
Despite their current predicament, it must be remembered Huddersfield are a club who only last year were 80 minutes away from a place in the Grand Final, with their collapse only overlooked perhaps because of the even more startling decline of reigning champions Leeds Rhinos.
Previous incumbent Paul Anderson paid the price for this season’s dismal showing and Stone is the man now charged with restoring the club to being back among the contenders next season – assuming they avoid the drop, that is.
What can Giants fans expect from Stone though? His playing career at the highest level was limited to a handful of game for South Sydney Rabbitohs in the old NSWRL Premiership in the 1980s, but he has become highly regarded as a coach in his homeland.
A successful stint as player-coach at Group Two Rugby League outfit Nambucca Heads Roosters was followed by a 13-year spell with Queensland Cup side Burleigh, which produced three Premiership triumphs.
It was from there Stone was recruited by Newcastle as an assistant coach and went on to have two spells in charge of the NRL side, along with coaching the Fiji national team to the semi-finals of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
Since leaving the Knights, Stone has remained involved in the game by taking up a part-time role in young player development with the Sydney Roosters, as well as setting up his own company, DNA Sports Coaching, to work with youngsters.
DNA’s perhaps gives some clues as to what Stone’s approach will entail, and with Chris Thorman and Luke Robinson as his assistants, he has two people who are familiar with the inner workings at the John Smith’s Stadium.
And should he pass the first test of ensuring Huddersfield’s place in Super League next season, then it will be up to him to find out exactly why the Giants suffered such a drop-off in results in 2016.

Thursday night attendance watch: The 9,024 who turned up to the Halliwell Jones Stadium for Warrington’s 40-14 win over Salford Red Devils was 2,840 down on the corresponding fixture last year, which was played on the opening Saturday of the season.
The result compounded what had been a miserable day for Salford, who found out their appeal against a six-point deduction and fine for breaching salary cap regulations had been breached had been dismissed by independent body Sports Resolutions.
Unsurprisingly, that was followed by Red Devils owner Dr Marwan Koukash giving an interview with BBC Radio Manchester in which he hinted he was considering his future as club owner.
“You start questioning ‘is the sport with this governing body worth keeping my involvement in it and keep investing like I have been doing?” he said, although it is difficult to understand how, on this occasion at least, he can have any complaints with The RFL when an independent party agreed with their verdict.

O’Loughlin sees red and so do the fans: Of course, the tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists were out in force when it was announced Sean O’Loughlin had been handed just a one-game ban following the first dismissal of his career.
The England captain was rightly sent off for a dangerous high tackle on Chris Annakin during Wigan Warriors’ 22-18 win at home to Wakefield Trinity and subsequently charged with a Grade C offence.
This would normally entail a two or three match ban – the latter of which was handed to Featherstone Rovers’ Colton Roche for striking this week – although O’Loughlin’s previously exemplary disciplinary record and early guilty plea counted in his favour.
That is no different to other players who have found themselves up before a disciplinary hearing at Red Hall, although the most confusing part for many was that the fact it was a first-half dismissal counted as a mitigating factor as well.
Further eyebrows were raised by the length of the ban, which means O’Loughlin will be free to play in Wigan’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull FC.
The full details of the case will be made available on The RFL website from 11am on Wednesday, although even that may not be enough to sway the perception the governing body is massively inconsistent when it comes to handing out disciplinary sanctions.

From Castleford to Serbia: Darren Higgins is the latest coach from these shores to be spreading the gospel of rugby league to another country, having been appointed head coach of the Serbia national team.
Higgins, who has Serbian ancestry through his grandfather, will take time out from his job working in talent development with Castleford Tigers as part of his new role where he will look to help the team qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
“It’s all run by volunteers,” Higgins told Sporting Life following a recent trip out to Serbia for their matches against the touring Yorkshire Lionhearts side.
“There are six clubs in the top division and they’re making good progress with juniors.
“The standard is a mixed bag. Some of them could definitely play in League 1 and there are a couple of lads who have played in France.”
The Serbians have come a long way since conceding over 100 points against Lebandon and France 13 years ago, but face the onerous task of beating both Wales and Italy in this autumn’s European qualifiers if they are to reach the global gathering for the first time.
Nevertheless, Higgins is quietly confident and hopes to boost the squad with some heritage players.
“The federation are in contract with a lot of Australian-based players with Serbian heritage and, if we add them to the better players we’ve got, we’re going to be fairly strong but how strong we don’t really know,” he said.

Amateur score of the week: Swanage & Wareham 38 Weymouth & Portland 18, friendly. This match pitched two of Dorset’s rugby union clubs against each other in the 13-a-side code, with the match made possible by the work of St Helens-born Swanage player and league enthusiast Steve Lee.
It is the first time the code has been played in the county since South Dorset Giants folded in 2011 and the hope is a reverse fixture will be able to be arranged, followed by the re-establishment of a more permanent presence for the code in the area.

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

England Rugby League World Cup bid showcases RLIF’s ambitions


IT WAS with relatively little fanfare that, earlier this week, The RFL launched their bid for England to host what will arguably be the most ambitious Rugby League World Cup held to date in 2021.
At present, no other host candidates have come forward. South Africa – which missed out on hosting next year’s global gathering to a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand – and the USA have both been rumoured as potential bidders, while the UAE’s attempts were derailed by the unjust arrest of Sol Mokdad last year.
Barring any other countries coming forward though, it seems certain the tournament will be returning to these shores for the first time since 2013, when Australia triumphed in what was generally regarded as the most successful World Cup in the sport’s history.
It followed on from a well-regarded revival of the World Cup after an eight-year absence in Australia in 2008 and there is no reason to think next year’s event Down Under will be at least as good as the most recent edition.
These recent successes have clearly encouraged the RLIF and the 2021 tournament will feature 16 teams – up from the 14 included in the 2013 and 2017 World Cups.
It will be the largest number of teams to play at the international game’s showpiece since the ill-fated 2000 World Cup, although it seems the lessons from that bloated mess of a competition have been learnt.
For starters, there are seemingly enough countries to fill the berths, with the RLIF now claiming 64 member nations – either full, affiliate or observer members – and not having to resort to including representative teams such as the New Zealand Maoris.
Matches will also be played at just 12 stadium chosen from a shortlist of 15, rather than the overly-ambitious 26 across the whole of the British Isles and France, including a mix of rugby league and football grounds.
Predictably, the choices reported by The 18th Man have created some controversy and Cumbria in particular can perhaps consider itself unlucky to have missed out after both games held at Workington’s Zebra Claims Stadium during the 2013 World Cup both drew crowds of well over 7,000.
Nevertheless, the choices on the shortlist show the ambitions for this tournament, with Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium and the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster having the lowest capacities on the list at 15,000.
The sensible pricing and sadly rare examples of good marketing in rugby league ensured healthy crowds at all venues in 2013 and it goes without saying these must be built on to ensure no repeat of 2000 where cavernous venues like Reading’s Madejski Stadium had just over 3,000 rattling around inside them.
Then there is the question of the whether the quality will be diluted by adding another two teams to the field, although with five years to prepare and increasing opportunities for regular international matches, there is no reason this should be an issue.
Besides, the fears over lopsided games have proven to be unfounded at the previous three tournaments, which have produced some thrilling encounters and great stories such as the success of the USA in 2013 and Fiji reaching the semi-finals in both of the two most recent World Cups.
Perhaps the only downside is no country outside of the ‘big three’ is prepared to host the tournament. Indeed, France is the only other nation to have hosted a World Cup on its own and has not done so since 1972.
So that dream of seeing a final of Lebanon against Papua New Guinea in front of a sell-out five-figure crowd in Toronto might just have to wait for a little while yet…