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…


Rugby league pursues its own American Dream

ANY talk of a Rugby League World Cup being played in the USA would normally elicit a response of a sarcastic “oh really?” followed by the rolling of eyes.
But when the New York Times, no less, features an article on that very subject, then maybe the idea is not as fanciful as it might first seem.
The Newspaper of Record carried such a piece on Tuesday, featuring an interview with Australian sports promoter Jason Moore, who has submitted a bid with the RLIF to host the 2021 World Cup on American soil.
His plan would see the six-week tournament played at eight to ten National Football League or Major League Soccer stadiums and goes up against the bid tabled by The RFL for the World Cup to come back to England recently.
Moore is not just some chancer trying his luck. After all, it was his company, Moore Sports International, which was involved in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers playing two regular-season Major League Baseball games at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
And he spoke with great enthusiasm about the potential for crossover appeal with fans of the NFL, citing the similarities the two sports share and how the “gladiatorial” aspects of rugby league should find favour with the American sporting public.
Cracking the potentially lucrative market across the Atlantic is something many sports have long dreamed of and although football has made some inroads through MLS, the landscape is still overwhelmingly dominated by the big four of the NFL, MLB, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
It is worth remembering rugby league has been here before as well, from aborted attempts by Californian rugby union officials to switch codes just prior to the outbreak of World War II, Mike Dimitro’s American All-Stars and former NFL player Michael Mayer’s stalled efforts to launch a domestic competition in the late 1970s.
And who can forget the Great American Challenge exhibition match between Wigan and Warrington in Milwaukee in 1989, where both sets of players simply set about settling old scores and referee John Holdsworth seemed determined to make himself the centre of attention?

Nevertheless, the progress rugby league has made in the USA since the turn of the century should not be overlooked.
It is perhaps easy to forget how the national team defied the cynics at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, finishing top of Group D by beating more established rugby-playing nations Wales and the Cook Islands, before bowing out to eventual champions Australia in the quarter-finals.
The domestic competition continues to thrive as well, particularly now the sport in America has been re-united under one governing body, and work has been done in growing youth participation.
The challenge, of course, will be convincing the American public to come out and fill the stadiums. After all, some of those cavernous NFL stadiums – and even MLS grounds – will look awfully empty if the marketing is not right.
And then there are the financial risks, with the 2000 Rugby League World Cup serving as a constant reminder of the damage that can be done to the international game by running before learning to walk.
Moore will undoubtedly be aware of all of this though and his bid should not be dismissed as fanciful dreaming.
Besides, rugby league has always been a sport for pushing the boundaries in the face of external criticism and being downtrodden by outsiders. Hosting a World Cup in America may just be a situation where the potential rewards far outweigh any risks.

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

Rick Stone

Rick Stone is Huddersfield Giants’ new head coach

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

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

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

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

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

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England Rugby League World Cup bid showcases RLIF’s ambitions

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

The Armchair Pundit: Wayne Bennett’s flying visit leaves questions unanswered


Wayne Bennett takes in a Super League game (Picture: The RFL)

THERE are few people in rugby league who carry an aura of mystique around with them in the way Wayne Bennett does.
Last week’s flying visit to England was a case in point, where the England head coach availed himself of the opportunity to do some scouting in Super League and hold a national team get-together with his club side, the NRL’s Brisbane Broncos, on a bye week.
In what was described, tellingly, as a “low key visit” by an official RFL press release, Bennett took in three games, visited several facilities to be used during this year’s Four Nations and gathered 31 players together for a meeting.
And then, just like that, he was gone. No interviews, no public appearances aside from being spotted in the stands at Huddersfield, Widnes and Warrington, and no word on what insights the 66-year-old may have gleaned from his trip.
The decision not to make Bennett available for interview during the week naturally irked one or two rugby league journalists, as well as drawing criticism from former England PR man Danny Reuben on Twitter, who saw it as a missed opportunity to promote the international game.


Then again, can you imagine what would have happened when some poor junior lackey in The RFL’s media department was sent to ask Bennett whether he would possibly consider putting himself up in front of the media?
It is probably not too far wide of the mark to speculate the response consisted of two words – and the second word was “off”.
In his homeland, Bennett is considered somewhat hostile towards the media and while that reputation is somewhat unfair, he admits he does not enjoy speaking with them in his book, ‘Don’t Die With The Music In You’ (well worth a read if you can track down a copy).
Not that you would have known it from his charm offensive when he was appointed England head coach earlier this year, where he drew much praise for how accommodating and forthcoming he was.
“I’m not that naïve not to know that the game needs the media’s support and involvement, even if I can take or leave them,” wrote Bennett, who is naturally wary around new people.
“I also realise that media people have a job to do and most of them will give you up to do their job. Which is fine.
“But the nasty side of me comes out when I see unfairness to the game and its players, and I wonder, if you put the microscope on their own ethics and work environment, do you think we’d find any fault there? Honestly?”
Bennett did not need to give any interviews for what he would no doubt perceive as unfairness to come out regarding the 31 players he held his get-together with, mostly from some fans who felt certain players from their teams were being overlooked.
Hull FC fans were questioning why full-back Jamie Shaul was not included, while Castleford Tigers fans were wondering the same about second row Mike McMeeken. And that is not to mention those alleging bias due to the number of Wigan Warriors and St Helens players included.
But then again, the group included all of the England-based players who were involved in last year’s Test series win over New Zealand, so would it not make perfect sense that Bennett would want to meet up with those and speak to them about his intentions and expectations?
The fact injured Leeds Rhinos lock Stevie Ward, who has yet to play this season, is perhaps an indicator that Bennett is looking beyond the Four Nations and towards next year’s Rugby League Would Cup.
The same could be said for uncapped St Helens quartet Alex Walmsley, Mark Percival, Joe Greenwood and Kyle Amor – although the latter of those raised a few eyebrows.
Given he is 29, Amor can hardly be considered “one for the future”. Yet the former Ireland international prop is now eligible – thanks to the RLIF’s arcane rules – to represent the country of his birth and seemingly has an admirer in Bennett.
It is also important to remember nothing is set in stone as far as squad selection is concerned for the Four Nations. Whatever Bennett has planned, he will let everyone know when he feels it appropriate.

Thursday night attendance watch: The 6,219 who turned up to the Select Security Stadium for Widnes Vikings’ home game with Wigan Warriors was 3,067 down on the corresponding fixture from last year.
That was played on a Thursday night as well, although perhaps a mitigating factor in the drop-off was that the 2015 encounter between the two was the opening fixture of the season.
Not that those who decided to stay at home missed much, with another low-scoring game seeing Wigan edge to a 7-0 win thanks to Josh Charnley’s converted try and a drop goal from Matty Smith.
That was Smith’s seventh drop goal of the season, which is the highest number by an individual player since Lee Briers kicked the same number 10 years ago, and the Wigan man seems on course to beat that tally.

Brough puts the boot in: Also kicking a drop goal to secure a victory was Danny Brough, although in a somewhat more pulsating contest than the one at Widnes the night before.
What was interesting about half-back Brough’s score was that it put Huddersfield Giants 31-18 up against Salford Red Devils and proved more crucial than he perhaps would have realised at the time, with the hosts mounting a fightback and falling short by just that single point.
The match was played not only in the wake of the death of Huddersfield youngster Ronan Costello, but also on the back of head coach Paul Anderson being sacked after a dismal season for the club.
Salford are not quite condemned to another year in the Qualifiers yet, but of bigger concern to the club and owner Marwan Koukash must be the fact only 1,958 supporters showed up to the AJ Bell Stadium.
And while Leeds Rhinos are still propping up the table, they at least gave their fans something to cheer about after recording a back-to-back wins thanks to a 32-6 triumph over seemingly play-off bound Wakefield Trinity.
There is some sort of bizarre parallel universe where the defending champions recording such a result is not considered a shock, although the bigger picture is that Leeds now face Widnes, who occupy the final Super 8s place and are six points ahead with four games to play.

Thirty-three year of hurt: You have to go back to 1983 for the last time Hull FC were crowned league champions, yet in those days it was simply a race to finish top of the table.
Lee Radford’s team are, at least, odds-on to claim the League Leaders’ Shield after they edged out Castleford Tigers 24-22 at a packed Mend-A-Hose Jungle on Sunday afternoon, but the bookies still rate them at 3/1 behind Wigan and Warrington to win the Grand Final.
The Wolves managed to edge out fellow title hopefuls Catalans Dragons 20-18 to keep up their hopes of finishing first, while St Helens gave head coach Keiron Cunningham some respite by beating Hull Kingston Rovers 48-16.

Championship round-up: Three games in eight days did not seem to harm Bradford Bulls too much as they moved up to third in the Kingston Press Championship to boost their hopes of a return to Super League.
A 48-4 victory at relegation-threatened Oldham Roughyeds was followed by a 17-16 win at home to Batley Bulldogs, with Kurt Haggerty kicking a late drop goal to seal the win for Bradford.
Batley still remain in the hunt for the Qualifiers and are now level on points with Halifax, who downed Dewsbury Rams 24-8 to go fourth on points difference.
Convincing wins for Leigh Centurions – 54-12 over Workington Town – and London Broncos – 56-16 over Oldham – saw them continue to lead the way in first and second though.

League One round-up: Normal service was resumed for Toulouse Olympique as they put fellow promotion hopefuls Keighley Cougars to the sword 84-6 in France last Saturday.
York City Knights and Barrow Raiders both racked up a half-century of points in their wins over Oxford and Hemel Stags respectively, but the game of the round in Kingston Press League One was arguably in Newcastle.
Rochdale Hornets came off a bye-week to take a 38-30 win over Newcastle Thunder to revitalise their quest for promotion, having trailed 24-22 with 15 minutes remaining.

Amateur score of the week: Birstall Victoria 34 Sheffield Hillborough Hawks 6, Yorkshire Mens League, Division Four. Inspired by the returning Jonni Parrish, Birstall secured a comfortable win to close to within a point of second-placed Sheffield.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, Birstall’s former players include Batley’s chairman, Kevin Nicholas, and groundsman, Jim Morley.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough Hawks can trace their ancestry back to the Junior Eagles team which was formed in 1989 to develop the sport below the level of Sheffield’s professional side.

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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 – Hull’s Wembley curse and other Challenge Cup myths

Challenge Cup

AS THEY cruised to a 47-18 win over St Helens at a blazing hot Langtree Park on Sunday afternoon, there was plenty of talk over whether or not 2016 could finally be the year when Hull FC end their dismal record in Challenge Cup finals at Wembley.
In case you were not aware – and, quite frankly, how could you not be given as it gets trotted out ad naseam every bloody year? – the Black and Whites have never lifted the trophy at the famous London venue.
The closest they have come to doing so was in 1982 when they drew 14-14 with Widnes, eventually winning the midweek replay at Elland Road, while their 2005 triumph over Leeds Rhinos came at Cardiff Millennium Stadium when Wembley was being redeveloped.
Otherwise, it is pretty grim reading for Hull fans. The finals of 1959, 1960, 1980, 1983, 1985, 2008 and 2013 have all seen them fall short underneath the Twin Towers or, as it is now, the Arch.
Small wonder then there is always plenty of talk about some sort of ‘curse’ or ‘jinx’ preventing them from gaining any success at Wembley. Indeed, the BBC ran a whole article on the so-called curse ahead of their final against Wigan Warriors three years ago.
Frankly, this is absolute bunkum. In fact, it is not just finals at Wembley where Hull have an awful record, it is the Challenge Cup final in general.
By the time Hull first lifted the famous trophy in 1914, beating Wakefield Trinity 6-0 at Fartown, they had already been in three other finals and lost all of them.
It should perhaps come as no surprise they were beaten in 1908, 1909 and 1910, with the team being very much mired in mid-table obscurity and facing the all-conquering Hunslet, and higher-placed Wakefield and Leeds in consecutive seasons.
Hull went into the finals of 1922 and 1923 having finished third and first in the league standings, but were then victims to good old fashioned cup upsets at the hands of Rochdale Hornets and Leeds.
It was then not until 1959 until the Black and Whites reached the final, which by then had been a regular fixture at Wembley for 30 years.
And while Hull had established themselves as one of the leading sides of the era in the Rugby Football League, so had opponents Wigan and Wakefield.
The derby clash with Hull Kingston Rovers in 1980 and the defeat to a Featherstone Rovers side which narrowly avoided relegation three years later were both shocks, although that was not the case in their most recent defeats to St Helens and Wigan.
It all leaves an all-time Challenge Cup final record of played 15, won three for Hull – no matter which venue the showpiece game seems to be played at.
Not only did the win which put Lee Radford’s side through to the quarter-finals and have their fans dreaming of a first Cup triumph for 11 years, it also put an end to all talk about this year being St Helens’ year due to the year ending in the number six.
This seemed to start gaining traction on the back of another BBC website article which was published in the build-up to last weekend’s games, chronicling Saints’ victories in 1956, 1966, 1976, 1996 and 2006.
Which is great – apart from the fact it overlooks their wins in 1961, 1972, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008. Oh, and their loss to Halifax in…that’s right, 1986.
And in an even more ironic twist, Sunday’s defeat was the first time Hull had won a Challenge Cup tie at St Helens since 1926.
It is easy to debunk these myths, although it should also be remembered they all add to the history and allure of rugby league’s most prestigious knockout competition.
So if anyone wants to dig up some statistical quirks related to why Castleford Tigers, Widnes Vikings, Warrington Wolves, Huddersfield Giants or Catalans Dragons are or are not going to win the Challenge Cup this year, then feel free to put them out there.

Video killed the rugby league star: It was a shame that a thrilling cup tie between Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils which, on the whole, showcased everything that makes rugby league such a wonderful sport to a national audience on BBC One ended up being overshadowed by a decision from the officials. The incident in question came early in the second half when video referee Richard Silverwood adjudicated Denny Solomona had scored a try to put hosts Castleford in control of the match, although later replays showed he had not grounded the ball. The blame for this should not be laid at the feet of Mr Silverwood, nor indeed on-field referee James Child, as they were both just following the protocol laid out in both the Laws of the Game and for adjudicating replays. Assuming Mr Child was not in a position to see whether the ball had been grounded or not and had no reason to think otherwise, he was correct to rule the on-field call as a try. Indeed, the Laws clearly state: “The Referee should not disallow a try because he was not in a position to see the grounding of the ball.” So the onus is then on the video referee to find definitive proof the ball was not grounded, which was not forthcoming on the original angles shown. However, the BBC later showed a magnified replay in which Solomona clearly lost control of the ball and proved the try should not have been awarded. All of which begs the question as to why that facility was not available to Mr Silverwood when he was called upon to make a judgement in the first place? These sort of incidents have come up in cricket as well with the controversial Decision Review System, so it is perhaps more down to the processes being flawed rather than the officials. It is probably worth pointing out Castleford have what would undoubtedly have been a perfectly good try earlier in the game when Mr Childs pulled play back for a scrum to Salford due to blowing up for a knock-on on the advice of his touch judge when it appeared there had not been one. What is it they say about decisions evening themselves out?


International rugby league comes to the fore: Although the ANZAC test between Australia and New Zealand proved something of a scrappy encounter, with the Kangaroos winning 16-0, there was much to celebrate about the international game over the weekend. For starters, a record crowd of 15,225 were at Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium for the Pacific Islands grudge match between Samoa and Tonga, with the Samoans triumphing 18-6 in a bruising and high-tempo showdown. Then there was the thriller between Papua New Guinea and Fiji at the same venue, with the former holding out for a 24-22 victory. Over at the Belmore Sports Ground, the Cook Islands defeated World Cup qualifiers Lebanon 30-20. Despite all the recent negative headlines, it is heartening to see such diverse competition at international level.

Championship round-up: Due to the Challenge Cup sixth round, only one match took place in the Kingston Press Championship over the weekend, with Featherstone Rovers seeing off Whitehaven 44-22.
There was plenty to discuss off the field though, with reporting maverick half-back Rangi Chase had left Leigh Centurions after just five appearances.
No confirmation has, as yet, been forthcoming from the club, although they did tweet only to say he “is still a contracted player at the club”.
There will be no Championship representative in the quarter-finals of this year’s Challenge Cup after Dewsbury Rams and Oldham suffered heavy losses to Wigan and Warrington respectively. Halifax came closest to causing an upset though, having been level at 18-18 with Widnes before the Chemics edged it 28-18.

Bears break new ground: Ahead of the Four Nations double-header at the Ricoh Arena later in the year, Coventry Bears headed to the city’s largest sporting venue for their Kingston Press League One clash with Keighley Cougars.
More usually a venue for football and rugby union, particularly since Aviva Premiership side Wasps relocated to the West Midlands city last year, the Bears managed to attract 1,097 spectators to the game.
Unfortunately for the hosts, it was the Cougars who ran out 36-16 victors. Hopefully some of the locals will have liked what they saw though and return for the internationals when England face Scotland and Australia take on New Zealand in November.

Amateur score of the week: St Ives Roosters 42 St Albans Centurions 40, East Rugby League Premier Division. The first round of matches pitched two of the stronger teams in the East League against each other and did not disappoint, with St Ives snatched victory thanks to a late converted try.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email 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.


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.

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.

The Armchair Pundit – RLEF’s Greece plans in ruins


Greece won European Championship C in 2014

AMONG the problems Greece has faced in recent years, the issues affecting rugby league in the country are somewhat comparatively trivial.
But as far as the sport itself is concerned, these are troubled times following the suspension of the Hellenic Federation of Rugby League’s suspension by the Rugby League Europe Federation last Friday.
The problems began just over a year ago when the RLEF began investigating following the HFRL’s submission of its annual membership audit.
Participants then lodged a formal complaint against the Greek governing body in July, followed by Malta doing the same in October when the Greeks forfeited their scheduled European Championship C match.
A fact-finding mission to Athens by Rugby League International Federation CEO David Collier and the RLEF’s Jovan Vujosevic this February then led to the conclusion the HFRL had been misleading the European governing body over its financial management, leading to the Greeks being hit with an indefinite suspension for “wilfully acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the RLEF and international rugby league.”
It is a shame it has come to this, particularly as Greece were one of those non-traditional rugby-playing nations which took up the 13-man code in the early years of the last decade.
Formed along similar lines of the Lebanese team which made its bow in the 2000 World Cup, being made up of Australian players of Greek ancestry, the national team has been playing games for near-on 12 years.
Although it took time to get a domestic competition off the ground, Greece have been ever-present on the international stage, culminating in them winning European Championship C two years ago.
The RLEF were at pains to point out this is merely a suspension rather than expulsion from the organisation, along with confirming their intent to get the HFRL back to being a fully-functioning regulatory body.
“We have concluded the first phase of the process to rehabilitate Greek rugby league,” said RLEF general manager Danny Kazandjian.
“In collaboration with every member of the Greek rugby league community with a genuine interest in the game’s health, the RLEF will implement structures and administrative practices that will ensure that Greek citizens can participate in a well organised sport run on an ethical and inclusive basis.”
There was some positive news for the RLEF this week though, with Burundi becoming the sixth African nation to join the organisation after being granted observer status.
Now to hope the situation in Greece can be rectified to allow them to return to the international arena.

Thursday night attendance watch: Hull Kingston Rovers’ home Super League game with Catalans Dragons actually saw an increase in the 6,723 who turned up to watch the Sunday afternoon game between the two in 2015 – albeit it by only 41 extra paying spectators.
Whether that was due to some more Hull natives deciding to take a trip down to the KC Lightstream Stadium – Craven Park, as your dad still calls it – or a handful extra making the trip over from Perpignan is anyone’s guess, although the latter would have definitely been glad they made the trip.
The Catalans are now up to second in the Super League standings following their 40-0 win over Rovers, which was also their fourth away win of the season.
Admittedly, three of their triumphs on the road have been against teams in the bottom four – Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Huddersfield Giant and the red-and-white half of Hull – while the other top four sides in Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors and Hull FC have all defeated Laurent Frayssinous’ men.
Nevertheless, it is already an improvement on 2015 when the French outfit could only muster a solitary away win in the regular season, despite winning eight of their 11 home games and drawing the nominal ‘home’ game against the Giants on Magic Weekend in Newcastle.

You’ll never win anything with kids: Publicly at least, Shane Wane was not overly-concerned by Wigan shipping 62 points and failing to register a solitary score as they slumped to one of their worst-ever Super League defeats away to Wakefield on Sunday.
It would probably be easier to list the players the Warriors DID have available for this game, with injury, illness and suspensions leaving head coach Wane without 10 of his squad and fielding an inexperienced side.
So it was that Jack Higginson and Nick Gregson made only their second starts at this level in the centres and at stand-off respectively, while Joe Brotherton and Jack Wells made their bows from the interchange bench.
It is all too easy to blame Wigan’s loss on these factors, although that would be doing a huge disservice to Wakefield and their players following a fourth win in a row.
Jacob Miller’s hat-trick was allied with some excellent distribution and pulling the strings in the halves, while hooker Scott Moore was always a danger from dummy-half, and the attacking lines and support play from the Wildcats ran Wigan’s defence ragged.
Elsewhere, the misery continued for Huddersfield and Leeds – the former going down 37-20 to Hull and the latter being edged out 14-10 to Salford Red Devils.
Hull full-back Jamie Shaul grabbed two tries for them in their win and not only has the fifth-highest number of tackle busts with 42, but also ranks third in average metres gained with 10.71.

Consistently inconsistent: Having won six of their first seven games and drawn lazy comparisons with football’s surprise Premier League champions-elect Leicester City, Widnes Vikings have now lost four in a row following their see-saw clash with Castleford Tigers.
Although this is probably a case of their results simply regressing towards the mean, the manner of the 34-24 loss to Castleford in blowing an 18-point lead will have undoubtedly been concerning to head coach Denis Betts.
The game was perhaps the Tigers’ season in microcosm, with them unable to find any level of consistency from week to week.
The same, too, can be said for St Helens, who handed leaders Warrington only their second defeat by winning a thriller 25-22 in front of a near-on full house at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

London calling: The Armchair Pundit contends that the real success story of the rugby league season so far has not been Widnes’ early form, but that of the London Broncos.
Andrew Henderson’s side now have to been considered genuine contenders for a place in the Qualifiers after seeing off Batley Bulldogs – the part-timers also making an impressive start to the 2016 campaign – 32-8 at home in the last round.
Only fellow high-fliers Leigh Centurions and Bradford Bulls have managed to overcome the Broncos so far this season, with the former being by just four points and the latter being by eight. Not bad for a team which finished seventh in 2015.
But although they unveiled a special edition kit for the Summer Bash which will undoubtedly go down as one of mankind’s most awful crimes against team uniforms – The Armchair Pundit finds the shorts particularly offensive – the Centurions showed they are not to be messed with on the field as they trounced struggling Whitehaven 60-6.
Bradford may well have silenced a few of the doubters with a resounding return to form by winning 52-18 away to a Dewsbury Rams side they recently lost to in the Challenge Cup.

Knights on the charge: Quicky, without looking – which team have the best defensive record after Toulouse Olympique in Kingston Press Championship One?
If you answered York City Knights, then congratulations! You may now pass ‘Go’ and collect £200 (Disclaimer: Prize will not be honoured by The Armchair Pundit).
The City Knights may only be fifth in the standings at present, but have won all three of their league matches and conceded just 34 points in the process, with their latest match seeing them run out 60-6 winners away to Hemel Stags.
Just so as not to leave anyone in doubt as to their defensive prowess, York also tweeted a video of some of their biggest hits and tackles so far this season during the game.
The question is how will they cope with the seemingly-unstoppable Toulouse when they play them? The French outfit, who also have three wins from three games, underlined their status as promotion favourites by trouncing South Wales Scorpions 64-0.
It is Rochdale Hornets who continue to lead the way though, seeing off Gloucestershire All Golds 38-16 to make it four games in a row unbeaten in the league.

Amateur score of the week: Boothtown Terriers 48 Bradford Victoria Rangers 20, Pennine League Division One. The victory saw Boothtown go two points clear at the top of the table, although second-placed Lindley Swifts still have a game in hand.
Founded in 1986 as an Army team playing inter-company rugby and friendlies with other Halifax teams, the team eventually settled in Boothtown in 1996 and this year marks their 30th anniversary.

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