Remembering when the Kangaroo tourists crossed swords with The Jam

IT IS fair to say barely a trip to these shores by the Australian national team passes off without some sort of colourful off-the-field incident, although few have perhaps been more surreal than the clash between the Kangaroos and The Jam in 1978.
The story of Paul Weller and his fellow band members brawling in a bar with the rugby league tourists from Down Under in a Leeds hotel bar could almost be up there with Bob Holness playing the saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ as one of music’s great urban myths.
Except, of course, that it did actually happen.
This rather strange meeting of cultures occurred in the Queens Hotel in the week leading up the third and final Test of the 1978 Ashes series at Headingley, with the series level at 1-1 after an 18-14 victory for Great Britain in the second match at Odsal.
Surrey rockers The Jam, meanwhile, were on tour and had recently seen their fifth single ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ – a song about someone being attacked, ironically – peak at number 15 in the UK Top 40.
The exact details of what happened are lost in the mists of time, although the Sydney Morning Herald at the time reported the brawl between The Jam and the Australians erupted when Kanagaroos team manager Jim Caldwell was moving a table and accidentally bumped into one of the band members.
Angry words were then exchanged and the generally accepted version of events is that Weller then smashed a glass over Caldwell’s head, causing cuts to his face and narrowly missing blinding him in his right eye.
Balmain Tigers winger Larry Corowa then jumped in to defend Caldwell and was attacked himself before going to locate some of his team-mates to provide reinforcements – some of whom had to be roused from their beds.
“There were a couple of players shouting about how our manager, Jimmy Caldwell, had just been glassed in the downstairs bar by these punk rockers; The Jam,” hooker Max Krilich told Australia’s Daily Telegraph in 2013.
“So a couple of the fellas, who shall remain nameless, were gathering troops for revenge.
“I stayed in bed, but certainly someone must’ve gone down because those tough, little musicians, they had the shit belted out of them.”
Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, who ended up in hospital with rib injuries following the ruckus, remembers the incident slightly differently.
“We were standing up to get some drinks and some words were exchanged,” recalled Foxton. “The next minute Paul was in a bit of a ruck and I tried to help him out. He just finished up being like a rugby ball.
“They went berserk. They went mad. It was really frightening. They were after our blood, literally, and we had to leave about three in the morning and check into another hotel. It fucked the rest of the tour because I had badly bruised ribs.”
Unsurprisingly, the police were called to calm things down, with their official report clearing the tourists of any wrongdoing. Weller, meanwhile, had to make an appearance at Leeds Crown Court, only be discharged straight away.
Whether the incident served to fire up the Kangaroos even more ahead of the Ashes decider is up for debate, but the fact remains they went on to trounce the Lions 23-6 and head to the French leg of the tour with a 2-1 series win in the bag.
Nevertheless, this remains a fascinating and bizarre footnote in the history of the Australian team visiting the UK. Let us just hope next year’s Rugby League World Cup Down Under does not produce any stories of England’s players getting into a barroom brawl with DMAs as well…


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.

Warrington and Widnes set to renew acquaintances in Challenge Cup

WHEN the draw for the quarter-finals of this year’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup was made just over a month-and-a-half ago, arguably the most eye-catching tie of the round was the pairing of old rivals Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.
Come Friday night at 8pm, the latest instalment of the Cheshire Derby will be played out on the national stage thanks to the BBC broadcasting the match live on their second channel.
Both teams have a proud history in this competition, with Warrington lifting the Cup on eight occasions and Widnes seven, although it is 23 years since the latter last graced the Wembley turf and 32 since their last triumph in the competition.
This is not the first time the Wire and the Chemics have done battle in the Cup and they have even met twice in the final, with Warrington winning 19-0 in 1950 and Widnes triumphing 14-7 in 1975 to defeat the holders.
The rivalry itself stretches back to before the formation of the Northern Union though and the first recorded meeting of the side came in 1878, with newspaper reports of the time commenting on “some fierceness on both sides”.
Warrington’s first 10,000 crowd also came against Widnes eight years later in the West Lancashire and Border Towns Cup at Wilderspool, which saw play temporarily suspended following the collapse of a stand containing 200 people, although no-one was seriously injury.
The zenith of the rivalry was arguably during the 1970s and 1980s when both clubs were regularly competing for the various honours on offer in the domestic game during that era.
That was epitomised no more so than the memorable battles between the forwards – most notably fiery Widnes prop Jim Mills and Warrington front-row enforcer Mike Nicholas.
“Jim and I used to keep the disciplinary committee busy in the 1970s,” recalled Nicholas on the launch of Mills’ autobiography, ‘Big Jim’. “We used to go in with the other players on charge and they would save our hearings till last.
“They used a trolley to wheel our files in and the committee used to boo us as we came in.
“I was sent off 15 times and Jim 20. Jim didn’t do anything by halves; he ended up banned from the whole southern hemisphere at one point.
“He got sent off everywhere except New Zealand, and that’s because they wouldn’t allow him in the country to play.”

Sorensen Boyd

Kurt Sorensen (left) and Les Boyd clashed regularly in the 1980s

But if the ‘70s was about the two Welshmen going toe-to-toe, the ‘80s had a somewhat more Antipodean flavour to it in the form of Widnes’ New Zealander, Kurt Sorensen, and Warrington’s Australian, Les Boyd.
Both are still highly revered at their respective clubs, with Sorensen’s eight-year spell seeing him win Championship, Premiership and World Club Challenge honours, while Boyd’s finest hour in the primrose and blue was captaining them to glory in the 1986 Premiership.
Among those watching at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday will be BBC pundit Jonathan Davies, who featured for both clubs during his league career.
Having been snapped up by Widnes from Welsh rugby union side Neath in 1989 for a then-record fee of £230,000, he crossed the divide in 1993 when financial problems forced the club to sell him to their rivals.
The derby matches went into abeyance in the mid-1990s following Widnes’ relegation from the top flight in 1995 and the threat of both clubs being merged to form a Cheshire team to play in the new Super League was successfully staved off as well.
Widnes’ Northern Ford Premiership title triumph in 2001 meant them and Warrington would renew hostilities in the top flight the following year, and a miserable season for the Wolves was compounded by them being beaten in both games as the Vikings narrowly missed out on a play-off place.
Warrington gained a measure of revenge by winning the first encounter between the two of the 2003 campaign and then drew some controversy with their poster advertising the return game at Wilderspool that August.

Three-eyed fish

“What are you looking at?”

Playing on Widnes’ history as home of the chemicals industry, it featured the town’s landscape with chimneys belching thick smoke, barrels of toxic waste and a three-eyed fish.
“I would have thought anyone who lived in Widnes would have a sense of humour,” Warrington’s head of marketing Sean Mellor told the Daily Telegraph at the time.
“All we have done is draw attention to a few eye-catching symbols that are unmistakeably Widnes.”
Unsurprisingly, both Widnes townspeople and those involved with the club were unimpressed by Warrington’s attempts to stoke the fires, with Widnes PR man Andrew Kirchin among those to criticise it.
“I do find it objectionable and also inaccurate, because Widnes hasn’t had a chemical industry for 10 years, but it could be more serious than that,” Kirchin told The Guardian.
“Widnes-Warrington games have a history of trouble between the two sets of supporters. We went seven years without a derby until Widnes got into the Super League last season, but all that time didn’t reduce the pain between the two clubs.”
Fortunately, the match passed off without any trouble and did not backfire on the hosts either, with Warrington running out 30-16 victors.
Recent seasons have seen the rivalry spill over off the pitch though, with the 2013 encounter at Warrington seeing a Widnes fan assaulted by a steward and last year’s Super League meeting at the Select Security Stadium seeing play held up after an away supporter threw a flare onto the pitch.
Hopefully Friday’s talking points will be limited to whatever happens on the pitch. Given the history of this rivalry, it can pretty much be assured there will be plenty of fireworks on there as well.

State of Origin revives War of the Roses debate…again


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.

International Origin

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.

What’s in a name? A history of rugby league suffixes


THE news from club chairman Michael Carter that Wakefield Trinity are likely to drop the ‘Wildcats’ nickname at the end of the season will have perhaps been met with an indifferent shrug by most people.
It is a tag the club have carried since winning promotion to Super League in 1998, with pretty much all of the top flight’s clubs having added their own suffix following the switch to summer rugby in a bid to make them more marketable.
So the theory goes anyway, which means Carter’s plan to revert to simply Wakefield Trinity goes against that modern-day thinking.
Yet while he admits he has not done any market research into this, the Wakefield supremo has good reasoning behind the plan.
“We have got a fantastic heritage within this club and I don’t think we have made the most of it,” Carter told the Yorkshire Post, harking back to the club’s glory years in the 1960s.
“So for me, it is Wakefield Trinity. I have always referred to it as Wakefield Trinity and I think the older generation of our fanbase love the fact it’s Wakefield Trinity.
“Go anywhere in the world and it’s either ‘where’s that’? Or, ‘oh yes, Wakefield Trinity’.”
The Belle Vue club’s original moniker of Trinity comes from the fact they were founded by a group of young men from the Holy Trinity Church in the town back in 1873, while their traditional nickname was the ‘Dreadnoughts’.
Perhaps Wakefield Trinity Dreadnoughts would not have sounded quite as good as the alliterative Wildcats, but then the same could be said about several others.
Widnes, for example, were often referred to as the ‘Chemics’ long before anyone had even considered adding the ‘Vikings’ tag due to the town’s main industry, although trading off some tenuous Norse connections is perhaps the better option of the two.
The same is true for Castleford and their old ‘Glassblowers’ moniker. Fortunately, their amber and black shirts – now seemingly more orange and black – allowed them to utilise the ‘Tigers’ name they have used for the past 20 years.
Many clubs simply opted for an alliterative name in the mid-90s era of rebranding rugby league, with Wigan becoming the ‘Warriors’ and Bradford becoming the ‘Bulls’ – the latter dropping the ‘Northern’ from their name which was used to identify themselves as the city’s Northern Union team and differentiate from the football clubs City and Park Avenue.
Leeds Rhinos simply adopted their name following a competition in the local press. However, the public’s original choice was to use the traditional ‘Loiners’ nickname, only for that to be dismissed by to the club due to being perceived to have little marketability (there’s that word again).
But while Leeds may have felt the term for the citizens of their home city was not the way to go, that did not prove the case for Oldham, who added ‘Roughyeds’ to their name when they reformed out of the ashes of the Oldham Bears team which had played in the first two Super League seasons.
One other club who have been through name changes down the years is Warrington, having been known as Warrington Zingari in their early days following the merger of two teams in the town, and also absorbed Warrington Wanderers and the wonderfully-named Padgate Excelsior.
The ‘Wolves’ nickname was chosen after a wolf had appeared on the club badge in the early 1990s, along with featuring on the town crest as well.
Of course, one club who kept their name were St Helens, who are often referred to as just ‘Saints’ – St Helens Saints would have sounded a bit odd, wouldn’t it?
This nicknames lark is nothing new though. Some Huddersfield fans out there are no doubt old enough to remember the short-lived ‘Barracudas’ nickname and the renaming of their old Fartown ground as Arena 84 during their nadir in the 1980s.
Sheffield have always had ‘Eagles’ as part of their name since their formation in 1984 – again, coming from a competition to name the team in the Sheffield Star newspaper – while many of the other new teams which joined the Rugby Football League in the 1980s came with various tags as well.
Mansfield Marksman – always in the singular – got their name thanks to sponsorship from the local brewery, while the Maidstone-based Kent side were known as ‘Invicta’ due to that being the county’s motto. Arguably, it kind of lost its meaning when the team relocated to Southend though.
And while ‘Rovers’ might typically be thought of as a name used by teams in the round-ball code of football, it has long been used by Featherstone and Hull Kingston Rovers – originally known as Kingston Amateurs after being founded by local boilermakers.
The other Hull team had the unpopular ‘Sharks’ nickname added in 1996, although they were eventually relaunched with the simple Hull FC name three years later following the relocation of Gateshead Thunder to the city.
One club who have carried a nickname since their early years are Rochdale Hornets, with the naming of teams after insects being popular in the Victorian era. Indeed, ‘Wasps’ – Rochdale Wasps being one of the team which merged to form the present day side – ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Grasshoppers’ were apparently considered before ‘Hornets’ was settled on.
Wakefield are not the only team to have dropped their nickname after introducing it though, with Halifax eventually ditching their ‘Blue Sox’ – inspired, no doubt, by American Major League Baseball teams Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox – name in 2002.
But while the nicknames have not always been popular, Leigh changed plans to drop their ‘Centurions’ name in 2007 after pressure from their own supporters. Maybe, then, Wakefield’s decision will prove the exception rather than the rule.

The Armchair Pundit: Geordies in wonderland

Newcastle rugby league

Newcastle in action against Huddersfield in 1937

A CROWD of 3,033 were at Kingston Park last Friday evening ahead of Super League descending on Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for the annual Magic Weekend.
Not since Gateshead Thunder’s single season in the top flight of British rugby league have there been such crowds for a game on Tyneside, let alone in Kingston Press League One where the team now known as Newcastle Thunder rarely draw above three-figure attendances.
Football has long been king in this part of the country, while fans of the oval-ball game tend to be of the union variety thanks to Gosforth and latterly Newcastle Falcons being among the top 15-man code teams in England.
The North-East is not entirely devoid of rugby league history though. Wallsend were a non-league team in the formative years of the Northern Union and South Shield spent two seasons in Division Two, finishing 14th and 15th in 1902-03 and 1903-04 respectively.
South Shields were eventually voted out of the league in 1904 and it was not until Newcastle were accepted into the competition in 1936, with their first home game attracting the Pathe News cameras to Brough Park Stadium.
But a 33-12 defeat to Huddersfield proved a sign of things to come, with the team finishing 29th out of 30 teams and with just five wins and a draw to their name from 38 games, disappearing altogether at the end of the following season.
Rugby league never quite gave up on Tyneside though and the establishment of a number of amateur teams, coupled with two Charity Shield games being played at Gateshead International Arena in 1991 and 1992 ensured some presence there.

The start of a long-term professional presence came in 1999 though when Thunder were granted a place in Super League ahead of bids from Swansea and Cardiff, but despite finishing sixth the club claimed to have lost £700,000.
A forced merger with Hull Sharks followed, but efforts from the supporters ensured a new Gateshead team was formed to join the Northern Ford Premiership for the 2001 campaign.
The stated objective of winning a place back in Super League within five years did not materialise, with the highest level they have played at being a single season in the Championship in 2009.
A series of financial problems have not helped the club’s efforts to progress, but their acquisition by Aviva Premiership outfit the Falcons and relocation to Kingston Park, the city’s home of rugby union, has at least provided them with some stability.
Unfortunately for Thunder, they were unable to show Friday’s four-figure crowd what they could really do after suffering a 36-4 defeat to York City Knights.
Yet this coming Saturday, long after the Magic Weekend has been forgotten about, amateur games at senior and junior level will be played in Winlaton, Jarrow, Gateshead and Wallsend.
Rugby league may often be overlooked as far as the Tyneside sporting scene is concerned, yet it is worth remembering there is much more to it than just the big boys coming to town once a year.

Top of the drops: The Armchair Pundit loves a drop goal, especially one from 50 metres out to win the game in the dying minutes.
So here’s to you, Jacob Miller, for your stunning effort to make it eight wins in a row for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats thanks to a thrilling 25-24 win over Catalans Dragons on day two of the Magic Weekend.
Having started off the season as Super League’s crisis club, with results going against them on the field and continuing financial concerns off it, the Wildcats have put themselves on course to make the Super 8s since Chris Chester replaced Brian Smith as head coach.
What has been particularly impressive about Wakefield is not only the fact they have put together this seemingly improbable run, but the fact they have done it despite playing the top teams in the lead.
The Catalans, current leaders Hull FC, former leaders Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors – albeit with the latter somewhat under-strength – have all been put to the sword by Wakefield in the past two months.
The creativity of stand-off Miller – who has 13 try assists to his name – and half-back partner Liam Finn have been the driving force for the team recently, while Finn is ranked third-highest goal-scorer in the league with 54.
Meanwhile, early-season frontrunners Widnes Vikings find themselves on an eight-game losing streak following their 18-12 loss to Salford Red Devils in the opening match of the weekend at St James’ Park.
And Leeds Rhinos’ miserable campaign rumbles on. With eight games of the regular season remaining, the reigning Super League champions are six points off the top eight after a 40-8 trouncing at the hands of Wigan.

Relentless positivity in the face of all evidence to the contrary watch: Keiron Cunningham gets a special mention this week after maintaining his sunny disposition as his out-of-sorts St Helens side slumped to a 48-20 defeat to Huddersfield Giants.
Flippant remarks about how Huddersfield should have bought a lottery ticket that night aside – no-one takes a 28-point win just by being lucky – it is difficult what to know what to make of the Saints head coach’s attitude.
On the one hand, St Helens are still fifth in the standings and just six points off Hull – who downed Humberside rivals Hull Kingston Rovers 28-16 to ascend to Super League’s summit – so there is no reason for Cunningham to panic.
And while simply coming out and slating your players after a heavy loss to the league’s second-bottom team may not be the right way to do things, it does seem as if Cunningham is in denial about any issues which might need addressing.
This, of course, may all just be what he says when facing the media to save face in public, which is understandable.
But even the goodwill Cunningham has from the St Helens fanbase thanks to his more-than-deserved status as one of the club’s all-time great players will run out eventually if they do not think they are getting answers.

Championship round-up: Another week and another Leigh Centurions player is in the headlines, this time Sam Barlow after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a UK Anti-Doping Agency official who had visited his home.
Barlow faces a drugs panel hearing a week on Monday followed by sentencing for the assault on June 27, but his team continue to make all the running in the Kingston Press Championship after trouncing Swinton Lions 48-6.
London Broncos returned to winning ways to keep up their promotion bid with an equally-comprehensive 62-4 victory away to struggling Whitehaven.
New Bradford Bulls coach Rohan Smith had a busy weekend as well, seeing his side beat Sheffield Eagles 25-14 in his first game in charge and then heading up to Newcastle for a scouting trip at the Magic Weekend.

League One round-up: Is there any team who can halt the seemingly inexorable march to the title of Rochdale Hornets? Last weekend’s 70-6 win at home to South Wales Scorpions, which kept the Hornets top and took their points scored tally to 374 in nine games, would suggest not.
Coventry Bears and Doncaster both racked up a half-century of points against Hemel Stags and Oxford respectively, while previously free-scoring Toulouse Olympique had to settle for a mere 44-16 win at Barrow Raiders.

Amateur score of the week: Plymouth Titans 24 North Devon Raiders 16, South West Premier Division. From one geographical extreme to the other as the Titans defeated their county rivals to maintain their unbeaten home record.
Plymouth’s team can trace its history back to a side which was formed in 1985, while the Barnstaple-based Raiders have been in existence since 2009.

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

Before Leicester City, there were Dewsbury’s miracle men of 1973


Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium (Picture: Samantha Cheverton)

Leicester City’s recent triumph in football’s Barclay’s Premier League against odds of 5000/1 has been hailed in many quarters as the greatest upset in the history of English sport. But back in 1973, Dewsbury’s rugby league team enjoyed a similarly improbable triumph when they carried off what, to date, remains their only Championship triumph. Here, we look back on that memorable campaign…

OF THE 23 clubs who have been crowned champions of the Rugby Football League Championship in its various guises since 1895, seven of them have the solitary title to their name.
Manningham and Bradford – no relation to the present day Bulls – were both crowned champions in the early years of the Northern Union before switching to football, while Broughton Rangers’ 1901 triumph came during their brief period as one of the league’s foremost clubs.
The same was true for Workington Town in 1951, while Featherstone Rovers’ 1977 First Division win was sandwiched by two Challenge Cup triumphs.
Batley’s team of 1924 may therefore lay claim to being the most surprising league champions, with their victory coming some years after their era of regularly contending for honours at the turn of the Century.
But it is their Heavy Woollen District rivals Dewsbury who, arguably, should take that mantle for their 1973 title triumph, which culminated in a victory over massive odds-on favourites Leeds in the Championship final at Odsal.
Consider, for example, that after a gruelling 34-game regular season, the side which finished just eighth in the standings and then had to navigate their way through a 16-team play-off for the title.
Coupled with that were runs to the final of the Yorkshire Cup and the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup – and all of this coming in an era where all of the players were part-time.
It was a period, too, where rugby league was finally being dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. In for the 1972-73 season came the six-tackle rule – up from four – and timekeepers, while the following year would see the unwieldy 30-team Championship split into two divisions and the abolition of the play-offs.
And although Dewsbury would be relegated just three years after their triumph, it remains one of rugby league’s great underdog stories.


Mike Stephenson in action for Dewsbury

ASIDE from a Challenge Cup win in 1912 and two Yorkshire Cup wins in the 1920s, Dewsbury’s heyday had been during the Second World War after a former typewriter salesman by the name of Eddie Waring – exempted military service on medical grounds – had been appointed general manager.
Waring, who would later find fame as the BBC’s ‘voice of rugby league’, was able to recruit players stationed at the nearby military bases and built a team which won the Wartime Emergency League, the Challenge Cup and the County Cup during the War years.
It was another future television personality who would play a big part in Dewsbury’s 1973 Championship win as well, with Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson being one of the finest hookers of his era prior to going on to form his well-known commentary partnership with Eddie Hemmings.
“That Championship side was best the bunch of friends I’ve ever had,” Stephenson, who joined his hometown club from amateur side Shaw Cross in 1966, told some years later.
“I always dreamed of playing for my country and it was a dream to win the World Cup and score that try, but when it comes down to deep personal satisfaction, seeing the Dewsbury lads run around with that trophy – you can’t beat that.
“Four or five years before 1973 we were written off as not having the guts and the skills, but we knew something was coming good.”
The man pulling the strings behind the scenes at Crown Flatt was coach Tommy Smales. The former loose forward had joined the club four years earlier to coach the A team before replacing Dave Cox following his departure from the same role with the senior side.
It was Smales who devised the style of play which Dewsbury’s 1973 side became renowned for, with Stephenson calling pre-determined plays from dummy half and the opposition defences being overwhelmed by the sheer number of runners.
Watching the highlights of the 1973 Championship final win over Leeds shows just how far ahead of his time Smales was in the way his team played, although the coach always insisted there was more to it than that.
“No one gave us much of a chance, but we liked it that way,” Smales told the Yorkshire Post in 2005. “I know a lot was made about our tactics in the final, but the key to it all was the team spirit at Dewsbury.
“We got straight up in their face from the kick-off and played at our peak from start to finish. Leeds didn’t know what had hit them.”
Part of that team spirit was forged from the 36-9 hammering Leeds had dished out to Dewsbury in the Yorkshire Cup final at Odsal in October 1972, with man of the match John Holmes running in a hat-trick of tries.
A loss to Bradford Northern in the Challenge Cup semi-finals further strengthened the bond between the players, although even they did not share Smales belief going into the play-offs after only managing an eight-place finish in the league standings.
“We were red-hot favourites to go to Wembley but Bradford duffed us up,” recalled Stephenson. “I’ve got no problems with saying that was a turning point – it was.
“We were so confident before that semi-final that the club had arranged a celebration at a nightclub in Dewsbury.
“You can imagine what that was like after we lost. It was shocking. We just stared at each other and said ‘what a stupid bunch of blokes we are’. We’d blown it.”
A 29-14 win at home to Oldham set up a play-off quarter-final showdown against second-placed Featherstone Rovers at Post Office Road, but Dewsbury again eased through with a 26-7 victory.
That meant a trip to Wilderspool to take on table-toppers Warrington for a place in the final, yet once again Smales’ men defied the odds and edged to a 12-7 triumph to seal a return to Odsal for a final.
Opponents Leeds went into the match on the back of an equally-close semi-final, having seen off St Helens 7-2 after comfortable wins over Bramley and Castleford, and were rated as massive 1/10 favourites to defeat Dewsbury.
Perhaps appropriately, it was Stephenson who opened the scoring with a converted try – taking the final pass from namesake Nigel Stephenson, who added a drop goal soon after.
Leeds’ task was then made even harder when captain Alan Hardisty was dismissed by the referee for a high tackle on John Bates and a further converted try from Allan Agar saw Dewsbury lead 12-4 at half time.
Mike and Nigel Stephenson both managed further tries after the break, and although the 12 men of Leeds hit back with scores from Graham Eccles, Phil Cookson and Les Dyl, the men from the town of just over 50,000 people had done enough to clinch glory.
“Our big thing was that we had all these complicated set moves,” said Stephenson. “We had about 15 of them with blokes running all over the place.
“Come the final, we knew we couldn’t match them if we played tough – so Tommy just said ‘use the moves’.
“We stunned them with so many moves, it was incredible. At times I thought I’d disappeared up my own backside! It was quite ludicrous.”
Stephenson would depart for Australian side Penrith that summer, with Dewsbury receiving the equivalent of around £141,818 in 2015 as a transfer fee for his services.
However, Smales found himself at odds with the club’s board over what to do with the money, which contributed to him leaving Dewsbury the following season and the team being unable to recapture their former glory.
“I think we got something like £13,000 from Penrith for Stevo, which was a lot of money at the time,” said Smales. “I put it to the committee that we ought to draw up a rolling five-year plan and use the money to secure the club’s long-term success.
“They said ‘no’. They had already decided they wanted to put the money in the Halifax Building Society and use the interest to keep the team we already had going.
“It was only then that I realised they hadn’t a clue and that I was banging my head against a brick wall.”
Dewsbury have yet to hit those heights again, but their miracle men of 1973 showed that anything can happen in sport – and, just occasionally, it does.

Entente cordiale – A history of Anglo-French rugby league relations


The Catalans Dragons are celebration 10 years in Super League (Picture: Gerard Barrau)

THIS year marks a decade since a regular French presence was established in Super League and few would argue that, on the whole, the experiment has been a success.
Understandably, there were those with reservations about the wisdom of parachuting the Perpignan-based team straight into the top flight – particularly after the failure of the Paris Saint-Germain side during the early years of summer rugby.
But after finishing bottom of the pile in their first season – staying up thanks to a three-year exemption from relegation – the Catalans have gone from strength to strength and, at the time of writing, find themselves in the top four of Super League.
They were swiftly followed by Toulouse Olympique joining the Championship in 2009 in the hope of earning a license to play in Super League during the period of franchising.
Ultimately, they did not achieve that aim and returned to the French domestic league in 2012, but are now back in the English professional set-up in Kingston Press League One, so far outscoring their opponents 192-6 ahead of this weekend’s clash with high-flying Rochdale Hornets.
It is a move which has not been universally welcomed, even in France. Limoux president Laurent Moreno – among other gripes – hit out at the country’s governing body, the FFR XIII, over Toulouse’s switch earlier this year and was quoted as asking: “Is it the role of the president of the Federation to promote the sending of a French team to England?”
Whether the move can be harnessed to ensure some long-term benefits for the 13-man code in France, particularly with regards to strengthening the flat-lining national team, remains to be seen.
Yet what the presence of the Catalans and Toulouse playing in the Northern Hemisphere’s top domestic league structure does do is further strengthen the bonds between England and France that go right back to rugby league’s formative years across the Channel.


Carcassone lift the Lord Derby Cup (Picture: Gerard Barrau)

THE first glimpse the French public got of rugby league came in December 1933, when 5,000 curious spectators showed up to Stade Pershing in Paris for an exhibition game between England and Australia.
Organised in collaboration with Australian administrator Harry Sunderland, The RFL and disaffected French rugby union administrators, the match proved somewhat lopsided as the Kangaroos ran out 63-13 victors.
Nevertheless, the initial response was positive – no doubt being partly helped by French rugby aficionados being starved of international competition since their country was suspended from union’s Five Nations in 1931 amid concerns over violent play and allegations of payments being made to players in breach of strict amateur rules.
The French Rugby League was founded the following year, with former union international Jean Galia captaining the national side as they toured England in the spring of 1934.
A brutal, by modern standards, schedule of six games in 15 days produced five defeats and one win, although even in those losses the team showed themselves to be competitive.
Opening with a 25-17 loss at Leeds, the French pioneers were then beaten 30-27 by Wigan, 32-16 by an RLF select XIII at Wilderspool, 19-17 by London Highfield and 35-13 by Salford before closing the tour with a 26-23 win over Hull.
The first international match between England and France followed in Paris on April 15 and although England won that encounter 32-21, a 15-15 draw in the inaugural European Championship the following year showed the progress Les Chanticleers had made.
At club level, the links between the two nations continued as well. Indeed, it was prominent British politician and RFL honorary president Edward Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby who donated the trophy which would become the prize given out for winning France’s domestic cup competition.
The Lord Derby Cup was first used for a one-off game between then-Challenge Cup holders Castleford and US Lyon-Villeurbanne in 1935, with the French side triumphing.
Since then, the competition of the same name has been contested each year – barring World War II and 1981, when the final was cancelled due to a brawl which caused the Championship final to be abandoned after six minutes the week before – and the trophy is still given out to the winners this day.

FOLLOWING the end of the Second World War, France and administrator Paul Barriere were instrumental in the formation of what is now called the RLIF and the first Rugby League World Cup, which was held in the country in 1954.
And although the prominence of the French national team has diminished since those heady days of the post-war era, there have been sporadic matches between them and the Home Nations outside of World Cups.
At club level, the first time French sides regularly got the chance to test themselves against their English counterparts came in the 1992-93 Regal Trophy, with The RFL admitting two of them each year until the competition was axed in 1996.
That paved the way for French teams to be included in the Challenge Cup as well, while the original plans for Super League included a Toulouse-based team alongside what would become Paris Saint-Germain.
Although PSG memorably won the first match of rugby league’s new era against Sheffield Eagles, their time in Super League was not particularly successful – partly due to the club’s French players being signed only on loan from teams playing in the domestic Championship and being expected to turn out for their parent clubs as well.
The first French team to make a mark in an English competition were Toulouse on their improbable run to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup in 2005, which included a 40-24 win over crisis-hit Widnes Vikings in the last eight.
Catalans Dragons went one better two years later, reaching the first final back at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium. The defining moment of their run was a see-saw semi-final against Wigan Warriors, where New Zealand legend Stacey Jones inspired them to a 37-24 victory.
Sadly, there was to be no fairy tale ending as St Helens ran out 30-8 victors on a baking hot August afternoon in north-west London. Nevertheless, the Catalans showed they were to be taken seriously.
Steady improvements have followed to the point where they have regularly featured in the play-offs, although a maiden Grand Final appearance remains out of reach for now.
Toulouse’s start, albeit against some of the weaker non-heartland teams in League One, shows they too could be serious contenders and the 10-8 win over Championship leaders Leigh Centurions underlined their credentials.
They may not have won many fans with their attitude, being perceived as seeing themselves to be slumming it with the lower division sides prior to their inevitable march into Super League.
However, if they can establish themselves somewhere in the league system as the Catalans have, it can only do more to strengthen rugby league in France – not to mention the bond these two nations share in the sport.

At the edge – Rugby league’s Cumbrian outposts


Derwent Park, home of Workington Town

IT IS 20 years since Cumbria was represented in the top flight of British rugby league and even longer since a team from the county was competing for major honours.
Workington Town’s brief dalliance with Super League ended after just one season, with the founder members of the competition finishing bottom of the pile with just two wins from 22 games and drowning in debt.
They have scarcely looked like returning since and their struggles in the first year of summer rugby is always used to counter arguments of a Cumbrian representative being placed in Super League should any further expansion take place.
Given how much of a hotbed for rugby league Cumbria is at amateur level, it perhaps seems strange that a team from this outpost of the 13-man game has failed to establish itself as perennial competitors at professional level.
This can, perhaps, be put down to the underlying issues of post-industrial economic uncertainty in the towns which support these teams, difficulties of tempting players to move to these relatively isolated areas – despite the incredibly picturesque landscape of the Lake District – and poor transportation links.
Nevertheless, rugby league has thrived in these northern outposts and the Cumberland League has been part of the sport since joining the Northern Union in 1898.
Although the Cumbrian clubs spent the first three years following the great schism from the Rugby Football Union on the outside looking in, it was two players from the county whose situation contributed to the split.
Frank Foster and George Boak were lured to Huddersfield from Cummersdale Hornets on the promise of being granted employment in the area and receiving broken time payments for playing for the team.
A grievance arising from the suspension of several players at Maryport led to them, Millom, Workington, Wath Brow and Brookland Rovers all switching to the Northern Union in 1898, with Whitehaven, Whitehaven Recreation and Seaton following prior to the start of the season.
But while the amateur game went from strength to strength in the county, the professional game did not arrive until 1945 when Workington Town were accepted into the Rugby League Championship.
Of course, Barrow had been around since 1875 and joined the Northern Union in 1897. Yet the town of Barrow-in-Furness was traditionally part of Lancashire – some locals will tell you it still is, really – and it was only in 1974 that the boundaries were redrawn to include it as part of Cumbria.
Having finished 14th in their first season, Workington quickly ascended to the highest echelons of the sport under the stewardship of player-coach Gus Risman, who joined in 1946 and five years later guided them to victory over Warrington in the Championship final at Maine Road.

Challenge Cup glory followed in 1952, with Workington defeating Featherstone Rovers 18-10 at Wembley in the first televised final, and a further appearance came three years later where they were beaten 21-12 by Barrow.
But that glory proved fleeting and, as noted in the Border Television documentary from the late 1970s, Workington’s decline mirrored that of the steel and mining industry in the area.
‘Town…Town’ painted a very grim picture of the period for both the club and townspeople, with narrator Eric Robson’s words veering between condescension and outright sneering at the sport and its supporters.
“For them,” intoned Robson “the perversion of the game the rest of the country sees is a glossy heresy – a mere extension of television show business which rests not on skill or muscle, but the jokey mateyness of ‘up ‘n’ unders’ and ‘early baths’.”
Quite. Yet it remains worth watching for anyone interested in the social history of rugby league, particularly with regards to following the scouting exploits of Cup final heroes Andy Key and Ike Southward, or scrum-half Arnold ‘Boxer’ Walker in his day-job at the Windscale nuclear power plant.
That era did proved some brief highlights for Town, beating Wigan to win the 1977 Lancashire Cup and finishing runners-up on three other occasions, but there was little else to celebrate.
Walker has the unique distinction of being revered by fans of both Workington and bitter rivals Whitehaven, who joined the Championship three years after Town but struggled to match their early success.
The Marras did enjoy a spell in the top division in the 1980s, but the past 25 years have seen them survive two periods of financial uncertainty.
Fortunately, they were able to overcome the problems in 1992 and then again eight years later, when a merger with Workington was avoided after seeming like the only option for survival.
These days, both Workington and Whitehaven find themselves in the Kingston Press Championship, with Barrow Raiders being the third Cumbrian representatives in the professional ranks in League One.

Barrow Lancashire Cup

Barrow hold aloft the Lancashire Cup in 1983

Since the town came under the auspices of Cumbria, Barrow have won the 1983 Lancashire Cup and in 2009 triumphed in the Championship Grand Final with a 26-18 win over Halifax.
However, the franchise license system Super League was operating at the time meant they were not eligible for promotion to the highest level and the departure of head coach Steve McCormack was followed by a disastrous period.
Great Britain legend Garry Schofield was fired after five games in charge, with replacement Nigel Wright being sacked before the end of the season and the club then having all of their points deducted from the 2011 campaign after being found guilty of salary cap breaches.
While professional rugby league in Cumbria has traditionally been played in these costal enclaves, there have been periods when a team representing Carlisle has been involved too.
Carlisle City, based at Harraby Greyhound Stadium, lasted just 10 games of the 1928-29 season having won one, lost nine, scored just 59 points and conceded 166, with the pro game not returning to the city until 1981.
Originally founded by football team Carlisle United and playing at their Brunton Park ground, the club gained promotion in their first season with attendances averaging 2,950.
It would not last though. Attendances plummeted as Carlisle struggled in the Championship, finishing bottom with just two points and eventually moving to Gillford Park in 1988 after not being able to afford the rent at Brunton Park.
The team merged Barrow to form Barrow Border Raiders in 1997, with any reference to the former Carlisle outfit being lost when the ‘Border’ was dropped from the club’s name in 2002.
All four of the county’s clubs had originally been set to merge to form a Cumbria team based in Workington when Super League was formed, and there is an argument to say those pooled resources could have led to an established top flight presence in the area.
However, doing so would have stripped Cumbrian rugby league of much of its unique character, while the 7,000-plus crowds at the two World Cup games staged at Derwent Park in 2013 show the support there is for the sport in the area.
The Cumbria Regional Academy ensures there is still a pathway into the professional game for players from the county, although even this is managed by Super League side Widnes Vikings.
Maybe one day though, one of the current clubs will find their way back to the highest level to give a greater profile to an area with a rich heritage in the sport.

The life and times of Mick Sullivan

Mick Sullivan

Mick Sullivan (right) starred for club and country (Picture: The RFL)

IT WAS perhaps appropriate that Mick Sullivan was named as one of the players to be enshrined in rugby league’s Hall of Fame in the same year as fellow Great Britain record cap holder Garry Schofield.
Unlike, say, American football or baseball, whose Halls are huge shrines to their sports in Canton and Cooperstown respectively, rugby league’s pantheon of – at present – 25 all-time greats currently has no permanent home.
Instead, they are enshrined in a corner of the internet on The RFL’s website under the ‘History and Heritage’ section, with brief biographies accompanying each member’s entry.
Perhaps this is a metaphor for how rugby league views itself as a sport, or maybe it is more akin to the quiet dignity the folk heroes of a staunchly and proudly working class game – such as Sullivan, who died earlier this week aged 82 – carry themselves with.
Although playing in different eras, Sullivan and Schofield both racked up 46 caps for the national team – an achievement which is unlikely to be matched ever again, particularly with the Lions having been split into the constituent nations in 2008.
Sullivan actually managed to reach the milestone in nine years, compared to 11 for Schofield, although that is not the only similarity between the two.
Both proved prolific try-scorers on the international stage, but it was winger Sullivan who truly led the way in the latter by setting another Great Britain record of crossing the line 41 times in the white, blue and red shirt.
The Pudsey-born Sullivan showed his sporting talents from an early age, excelling in sprinting, swimming and water polo. But it was on the rugby field where he would make his name after signing for Huddersfield from amateur side Shaw Cross in 1952.
His bow for Great Britain came two years later against Australia in the inaugural World Cup, and he helped the side captained by Dave Valentine go on to ultimately lift the trophy.
Sullivan would play his part in helping Great Britain triumph in the 1960 tournament as well, scoring a try in a bruising 10-3 victory over Australia at Odsal in the deciding match of the competition, becoming the only player from these shores to date to win the World Cup twice.
He remained a mainstay of the Lions side until 1963 and helped them to four Ashes series triumphs, including playing and scoring in the storied second Test victory in Brisbane in 1958 where Alan Prescott played for 77 minutes with a broken arm.
And when the British players were pelted with missiles by the Australian fans in the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sullivan is said to have faced up to it by picking up an orange which had been thrown from the crowd and eating it.
At club level, Sullivan twice commanded what, at the time, was a world record transfer fee – first when signing for Wigan from Huddersfield in 1957 for £9,500 and then again when he joined St Helens for £11,000 four years later.
His feat of scoring a total of 342 club tries in his career – which later took in spells with Dewsbury and York is even more impressive given he played in the era of unlimited tackles, where goal-kicking was much more prevalent than in the modern game.
It was a time when the game was arguably a lot more brutal too, although Sullivan was regarded as much as a tenacious defender during his career as for his attacking skill – traits which no doubt served him well in his post-playing occupation as a warder at Wakefield Prison.
Indeed, he was subject of a sine die ban from The RFL on two occasions and Tony Collins’ book Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain recounts how Sullivan’s serialised life story in the Sunday People newspaper featured “lurid descriptions of stiff-arm tackling taking centre stage.”
Nevertheless, such trivialities should not detract from a stellar career and of all the tributes paid to him, perhaps the most heartfelt came from current Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan
“I remember Mick Sullivan signing for Wigan,” recalled Lenagan. “I was at school in St Helens, I remember being at Shaw Street Station when I heard the news he had signed, and I was delighted.
“He was a terrific player – tough, uncompromising. I don’t know why Wigan ever let him go.
“It’s a great shame to hear he’s passed away.”
Perhaps the final word, though, should go to fellow Great Britain cap record holder Schofield, who posted a succinct tribute to the great man on his Twitter account.