The way we were: 50 years of Bill Fallowfield’s four-tackle rule

WHEN the 1966-67 Northern Rugby Football League season kicked off in its then-traditional late summer start, few people could have envisaged how the sport would be changed forever by the time the campaign concluded the following May.
Wakefield Trinity beating title-holders St Helens in a replayed Championship play-off final and Featherstone Rovers (pictured above) belying their small-town status to win the Challenge Cup for the first time – beating Barrow at Wembley, no less – gives modern observes some idea of how different English domestic rugby league was half a century ago.
But there were also very real concerns over declining attendances, the parlous financial state of some clubs and how to improve the sport as a spectacle. Plus ca change, as the old saying goes.
Enter RFL secretary Bill Fallowfield, who had been leading the charge to alter the rules of rugby league since being appointed to his position in 1946.
History takes a somewhat dim view of Fallowfield’s 29-year spell at the helm of the RFL. From the outset, the former Cambridge University and Northampton rugby union player seemed intent to shape the sport more along the lines of the 15-man code, including several bizarre attempts to replace the play-the-ball with a method of releasing the ball in the tackle.
But arguably his lasting legacy is one successful change to the Laws of the Game which is not only still with us today but is also one of rugby league’s most distinguishing features – and that is the limited-tackle rule.
One of the major causes of concern during this era were how teams were increasingly able to dominate possession and therefore kill games by simply not passing or kicking, with the only option being for the defending team to risk giving away a penalty at the play-the-ball in a desperate effort to win possession back.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this came in the 1951 Championship semi-final when, with his Workington Town side winning 8-5 and down to 12 men, Gus Risman simply ordered his side not to pass or kick for the final quarter-of-an-hour.
Having abandoned his attempts to have the play-the-ball changed, Fallowfield took inspiration from American football’s four-downs-followed-by-a-handover rule and, in a rare example of international co-operation on changes to the Laws, proposed the four-tackle rule at a meeting of the International Board.
The New Zealanders proposed having a scrum at the completion of each set and agreement on the matter led to the change being approved. Now all that was needed was to see how it panned out in an actual game.
Fortunately, The RFL had the perfect competition to trial this variation in – the BBC Two Floodlit Trophy. Not only was it still a relatively new competition, being in only its second season, but the fact one match each round was televised on the Beeb’s second channel on a Tuesday evening meant a wider response to the new rule could be garnered.
The four-tackle rule was enacted in the Trophy in time for the first qualifying round in October, with it becoming immediately obvious it had the desired effect of encouraging attacking play and making the game more exciting.
Flushed with this success, The RFL then rushed through an edict decreeing it could be used in Championship matches as well, but with the caveat that both teams must agree to it.
As Tony Collins points out in Rugby League In Twentieth Century Britain though, this haphazard approach was predictably chaotic. Leeds, for example, chose to play under the four-tackle rule against Doncaster one week but then refused to do so against Cup holders St Helens.
Realising their folly, The RFL simply announced that from October 31, the new rule would apply to all matches and it was adopted in Australia for the 1967 season, which saw St George’s run of 11 straight NSW Premiership triumphs come to an end.
Six years after its introduction, four tackles were extended to the six we know today in a bid to allow more structured attacking play to develop rather than the somewhat panicked approach which had become the norm and it remains that way to this day.
Fallowfield’s near-three-decade tenure as RFL secretary may not be looked kindly on, but there can be no doubt he did change the game. Even if – perhaps thankfully – it was not in the way he had first imagined.

James Segeyaro and the lost art of hooking

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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.

Rugby league no longer has to suffer slurs like Eddie Jones’ in silence


IT comes to something when the golf correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, of all people, is moved to pen an opinion piece defending rugby league from a slur by someone over in the other code.
For those who missed it, the rumpus all began last Wednesday ahead of the start of England’s three-match tour of Australia, with their antipodean coach Eddie Jones opting to have a pop at not only his predecessor, Stuart Lancaster, but Sam Burgess and the 13-man game as well.
“Burgess was a non-event in England’s confused strategy at the World Cup but he would have been an excellent Test player if he’d had the will to stick at it,” thundered Jones.
But what followed what a remark which really stuck in the craw: “Rugby league is not a skillful game, it’s a game where you’ve got to hurt people.”
No doubt Jones’ remarks in an interview with the Brisbane Courier-Mail, no less, were designed to rattle a few cages in one of Australia’s rugby league hotbeds, although it does seem English rugby union still has not quite got over the whole Burgess affair.
It is bad enough that some who were involved with the team’s dismal 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign – *cough* Mike Ford *cough* – still act like jilted lovers over Burgess’ decision to return to league, never mind those who were nothing to do with it as well.
But to top that off with a needless attack on rugby league as a whole was completely unwarranted, with Jones dismissing it as a thuggish spectacle where the participants simply go out to injure each other.
Among all the indignation from the league media and fans of the game on Twitter, there was a welcome defence from the Telegraph’s James Corrigan, who eloquently dismantled Jones’ inaccurate insinuations.
Along with informing us that Jones had originally wanted to play league but was denied the opportunity by his school, Corrigan also made the point that the England coach was well-known poaching players from the 13-man code when in charge of Australia’s union team.
“A decade on and Jones is still ‘taking’ from this unskilful game,” wrote Corrigan. “Not only with the tactics which every union coach has copied, but with personnel such as Ben Te’o.
“‘What has league ever done for us?’ he might cry in his own comedy, the Life of Eddie. ‘Well, apart from Jason Robinson, Israel Folau, Brad Thorn…’”
Of course, there are those who will say rugby league fans should not get so uppity about such flippant remarks, particularly from someone in union, and they may well have a point.
But the problem is we are supposed to have moved on – particularly since union legalised professionalism 21 years ago – from a time when it was considered acceptable for rugby league to be demonised and its followers looked upon as deviants by the wider world.
Yet these attacks continue and there are plenty in the media who continue to see league as fair game, from Sunday Express chief sports correspondent Jim Holden’s infamous “rats in the sewer” article in 2001 to the hatchet jobs by columnist Michael Calvin on the 2013 Challenge Cup final and Rugby League World Cup in the now-defunct Independent on Sunday.
It was therefore refreshing to see Corrigan, a fan of both codes of rugby, leaping to the defence of league in a publication which has featured some excellent writing on the sport recently by Jonathan Liew.
As for those in union who continue to deride league as being unskilful and little more than brute physicality, the last word should go to late BBC Radio Four presenter and league enthusiast Brian Redhead from the television documentary this blog is named after.
“If you want to see stupid rugby, go and watch rugby union, and there you will see people play a game where half the things they do they do without thinking,” said Redhead.
“But in this game, although it looks as if it’s all muscle and toughness, nothing ever happens that somebody hasn’t thought about very carefully.
“And when rugby union people come and play this game, they get outwitted and they don’t realise that they are being out-thought.”

The Armchair Pundit: Rugby league goes to the races

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Why the long face? (Picture: @CTRLFC)

LIQUORICE enthusiasts aside, Pontefract might well be considered one of those places along with the likes of Uttoxeter, Market Rasen and Lingfield which only registers on the consciousness of the average member of the public as a horse racing venue.
Certainly as far as rugby league is concerned, this particular corner of West Yorkshire has had little to celebrate compared to neighbouring Castleford, Featherstone and Wakefield.
Indeed, a team representing Pontefract spent three unhappy seasons as members of the Northern Union from 1903 to 1906, with the nadir coming in September of the latter when they turned up to Swinton with just 12 players and were hammered 76-4 – this in the days when tries were worth just three points.
That goes a long way to explaining why, 110 years later, the stars of the summer months in the town are of the equine variety, with Europe’s longest continuous racing venue – 16.75 furlongs, since you ask – in operation from March to October.
Last Monday evening saw both racing and rugby league come together though, with Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity and Featherstone Rovers, plus Huddersfield Giants, all sponsoring races at the course’s inaugural Rugby League Evening.
Season ticket holders of all four clubs were able to gain admission at discounted prices, while players from all of the teams were there to mingle with the VIPs and present prizes to the winning jockeys and owners.
Among them was one of Ponte Carlo’s own, Castleford skipper Michael Shenton, and while the town’s professional team may have had a short and inglorious history, there have been several players to make a mark in the game hail from there.
Don Robinson was part of the Great Britain team which won the first Rugby League World Cup in 1954, while Rob Burrow and Richard Owen are both among those plying their trade at the top level.
Another Pontefract player who was in the news this week was Burrow’s Leeds Rhinos team-mate Zak Hardaker due to being placed on the transfer list as he seeks a move to the NRL.
Hardaker’s own struggles this season have mirrored those of the reigning Super League champions and matters were hardly helped by title chasers Catalans Dragons winning 24-12 at Headingley last Friday.
Meanwhile, Huddersfield’s players might have welcomed the opportunity to get away from their own disappointing campaign at Pontefract on Monday – maybe not so much possibly bumping into some of the Tigers players who had beaten them 30-22 three days prior.
One man who might have felt he was missing out on the Pontefract party was Dr Marwan Koukash, who counts horse racing as one of his interests along with owning Salford Red Devils and waging a personal war against The RFL.
Racing Post columnist David Ashforth profiled Koukash’s involvement in the sport of kings in one of his columns last week and what was particularly revealing was how often he has changed the various trainers of his string from year to year.
Perhaps that explains why he is so keen on chopping and changing coaches at the AJ Bell Stadium. Director of rugby Tim Sheens and head coach Ian Watson may well want to bear that in mind.

Thursday night attendance watch: The 5,082 spectators who showed up at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium for Wakefield’s encounter with Hull Kingston Rovers was 238 lower than the crowd at last season’s corresponding fixture, which was played on a Sunday afternoon.
At least it proved a perfect return to Wakefield for KR head coach James Webster, who saw his team triumph 54-16 over the hosts who are now coached by his predecessor in East Hull, Chris Chester.
It was a good weekend for the black and white half of the city as well, with Hull FC staying top of the table ahead of their showdown with second-placed Warrington Wolves thanks to a 30-10 win over Widnes Vikings.
Warrington downed old rivals St Helens 26-4 to keep up their pursuit of the leaders and ratchet up the pressure on Saints head coach Keiron Cunningham, whose appearance on the big screen at Langtree Park was met by a chorus of boos.

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Vote for your favourite! Or not… (Picture: @WiganWarriorsRL)

Democracy in action: In what seems destined to go down as a bad idea, Wigan Warriors have offered their fans a chance to vote for their favourite design for next season’s home kit.
Given that only one of the six potential designs features anything even close to the club’s traditional cherry and white hoops, a cynic might say there is not really much choice at all and fans are being directed towards which might be their favourite.
At least the Warriors supporters had something to cheer about last Friday though, with the team edging Salford 23-20 to ensure they remain hot on the heels of the leaders.

Championship round-up: Dewsbury was briefly trending on Twitter on Sunday afternoon, thanks in no small part to the Rams again edging out Bradford Bulls In a close-fought encounter at Odsal.
Once again, former Bulls man Paul Sykes landed the killer blow late on by kicking a penalty to secure a 16-14 win and underlining the job new Bradford coach Rohan Smith has on his hands.
Bradford were replaced in the top four by Featherstone after they stormed to a 58-12 victory over Swinton Lions and London Broncos kept up their pursuit of leaders Leigh Centurions by seeing off Workington Town 50-28.
Meanwhile, Leigh’s Gareth Hock – no stranger to the disciplinary panel – was found not guilty of deliberately making contact with a match official, but instead received a three-game ban for punching in their encounter with Swinton.

League One round-up: South Wales Scorpions returned to Cardiff Arms Park to take on North Wales Crusaders in the Prinicipality’s derby clash for the second year in a row, but suffered a 30-16 loss and are bottom of the table.
Sadly, neither team looks like being involved in the promotion shake-up this season, although the Crusaders are comfortably mid-table and seem to have – for now – overcome the financial problems which threatened their existence earlier in the year.
Toulouse Olympique are now top of the table after seeing off Doncaster 46-26 at home, while York City Knight sprang a minor upset to defeat previous leaders Rochdale Hornets 40-12.

Amateur score of the week: Valley Cougars 60 Torfean Tigers 16, Conference League South. The warm-up to the main event at Cardiff Arms Park proved somewhat one-sided as the Conference South leaders brushed aside their Welsh rivals.

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

State of Origin revives War of the Roses debate…again

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Lancashire coach Andy Gregory and Yorkshire coach Lee Crooks ahead of the 2001 War of the Roses fixture

AS the latest hostilities in the on-going inter-state warfare dressed up as rugby league that is State of Origin broke out in Australia on Wednesday, a very different kind of regional rivalry was being exorcised on these shores.
The world of county cricket is somewhat more genteel than the annual oval-ball showdown between New South Wales and Queensland – a typically-attritional first match of this year’s series being edged 6-4 by the Maroons – although the Roses Match is never anything less than bitterly fought between those age-old rivals Yorkshire and Lancashire.
So while Australia’s top rugby league footballers were belting seven bells out of each other at, those in attendance at Headlingley’s cricket ground were witnessing the White Rose county run through their Red Rose counterparts en route to a 185-run victory.
That was thanks in no small part to one of their own, the Pontefract-born, former England fast bowler Tim Bresnan, who finished with figures of 4-36 in the second innings after Lancs had been bowled out for 173 in their second innings.
In the eyes of many, this is the ultimate way for the young men of Yorkshire and Lancashire to test their mettle against each other – at least since the actual Wars of the Roses ceased some 529 years ago.
Of course, with this being State of Origin time, the question of why there is no equivalent to rugby league’s clash of ‘State versus State, Mate versus Mate’ in this country has again reared its head.
The amateur game still retains an annual clash between the two counties in the form of BARLA’s County Tri-Series, which also features a team from Cumbria, albeit on a depressingly low-profile basis.
The 15-man game’s County Championship generally features a match-up between the two as well, although it has not been contested in league on a professional basis for 13 years.
The 18th Man were among those leading the clamour for a return to the annual Yorkshire-Lancashire showdowns, citing a highly unscientific Twitter poll which showed 78 per cent supporting reviving the series.
How many of the 170 of 218 total voters recall the previous attempts to breathe life into the concept is unsure, but it is a format which has been tried on several occasions and each time died of indifference.
Yorkshire and Lancashire had faced each other annually since the first season of Northern Union rugby back in 1895, with the original inter-county series being axed following the 1982 edition.
It was resurrected three years later as the ‘Rodstock War of the Roses’, although its seven season saw Yorkshire, under the guidance of coach Peter Fox, completely dominate and win every single encounter.
Former Hull Kingston Rovers second rower Andy Kelly recalled some years later in an interview with the Yorkshire Post how much it meant to the players though, saying: “It’s funny thinking back how big an honour playing for Yorkshire really was.
“Back then, we all certainly bought into it and so did the clubs because the players were allowed to play; it wasn’t seen as a toothache fixture.
“Alex Murphy was still the Lancashire coach at the time I played so there was tremendous rivalry between the two counties.”

After the 1991 game, the match went into abeyance for 10 years until The RFL resurrected it, with players born outside of the two counties eligible to represent whichever one they first played senior rugby in.
As far as the players were concerned, it was a concept to be relished.
“I missed out on playing in the old Lancashire v Yorkshire games,” Lancashire captain Andy Farrell told the BBC.
“When I started playing in the first team, the county matches hadn’t been played for a couple of years. But it’s something I grew up watching and something I always wanted to play in.”
The one-off game in 2001, which Lancashire won 36-24 at Headingley, was extended to a two-match series the following year, with the Red Rose county winning both fixtures.
Yorkshire stormed to a 56-6 in the 2003 match, but just 6,454 spectators showed up to the midweek match at Odsal, and the concept has not been seen or heard of since.

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The short-lived International Origin series failed to capture the imagination

Even the much-vaunted International Origin series, launched in 2011 and featuring the best English players in Super League taking on their overseas counterparts, failed to capture the imagination and was axed after three seasons.
The question now is not so much what can be done to make such a series capture the imagination, but whether it is a wise idea to resurrect it at all?
For starters, where would such a game sit in the fixture list? There is already concern about the physical demands the current calendar places on players as it is, without adding an extra one, or even two or three high-intensity fixtures in there.
Secondly, at a time when rugby league is more eager than ever to expand beyond its traditional heartlands, there is a danger that bringing back a Yorkshire-Lancashire fixture merely serve to reinforce old stereotypes in the minds of the games detractors.
And besides, the paying public have repeatedly showed relatively little interest in these games, no matter what their allegiance. This, though, seems a debate which is destined to keep recurring on an annual basis until someone can come up with sensible alternative.
Until then, UK rugby league fans will just have to choose either Blue or Maroon, and savour all the delights State of Origin has to offer.

Marwan Koukash versus The RFL: Questions and answers

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Marwan Koukash is advocating Super League splitting from The RFL

A FULL-scale rugby league war might not yet have broken out, but shots were fired by Marwan Koukash as he gears up to take on The RFL in a long-running feud with the game’s rulers.
The most headline-grabbing moment of the maverick Salford Red Devils owner’s hour-long press conference at the AJ Bell Stadium on Wednesday was his call for his fellow chairman to back him in a proposal for Super League to be run completely independently of The RFL.
Frustration at flat-lining commercial revenues, inconsistencies in the disciplinary process and his personal hobby horse, the salary cap, were among the myriad of reasons which caused Dr Koukash to issue this call to arms.
“The future lies in the hands of the 12 chairmen of Super League,” said Koukash. “I have no intention of being the leader of such a move, but before the end of the week I will have contacted all my fellow chairmen and I’m going to arrange to get together within the next two weeks.
“Again I have to stress this: the future of the game rests in our hands. I need their backing.”
Dr Koukash’s proposals have drawn a mixed response from rugby league supporters, with many backing him and others worried about what long-term effects a civil war could have on the sport.
It is a hugely complex issue and while this treatise does not pretend to hold all of the answers, it is an attempt to address some of the more pertinent questions.

So, what exactly is Marwan Koukash proposing?
The Salford owner wants to see Super League completely break away from the control of The RFL; “full control of its finances, its compliance unit, refereeing and the lot,” as he put it.
The scenario has been likened to that of the Premier League breaking away from the Football League in 1992, although this analogy is not quite correct.
For starters, Football League had always been run independently of the Football Association and the Premier League was formed with the backing of the FA, even operating out of an office at their former headquarters of Lancaster Gate early on.
And in any case, the FA still operates as the game’s regulator and oversees the disciplinary process for the Premier League.
If anything, the competition in English sport most comparable to the position Super League presently finds itself in is arguably cricket’s County Championship.
It, too, is wholly administered by the sport’s governing body, The ECB, and as a result is subject to their whims – resulting in constant tinkering with the format of the three major domestic tournaments – and has no commercial independence.
The difference is the 18 first-class counties are entirely beholden to The ECB as a result of the handouts they receive from revenue generated by the England team and television rights.
Despite rugby league not exactly being flush with cash, the Super League clubs are arguably in more of a financially stable state that their county cricket counterparts, thus more able to stand on their own two feet initially, and have a product they would surely have no trouble monetising with broadcasters should they decide to go it alone.
Many questions remain unanswered about what Dr Koukash is proposing though, such as:
– What would be the timescale for setting up a totally independent Super League should the majority vote to go it alone?
– How would current broadcast contracts be affected?
– If Super League was to completely secede from RFL control, would its clubs still enter the Challenge Cup?
– Would a system of promotion and relegation between the Kingston Press Championship still remain or would Super League again become a closed shop for 12, or possibly more, franchises?
– Where would the match officials come from and what sort of training programme would be in place for them?
– How would this affect the international programme? Would there be separate national teams representing Super League and The RFL as was the case in Australia during the Super League War in the mid-1990s?
– If, as Dr Koukash has said, he does not want to run a breakaway league, then who would administer it? Would it be another club chairman or a committee of them, or would independent people be brought in?
– Who would comprise the judiciary panel?
– Would there be any salary cap or would clubs simply be allowed to spend what they like on players?

How much support does Marwan Koukash have from the other 11 chairmen?
It is difficult to ascertain at this stage how many more clubs are behind the Salford owner’s proposals, but history would suggest they are resistant to any attempts to radically change the status quo.
Dr Koukash’s attempts to change the salary cap have generally met with stern resistance and although he did eventually win a ‘marquee player’ exception, the majority have repeatedly voted against raising the cap from its current limit of £1.825million.
As many have already pointed out, Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenegan attempted to lead a revolt over proposed changes to the league structure in 2013, only to be defeated.
It would be fair to say both Hull Kingston Rovers’ chief Neil Hudgell and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ Michael Carter both sympathise with Dr Koukash, at least if the various correspondences between the three on social media are anything to go by.
But while both have remained tight-lipped over a split from The RFL, Carter did send a cryptic tweet to Sky Sports commentator Rod Studd earlier this week in response to the punishment handed out to Danny England after being found guilty of punching.

One chairman who Koukash is unlikely to find much favour with though is Catalans Dragons supremo Bernard Guasch.

What about the Catalans Dragons?
The French side, who have been mainstays of English rugby league’s top flight for a decade now, were another one who got it both barrels from the Salford owner during his one-hour press conference.
One of the main bones of contention for Dr Koukash is what he sees as the Dragons having failed in one of their aims, which was to grow the game of rugby league in France.
“I am all for growing the sport, not just in this country but others including France,” said Koukash. “But I know 10 years ago the French said their aim was to have 75 percent of their players playing for France.
“I look at the team we played recently – 11 of them do not qualify to play for France. That’s almost 75 percent of their players not qualifying to play for France, so we have failed to grow the sport.
“But when I look at the players closely, I notice there are nine non-European players. And I think ‘every team is only allowed seven, how are Catalans getting nine?’”
Dr Koukash is correct in that Section B1:15 of the Operational Rules states clubs are not allowed more than seven players who are not Federation Trained or Academy Juniors.
However, there are exceptions to this. For starters, The RFL have the power under Section B1:17 to grant an exemption to this rule. The Catalans, along with London Broncos and the Crusaders when they were both in Super League, have both benefitted from that in the past due to being considered “non-heartland” teams.
Secondly, while there are 11 members of the Catalans squad who are non-French players, five of those do not count under the foreign quota due to either holding European passports or coming under the Kolpak regulations.
Richie Myler and Jodie Broughton are both British, while Pat Richards holds an Irish passport having represented the country at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Paul Aiton and Willie Mason hold Papua New Guinean and Samoan passports respectively too, which means they do not come under the foreign quota as those countries are part of the ACP group of nations and have a trade agreement with the EU.
Has the Catalans project failed though? Insomuch as having 75 percent of their players playing for the national team, yes.
However, the growth in the number of French players playing in Super League over the past ten years has to be seen as a sign something is being done right, while the Dragons have certainly become a force to be reckoned with since finishing bottom in their first season.
Dr Koukash also expressed consternation about how much the Catalans continue to cost the other 11 clubs in Super League, putting it at £100,000 per club per season due them having to pay the French side’s travelling expenses.
His comments about the Catalans bringing relatively few away fans with them seemed somewhat unfair though.
After all, it is not like fans of an English team being able to save up for one weekend trip to the south of France a season, it is having to go to England every other week, so no wonder so few do follow the team on the road.
For his part, Guasch seemed surprised by the criticism and released a statement in response.
“We were used to better manners from the chairmen and owners from other Super League clubs,” said the Catalans chairman.
“We are delighted of your recent arrival in our sport. As we did 10 years ago, you have brought a new impulse to the competition.
“I am available to discuss with you about how we negotiate contracts with players and their agents and our ability to fill our stadium.
“I invite you to spend few days in Perpignan to discuss this together, I’m sure a journey in the South of France will calm your anger.”
Koukash, naturally, was quick to reply via his Twitter account.

Then there were unsubstantiated claims of English teams contributing £10million to the local economy in Perpignan as well, along with repeating hearsay that Kingston Press League One French side Toulouse Olympique are being given around £200,000 a season in central funding, compared to £75,000 each Championship club gets.
Toronto Wolfpack did not escape Dr Koukash’s opprobrium either, but he was right to flag up whether or not The RFL have done due diligence on the mysterious money men behind the project – regardless of the fact the Canadians have vowed to meet all costs.

What is the latest with Salford’s appeal against being found guilty of salary cap breaches?
Oh dear, oh dear…where to even start trying to unravel this mess?
Dr Koukash went into great detail about why he feels the Red Devils have been hard-done-by in being charged, and subsequently found guilty, by a tribunal and made a very compelling case.
Many would sympathise with his view that if The RFL knew about Salford allegedly going over the cap in 2014, then why has it taken two years to take any action – particularly with Super League supposedly operating under a ‘live’ cap?
Dr Koukash conceded the club were at fault for not declaring rent payments for two players – £7,500 and £10,800 respectively – and a further £32,200 given to another player for “leadership training” and another payment.
That comes to a total of £50,500, but The RFL claim Salford were over by £94,200. Not only that, but while Dr Koukash stated the Red Devils were only over from July 9 to July 17, the governing body deemed them to be over for a staggering 109 days.
Someone, on one side or the other, has got their mathematics badly wrong.
The Salford owner was in no doubt who was to blame, saying: “When I look at why they (The RFL) have done it, I would say they either deliberately misled the judge of the tribunal or they were totally incompetent.”
He also went onto explain his version of events over the breach, saying: “I knew we had enough money in the cap to spend money. To those who follow our club, I’ll take you back to May of 2014 in which we had a player at our club called Jake Mullaney, and he used to be our full-back.
“In May 2014, we signed Kevin Locke to come to us in December for the following year, but unfortunately Jake suffered a long-term injury on May 7 and was out for the season.
“So I went to The RFL and I said ‘Mr RFL, we need an overseas spot for Jake and we need to free room under the cap, can you please de-register Jake in order to bring Kevin from Australia?’
“And the answer was ‘yes’ and we brought Kevin into the club in July. Now, you would have thought a sensible governing body would have de-registered Jake then registered Kevin, but they did it the other way around.”
Not only that, but Kevin Locke made his debut for the club against Huddersfield Giant on July 5 – four days before Dr Koukash claims they were over the cap – and Salford would only have been able to play him had approval been given.
“Mr RFL, are you telling us you allowed us to play Kevin Locke without being registered?” added Koukash, waving around a piece of paper with Salford’s live salary cap details from the period of time in question.
“Your salary log is full of elementary errors and for a governing body to be producing something like that, I would be embarrassed being part of a body that produces a log like this.”
Added to this were – at this time unsubstantiated – allegations of another unnamed club being £158,060 over during the 2014 season and simply having that swept under the carpet.
Of course, clubs have a responsibility to keep themselves under the cap rather than waiting for The RFL to catch them out before correcting it. Nevertheless, these allegations raise plenty of concern about the governing body’s ability to regulate the salary cap properly.

So, where do we go from here?
That is the million-dollar question. All we can say is: Watch this space, because this is far from over.

The Armchair Pundit: Marwan Koukash escalates war with The RFL

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Marwan Koukash is bringing his war to Red Hall

IT WOULD not be a surprise if, over the past couple of days, the scenes in the corridors of power at The RFL resembled ‘Dad’s Army’, with Nigel Wood running around like Lance Corporal Jones urging “Don’t panic, don’t panic!” to the governing body’s very own Captain Mainwaring, Brian Barwick.
All joking aside, few would be surprised if the chief executive and chairman of the organisation would be battening down the hatches in the wake of Marwan Koukash stepping up his one-man war against The RFL.
Except, it no longer seems to be a one-man war – not if what the maverick Salford Red Devils owner says is to be believed.
Koukash is attempting to bring chairmen from the other 11 Super League clubs together and convene a special meeting where he intends to bring about a vote of no confidence, which would require at least six clubs to agree to said meeting.
This represents a significant escalation in hostilities since the 57-year-old threatened “all-out war” with The RFL if Salford were found guilty of salary cap offences, almost daring them to punish his side.
Almost predictably, a guilty verdict, £5,000 fine and six-point deduction followed last month, although Koukash insisted his latest plot to overthrow the game’s current rulers is not to do with that decision and more long-running gripes about a lack of leadership.
“We invest millions into rugby league and want what is the best for the sport,” Koukash told Press Association Sport.
“I have been in the sport for four years and commercially the game has gone backwards in that time.”
Few would disagree that there are deep-rooted issues affecting the sport, particularly in The RFL’s approach to marketing rugby league which, at times, seems little more than a ‘build it and they will come’ approach.
And yet, it is difficult for Koukash to shake of the sense this is continuing what is coming across more and more as a personal vendetta against a governing body who will not let him simply do as he pleases.
Should he succeed in forcing a vote of no confidence, the other pertinent question would be: What comes next?
Would the owners simply assume control of the running of the sport or put their own people in charge? Would this be simply to gain more favourable terms for the 12 sides at the top table, and would there be the will to address wider issues affecting rugby league such as the declining participation numbers at grassroots level?
And then, there is Koukash’s other favourite hobby horse: the salary cap.
His interview with PA Sport discussed his concerns that Super League is being left behind the NRL, with the Australian salary cap set to be increased to over £5million while in this country it remains at little over £1.8million.
Although Koukash was, eventually, able to get through a marquee player exemption, the clubs are still reticent to raise the cap further and as recently as March this year voted down proposals to do just that.
Despite all of his posturing and bombastic statements though, it is clear Koukash does have a passion for a sport he is a relative newcomer too and is desperate to see it grow beyond the M62 corridor stereotype.
Whether that is for more personal than altruistic purposes may be up for debate, but the fact he has stuck around at Salford for four years despite having little success to show for it and becoming perceived as rugby league’s bête noir shows his commitment to both the club and the sport.
Given his outspoken nature, it is perhaps surprising he has not rattled a few more cages in the somewhat more austere world of horse racing, where Koukash is one of the biggest owners of thoroughbreds in the country.
Indeed, the only time he appears to have fallen foul of the British Horseracing Authority was when he was blocked from using ‘Gabrial’ – many of his horses are named after his son and daughters, Lexi and Layla – in the name of any more of his string due to it apparently becoming confusing for commentators and pundits.
Koukash has enjoyed much more success in the racing world – having saddled winners in the Chester Cup and some Group races – than rugby league though and his Salford side continue to flounder in the lower reaches of Super League after a 34-20 loss at St Helens last Friday.
Even succeeding in overthrowing the reign of terror being wrought by Barwick and Wood and leading rugby league into a brave new era may not be enough to bring glory to the AJ Bell Stadium in the immediate future.

Player welfare demands closer attention: Eorl Crabtree’s revelations about the harsh realities of being a professional rugby league player in an interview with the Daily Star last week should serve as a wake-up call to those running the game.
The injury problems afflicting Super League’s clubs and players this year have been well-documented in several quarters, which lead to demands for reducing the fixture list growing ever louder.
This season will again see each of the 12 Super League sides play 23 regular season games, plus another seven games in either the Super 8s or the qualifiers, not to mention Challenge Cup and play-off matches.
Contrast that with the 16-team NRL, which features just 24 regular season rounds and then the play-offs. Not to mention the fact many Super League players had little over a month off between the end of the 2015 season and the return to pre-season training.
One of Huddersfield Giants prop Crabtree’s concerns is that the players’ views are not listened to at the highest level, which was no doubt not helped by the collapse of their association, League13, due to a lack of support.
Given how Castleford Tigers are sponsored by general workers union GMB, it seems an opportunity to ensure some sort of proper representation for their concerns is being missed.
After all, the players are the ones who make rugby league what it is. Without them, we would not be able to enjoy everything that Super League has to offer.

Championship round-up: One of the worst-kept secrets in rugby league was finally confirmed when Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont announced Rangi Chase had left the Kingston Press Championship leaders after just five appearances.
It appears as if Chase’s career is over at the age of 30, with Beaumont saying he was pursuing opportunities outside of the sport, and will leave many wondering what might have been for one of the most enigmatic players to grace the rugby field.
Not that it seemed to affect Leigh though, who remain three points clear of London Broncos following a 56-14 triumph away to Oldham over the weekend.
The Broncos suffered a surprise 42-18 loss away to Featherstone Rovers, but new Bradford Bulls coach Rohan Smith will be pleased with what he saw from his team after they ran out 54-8 victors at home to Swinton Lions.

League One round-up: Rochdale Hornets’ imperious form continued as they remained unbeaten and top of the table with a 52-24 triumph away to winless basement boys Oxford.
Keighley Cougars are now the leading point-scorers in League One as well following a 74-6 win at home to Hemel Stags.
It remains somewhat disconcerting that the domestic expansion teams continue to struggle against the heartland sides, although the longer-established North Wales Crusaders did at least manage a 16-16 draw with York City Knights.

Amateur score of the week: Thatto Heath 52 Biganos XIII 6, Women’s European Challenge. A crowd of 300 turned out at Crusaders Park to see the reigning English champions defeat their French counterparts to be crowned top side in Europe.
Tries from Jodie Cunningham, Sammi Simpson with four, Roxy Mura, Faye Gaskin, Danni Bound, Katie-May Williams, Rachel Thompson and Tara Stanley, who also kicked four conversions, helped the St Helens-based team end Biganos’ ten-game unbeaten run.

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

Rohan Smith: The jockey aiming to become a horse

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Rohan Smith is taking charge at Odsal (Picture: Betty Longbottom)

ARRIGO Sacchi had a witty retort for whenever anyone questioned what business a man with virtually no experience of playing football at professional, or even amateur, level had managing one of the top teams in Italy, AC Milan.
He would simply reply: “I never realized that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”
Sacchi is now widely regarded as one of the greatest managers to have taken charge of I Rossoneri, guiding them to the Serie A title in 1988, back-to-back European Cup triumphs and two Intercontinental Cup victories.
Nevertheless, he remains in a minority of coaches who have been given an opportunity at the highest level in spite of an undistinguished playing career and it is a similar story in most sports.
Occassionally though, some are handed the reins and that will be the case when Rohan Smith finally takes charge of Bradford Bulls, having been appointed successor to James Lowes on a three-year contract.
The 35-year-old, who is expected to be at Odsal for the Bulls’ Kingston Press Championship home game with Swinton Lions, knew by the time he was 16 that he wanted to be a head coach one day.
Two rounds of reconstructive surgery on his shoulder brought his playing career to an end and Smith got his start scouting for the NRL’s New Zealand Warriors under Daniel Anderson at 21, having previously coached the University of Wollongong’s junior teams.
Since then, Smith’s career has taken in spells with Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers, Sydney Roosters, London Broncos, a spell as Tonga head coach and, most recently, assistant with Gold Coast Titans.
So at an age when many players are starting to turn their attention towards coaching once they hang up their boots, Smith has already got 14 years of experience under his belt, covering everything from talent identification to attacking, defending and kicking.
“I feel like I’ve had a long apprenticeship after various roles within the NRL,” Smith told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus’ Ross Heppenstall recently.
“I remember when I was 16 that I wanted to be a head coach one day. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew it was where I wanted to end up.”
Much has been made of the fact Smith is following in the footsteps of father Brian and uncle Tony – the former being head coach at Bradford during that first season of Super League, and the latter having achieved much success with Leeds Rhinos and now Warrington Wolves.
Cynics might say he was only able to get his foot in the door at such a young age in the first place due his family connections, but Smith has very much done things his own way and there should be no doubting he is his own man.
He cites Anderson, Trent Robinson and Matty Elliott as three of the biggest influences in his career and considers himself a student of many sports, in particular looking to the USA to glean knowledge from the techniques used in baseball, basketball and American football.
Smith recommends the works of Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and renowned NFL coach Bill Walsh as required reading, along with legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
His Twitter account gives an insight into how Smith operates as well and among the various retweets of motivational quotes are his latest book recommendations, with one recent one being by Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore about what was behind their World Series triumph last year.
“I just want to broaden my horizons as much as I can,” explained Smith. “I’ve definitely got some philosophies about how rugby league can be played.
“To me, it’s probably about individual attention and making sure that the players feel like you are taking care of them as a person first.
“Then you can work on their game and their understanding of where they fit within the team structure
“But I also realise that I’m working to help them achieve their goals. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken out of a lot of the books I’ve read.”
The world of second-tier rugby league in England is far removed from the glitz and glamour of top American sports though, not to mention the relatively rarefied atmosphere of the NRL.
Smith is clearly not your stereotypical rugby league coach though and the evidence suggests there should be no fears about his ability to adapt to his new role and surroundings.
His first task will be to lead the Bulls back into Super League after a two-year absence and even now they are well-placed to secure a spot in the Qualifiers.
If he can do that, then Smith will be well on his way to establishing himself as rugby league’s very own jockey who became a horse.

The Armchair Pundit – In defence of rugby league’s referees

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“Shut your eyes and don’t look at Rugby League Twitter…”

THERE is a famous scene towards the climax of the first Indiana Jones film where, having finally got their hands on the Ark of the Covenant and subsequently opening it, the assembled Nazis are consumed by angels of death.
A similar feeling washed over The Armchair Pundit this past Friday night when making the mistake of perusing the rugby league Twittersphere in the wake of the evening’s three Super League matches.
Amid the collective rage from Leeds Rhinos fans at their defeat to Huddersfield Giants and Zak Hardaker apparently offering out any keyboard warriors in a since-deleted tweet, there was plenty of bile being directed at referee Joe Cobb as well.
Having already been embroiled in controversy the previous week for how he was perceived to have handled the clash between Wigan Warriors and Huddersfield, Cobb, who has been a full-time referee for nearly a year, was this time being castigated for his display in the encounter between Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Widnes head coach Denis Betts was among those who were left fuming about the Newton-Le-Willows official, describing it as “the worst refereeing performance I’ve seen in 30 years” following an 18-16 defeat for his side which saw both teams have a man sent off and three Vikings players despatched to the sin bin.
Some may sympathise with Betts’ view that Chris Houston’s try from a high kick was unfairly chalked off after he was deemed to have interfered illegally with a defender attempting to make a catch.
But the Vikings chief can have no complaints about any of the cards handed out to his players. Indeed, Patrick Ah Van’s careless tackle which lifted Ashley Gibson above the horizontal was deemed so bad he has subsequently been handed a five-match ban by The RFL disciplinary panel.
Stefan Marsh has also been suspended for two games after tripping an opponent, while Lloyd White saw yellow for a professional foul and Aaron Heremaia was sent off for his part in a brawl which also saw Wakefield’s Scott Moore dismissed.
Sky Sports pundit Brian Carney was quick to hit out at Betts’ post-match comments, saying: “He savaged a referee when perhaps the blame lies closer to home.
“Has he ever used comments like that in private to one of his players about their performance? I doubt it. Has he ever had one of his coaching performances described in such terms? I doubt it.
“While it is most unlike Denis, who is normally circumspect in his analysis of a referee, it is yet another tedious example of blame for defeat being slung unfairly at the feet of officials.”
Giants head Paul Anderson has already been fined £500 – £250 of which is suspended – for his criticism of Mr Cobb the previous week, so do not be surprised to find Betts in the dock at Red Hall for his outburst as well.
More importantly though, The RFL must be seen not to stand for what appears to be a growing trend of coaches blaming referees for their own team’s failings. Yes, coaches are always going to stick up for their players and no, the referees should not have any accountability.
But hanging officials out to dry in public in this manner benefits nobody and does not reflect well on the sport. If such vocal criticism continues to go unpunished, it will quickly filter down to the amateur levels, where refereeing is hard enough as it is.
A glance at the statistics also shows it should perhaps come as no surprise Mr Cobb has been a busy man with the cards and the whistle two weeks in a row.
For you see, dear reader, Widnes, Wakefield, Wigan and Huddersfield are four of the five sides who have given away the highest number of penalties in Super League so far this season.
As much as fans might be convinced referees have nothing better to do than sit around plotting against certain teams or that officiating standards – an abstract concept at best – are getting worse, there are plenty of times when players and coaches need to take responsibility for their own actions.

Thursday night attendance watch: The attendance of 11,724 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium for Warrington Wolves’ 40-10 demolition of Wigan Warriors was actually over 600 up on the corresponding fixture last season – a game also played on a Thursday night.
The victory puts Warrington two points clear at the top of the pile, but below them are Wigan, Hull and the Catalans Dragons all on 18 points.
The Black and Whites seem to be well and truly over their hiccup from a few weeks ago after edging out the Dragons 28-26 – the highlight of which was a superb flowing move that was finished by Curtis Naughton.

Marwan Koukash Twitter watch: Amid his seemingly never-ending one-man war with The RFL, Salford’s most prolific tweeter still managed to find time to make light of hostilities.
The Good Doctor’s other sporting love is horse racing, with this week’s meeting at Chester being one which has been particularly fruitful for a man who owns a string of thoroughbreds.
So given his regular clashes with the game’s authorities, he seemed quite surprised to find RFL chief executive Nigel Wood trying to tap him up for some tips for Chester.

Koukash was no doubt cheered further by the response of Salford Red Devils following their six-point deduction for salary cap breaches, with them storming to a 44-26 victory at home to Hull Kingston Rovers on Saturday.
And in the battle of Super League’s two most inconsistent teams, St Helens pulled off a comeback win to triumph 30-20 over injury-stricken Castleford Tigers having been 10-6 down at half time.

Defence wins the Championship?: London Broncos keep on winning games and are now six points clear of third-placed Bradford Bulls following a 30-16 win over their Kingston Press Championship promotion rivals.
Head coach Andrew Henderson was quick to praise the defensive efforts of his side in the wake of that win, with the Broncos having only conceded 195 points in the league up to this point.
“We put a big emphasis in pre-season on defence,” said Henderson. “I think we’ve built our season on our good defence and we worked extremely hard in pre-season, did a lot of contact work, and a lot of defensive systems and structures.
“We work great with the ball, but it’s off the back of strong defence and that attitude defensively is what got us over some of those games earlier in the season.”
However, he will have been less than pleased with the fact his side had to come from 14-8 down at half time to get the win.
Leigh Centurions are just a point ahead of London after triumphing 37-30 against early-season surprise package Batley Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, a second-half fightback was not enough for Workington Town, who went down 36-32 at Halifax, despite outscoring the hosts 22-6 in the second half.

The road to Blackpool: Rather than just being a company which exists to sponsor a minor rugby league cup competition, The Armchair Pundit was surprised to learn this week that iPro Sport is, in fact, a type of drink which Alan Partridge would probably describe as “yellow stuff in tins” consumed by “narcissistic sports pimps.”
The finalists for said cup competition are now known, with York City Knights and Keighley Cougars booking their place in the final at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on the same weekend as the Summer Bash.
For both teams, it represents a chance to get their hands on some rare knockout competition silverware because although both have won divisional titles, cup success has tended to elude them.
Keighley have no major cup honours to their name, while York’s last notable triumph was when their previous incarnation lifted the old Yorkshire Cup way back in the 1936-37 season.
In a reduced League One programme, Rochdale Hornets and Doncaster ensured they remained out in front with wins over Barrow and Hunslet Hawks respectively, while Toulouse Olympique returned to their free-scoring ways with a 54-8 win over Oxford.
League One received plenty of attention last week following confirmation Toronto Wolfpack will be adding a Canadian dimension to the competition from next year.
Perhaps the only concern is that the money men behind the project are somewhat reticent to reveal themselves. Indeed, Canada Rugby League CEO Eric Perez would only go as far as to say they “all made their money in mining and resources – some Canadian, a couple Australians, mostly Canadians though.”
There is no reason to be sceptical of those claims at present, although one would hope The RFL have done their due diligence on the people involved in the club – even if they do not want to reveal themselves publicly.

Amateur score of the week: Coventry Dragons 28 Leamington Royals 12, Midlands Rugby League South. The Dragons came from 12-10 down at half time to beat one of their local rivals and avenge their defeat to Leamington in the play-offs last season.

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

Toronto Wolfpack take rugby league into a brave new world


AND so, after months of rumours, now we know for certain.
Having already taken in teams from England’s non-heartland areas, Wales and France, rugby league’s “most geographically diverse competition” – a phrase used so often in official communiques that it is amazing The RFL have not trademarked it – will make the bold step of expanding across the Atlantic when Toronto Wolfpack join Kingston Press League One from 2017.
The level of expansion which has been going on at the lower end of the British professional game in recent years has not been seen since clubs sprang up in places such as Mansfield, Chorley, Kent, Carlisle Cardiff and Scarborough in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Of course, as any rugby league historian will tell you, many of those teams disappeared almost as quickly as they were launched, in some cases bouncing around various venues and being unable to establish any kind of foothold.
Small wonder then the reception to what is arguably the most ambitious experiment ever undertaken in club rugby league has been caution tinged with a hint of optimism – not to mention the usual prophecies of failure from the doom-mongers.
The success of the Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique’s return to the professional ranks on these shores has undoubtedly emboldened The RFL in their quest to push the game’s boundaries at the highest level beyond the M62 corridor.
In a financial sense at least, this represents a near-on risk-free move for the governing body as the travelling expenses of all the other clubs in the division will be met by the Canadians for their home games at Toronto’s Lamport Stadium, and no money is being taken out of the sport in this country.
The biggest risk on that side will be from the club itself. Indeed, the Toronto Star last year quoted the initial outlay as in the region of $2million Canadian dollars and cited the exchange rate – $1.86 to £1 at the time of writing – as being problematic for a Canadian company doing business in the UK.
Nevertheless, Wolfpack CEO and chairman of governing body Canada Rugby League, Eric Perez, insists the team has secured the investors and sponsorship to ensure this will not just be a flash in the pan venture. It has been speculated there is even Australian money behind the project.

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Lamport Stadium will host Toronto Wolfpack’s home games

Perez has done much to revitalise rugby league in Canada after years of being in a near-dormant state. As eminent historian Tony Collins chronicled last year, the 13-man code’s history in Canada goes back exhibition internationals played there in the 1920s, while the national team appeared at the 2000 Emerging Nations Tournament.
The CRL was formed in 2010 and, with Perez at the helm, has established a small but thriving domestic competition and regularly attracted four-figure crowds to international matches.
Undoubtedly though, the biggest test will come with this venture into the British professional structure.
It is probably worth mentioning Toronto’s Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer teams all ply their trade in competitions featuring mostly teams in another country – albeit neighbours the USA.
And at a time when America’s National Football League – the richest sports league in the planet – has been agonising for some years about how to overcome the various logistical and financial issues associated with installing a potential American football franchise in London, it is amazing to think rugby league is able to go ahead with this plan, especially starting in a division consisting mostly of part-time teams.
The intention is for the Wolfpack to play home and away games in blocks of four, with the team based in Bradford when in the UK and League One teams flying in on Thursday, playing Saturday and returning Sunday for matches in Canada.
With Brian Noble on board as director of rugby and Paul Rowley joining as head coach, the back-room staff has the necessary experience and knowhow to guide a new side.
Building a side from scratch will require tempting a large number of overseas players to take a step into the unknown, along with gradually introducing and getting the homegrown Canadian players up to the required standard.
The final word though, goes to Sky Sports pundit Phil Clarke, whose latest column shows how vehemently in favour of the Wolfpack project he is.
“From time to time we get some enthusiastic people from outside traditional rugby league lands who show an interest in the sport,” wrote Clarke.
“However, we have not been great at helping the good ones and weeding out the bad.
“It strikes me that the people behind this Toronto project need backing, just as the ones in Toulouse do as well.”
Whatever the outcome, it will be fascinating to follow the progress of Toronto Wolfpack. Strap yourselves in, because it is going to be one hell of a ride.