The Armchair Pundit: Poachers turned gamekeepers

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Chris Campbell has been added to the full-time list (Picture: The RFL)

THESE are interesting times in RFL Match Official Land, particularly given how the men in the middle have found themselves in the spotlight in the past week.
Perhaps most disconcerting was the respective suspensions of referees Richard Silverwood and Sam Ansell, with no reasons given except for the governing body stating it was as the result of both being under unspecified investigations.
This is the third time Silverwood, Super League’s longest-serving referee, has been suspended, while Ansell was only added to the list of full-time match officials back in January.
There has been much speculation as to whether or not Silverwood will ever been seen again, although his former refereeing colleague and current RFL match officials director Steve Ganson has been giving plenty of opportunities to up-and-coming whistlers in recent weeks.
One of those is Chris Campbell, who was added to the panel of full-time match officials last week.
Campbell is an interesting case not only because he is the son of former top flight official and 1994 Challenge Cup final referee Dave Campbell, but also because he has played at the highest level as well.
The 35-year-old played 12 Super League games for Warrington Wolves, going on to have a long career in the part-time ranks with Whitehaven, Rochdale Hornets, Blackpool Panthers and Oldham before retiring in 2011.
After a brief dalliance with coaching, he took up the whistle with encouragement from father Dave and last month was taking charge of a Super League game for the first time as his former team Warrington took on Wakefield Trinity at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium – or Belle Vue, as your dad still calls it.
Campbell is a rarity in the modern era as someone who has made the transition from playing in the professional game to refereeing it, although Jamie Bloem is another who did likewise.
Refereeing is perhaps not considered a viable post-playing career option for the vast majority – not least because of the fact the chances of making it onto the full-time list are slim.
Yet Campbell has shown it can be achieved in relatively short space of time and hopefully more can be encouraged to follow in his footsteps.
Refereeing and playing are, of course, two entirely separate skills. However, having a background such as Campbell’s can only benefit him in his officiating, as well as allowing the other referees to glean some insights from him.
It was a pity, therefore, that the Widnes-based official found himself under the spotlight in Wigan Warriors’ 26-6 win over Castleford Tigers in Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final, which was broadcast live on the BBC.
It was his call to say Dom Manfredi had grounded the ball for a second-half try even though he appeared to miss it, with video referee Robert Hicks unable to find enough evidence to overturn the on-field decision.
Fortunately, the decision had little bearing on the match as Wigan ran out comfortable victors, having led 22-0 at half time and never really looking like being caught.
Hopefully then, it will praise rather than criticism Campbell is attracting for his displays in the future. Then again, conventional wisdom does say the best referee is the one you never notice.

Thursday night attendance watch: Given that Challenge Cup ties generally attract lower crowds than Super League games these days, it is difficult to draw any direct comparisons between such matches.
However, the fact only 3,289 turned up to the John Smiths Stadium for the first of last week’s quarter-finals between Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats must have caused some concern for both the host club and The RFL.
This can perhaps be explained by the fact the Giants have endured a season of struggle in the league, while the game was also being televised live by Sky Sports in the unpopular Thursday night slot.
Nevertheless, that does not disguise the fact it was more than 1,000 lower than the previous lowest attendance at Huddersfield this season of 4,885 in the Super League fixture against Salford Red Devils.
At least those Wakefield fans who made the trip had something to cheer about, with the visitors winning 28-16 to book a first Challenge Cup semi-final appearance for eight years and keep coach Chris Chester on course for back-to-back Wembley finals.

Bennett gets his revolution underway: He may have shunned the spotlight during his flying visit to these shores recently, but Wayne Bennett has certainly been keeping himself busy in the build-up to England’s Four Nations campaign.
The 66-year-old Australian has already floated the idea of reviving a mid-season Test match for the national team in 2017 to aid the side’s preparation for next year’s World Cup.
Quite who that would be against or where it would fit in to an already overloaded domestic calendar remains to be decided, while Bennett’s demands of having players released for a two-week training camp prior to the global gathering may not go down well with the clubs either.
One intriguing decision by England’s new head coach was opting not to use the FA’s St George’s Park as a training base in the build-up to this year’s Four Nations, with the national team having done so ahead of last year’s series win over New Zealand.
If reports are to be believed, Bennett is turning to the NRL to strengthen the team too, with Newcastle Knights half-back Trent Hodkinson and Canterbury Bulldogs twins Josh and Brett Morris being considered for call-ups.
The trio qualify through either parents or grandparents, although such incidents make a further mockery of the international games eligibility rules – particularly as Brett Morris already has 18 caps for Australia.

Friday night lights: The BBC have, at times, been criticised for how they present rugby league to a wider audience, but last Friday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final was a perfect example of how well the Corporation can do it when they get things right.
Excellently helmed by Mark Chapman, with some fantastic insights from the panel of Brian Noble, Jon Wilkin and Jamie Peacock, plus superb commentary from Dave Woods, John Kear and even Jonathan Davies, it could hardly have been a better advert for the sport.
No doubt that was helped by the thrilling spectacle served up by Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings, with the Kurt Gidley-inspired hosts snatching a 20-18 win over their Cheshire rivals to seal their place in the semi-finals.
Elsewhere, Hull FC are still in with a chance of ending their so-called ‘Wembley curse’ after trouncing the Catalans Dragons 22-8. But although they lead the way in Super League, the bookies still only make them third favourites to lift the Cup.

Championship round-up: Arguably the game of the weekend in any of the competitions was the first-versus-second showdown in the Kingston Press Championship, with London Broncos hosting Leigh Centurions.
However, leaders Leigh won a somewhat one-sided contest, having stormed into a 28-point lead at the interval and eventually running out 38-12 victors to move five points clear of the chasing pack.
Batley Bulldogs moved back into the top four thanks to an 18-16 victory over Dewsbury Rams in the Heavy Woollen Derby to keep alive their hopes of making the Qualifiers against the odds.
Their cause was advanced by Halifax beating Bradford Bulls 32-24 as well, leaving Bulls head coach Rohan Smith to rue his side’s failure to build on taking an early lead and their growing list of injuries.

League One round-up: Toulouse Olympique might keep winning, this time seeing off North Wales Crusaders 32-14 on the road, but Rochdale Hornets and York City Knights are ensuring the fight for top spot goes to the wire.
The Hornets blew away strugglers Hemel Stags 60-6, while York trounced Gloucestershire All Golds 56-12. Doncaster, too, will still fancy their chances after staying in touch with a 30-10 win at London Skolars.

Amateur score of the week: Rutland Rabbitohs 52 Sherwood Wolf Hunt A 34, Midlands Rugby League. England’s smallest county hosted rugby league for the first time, with the recently-formed Rabbitohs emerging victorious.
Wearing an old London Skolars kit and featuring ten rugby league debutants, the Oakham-based outfit overcame the second team of the Wolf Hunt, who hail from Mansfield and were only formed two years ago themselves.

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

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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

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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.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email marcbazeley@googlemail.com, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

Rugby league comes together to pay respects to Ronan Costello

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Ronan Costello (Picture: Huddersfield Giants)

RUGBY league is again in mourning following the death of Huddersfield Giants youngster Ronan Costello on Tuesday.
The sense of loss felt by the sport as a whole can, of course, be nothing compared to what the 17-year-old’s family, friends and team-mates must be going through at this time.
Yet that does not mean the collective sense of grief or heartfelt tributes to Costello across social media are in any way diminished, particularly given the circumstances surrounding the death of a young man with the world still at his feet.
The Giants academy player was airlifted to hospital last Saturday after sustaining what was initially reported by the Huddersfield Examiner as head and neck injuries in a seemingly innocuous tackle in the subsequently-abandoned under-19s game with Salford Red Devils.
Fortunately, such incidents are incredible rare, although the tragedy comes little over a year after Keighley Cougars and Wales forward Danny Jones died during a game from a previously undetected hereditary heart disease.
Jones’ memory lives on thanks in no small part to the incredible work of his widow Lizzie, who successfully campaigned to make cardiac screening mandatory for all Kingston Press Championship and League One clubs.
She is now spearheading the Danny Jones Defibrillator Fund in cooperation with The RFL Benevolent Fund, which will allow amateur clubs across the country to purchase defibrillators.
Costello too will be remembered by Yorkshire Juniors, who decided to rename their under-18 Challenge Cup in his honour in the immediate aftermath of the sad news being announced.
There will be a minute’s applause in his memory at many games this coming weekend too, while Costello’s former amateur club Brighouse Rangers are inviting anyone who wishes to lay flowers to do so around the posts on their main pitch.
A crowdfunding site was also set up to raise money for the Costello family late on Tuesday as well, although the family have since requested all donations instead go to the Defibrillator Fund, while a collection at his funeral will be held to raise money for that, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Headway.
What all of this does is underline the capacity of the rugby league family to come together during difficult times, although there is a sad postscript to take heed of.
For while the chances of incidents which claimed the life of Jones, and indeed former Wakefield Trinity player Leon Walker during a reserve game in 2009, recurring can be minimised as much as is possible through procedures now put in place, there will always be the risk, however relatively minor, of something like this happening again.
The Costello family acknowledged as much in a statement released by Huddersfield, saying it was a “tragic accident” – much like the one which claimed the life of Leeds half-back Chris Sanderson aged just 22 after he was knocked unconscious in a game at Salford in 1977.
Any competitor in any sport at any level knows there is a chance they could get hurt whenever they partake in their chosen discipline though, and accept that because their enjoyment of the sport and competition vastly outweighs that.
Perhaps, then, the most fitting way to remember Costello is as a young man playing the game he loved and living his life to the full.

The Armchair Pundit: Super League’s low-scoring weekend

UNTIL Danny Kirmond went over for what proved to be the only try of the game in Wakefield Trinity’s 10-2 win over Huddersfield Giants, it might have seemed as if the highlights were going to consist of little more than a vine of referee Michael Woodhead blowing his whistle for kick-off and full-time.
Few would have blamed the 5,077 fans who turned up to the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday if they had started streaming out of the ground LA-style at half-time in the Super League encounter, with Liam Finn’s penalty being the only score as Wakefield led 2-0.
Indeed, up to that point the closest either team had come to a try was earlier on in the opening 40 minutes when Wakefield thought they had scored, only for the officials to instead award a goal-line drop-out.
Fortunately, Kirmond’s 68th-minute score against his former club, coming from Finn’s defence-splitting grubber, ensured this would not finish as only the second tryless game in Super League history.
Instead, that dubious honour still belongs to the Salford-Harlequins snoozefest in 2007, which saw the hosts win 5-2 thanks to two penalties from John Wilshere and a drop goal from Luke Robinson.
An interesting sub-plot to this result is that it helped Wakefield take a large step closer to sealing a place in the Super 8s, while at the same time all but condemning Huddersfield to the Qualifiers – and who would have predicted that at the start of the season?
What is even more impressive about Chris Chester’s side’s resurgence is that they have done this despite conceding the second-highest number of points in the competition (479) and scoring the second-fewest number of 369 – with 62 of those coming in the home win over Wigan Warriors alone.
Unsurprisingly, the team who have scored the fewest number of points is Leeds Rhinos en route to seemingly completing the unprecedented transition from first to worst in the space of less than a year.
Brian McDermott’s beleaguered side did at least earn some respite last Friday in the other low-scoring game of round 18, seeing off Salford Red Devils 8-0 thanks to two tries from Liam Sutcliffe.
Curiously, Salford have a history of being involved in low-scoring Super League affairs. Indeed, their first summer-era game in the top flight way back in 1997 saw them beat Castleford Tigers 4-0 as Phil Coussons got the only try.
As an aside, Coussons is now a club ambassador for Salford and after-dinner speaker, so one wonders if he tells that story in any of his speeches.
Then there was the aforementioned win over Harlequins, followed by a 7-0 loss at home to Bradford Bulls two years ago, with former Australian Test forward Steve Menzies getting the only try, Matt Orford kicking a penalty and drop-goal king Paul Sykes booting a one-pointer.
Not that the top-of-the-table clash provided much more in the way of entertainment either, with Hull FC maintaining their lead thanks to a 19-12 victory over Warrington Wolves in an error-riddled encounter.
Perhaps Hull coach Lee Radford summed it up best though, saying: “It was a horrible game, a poor advert for the top of the competition, but we’re sat at the top so I’m not going to complain.”

Thursday night attendance watch: The 4,968 who turned up to the Mend-a-Hose Jungle to watch Widnes Vikings defeat hosts Castleford 38-28 last Thursday was 2,034 down on the corresponding fixture last season, which was played on a Sunday afternoon.
One place where attendances are up is Perpignan, with the high-flying Catalans Dragons averaging 9,665 for games at the Gilbert Brutus Stadium compared to 8,635 last season.
No doubt the upturn has coincided with a season which sees the French side currently sitting second and the 33-16 win over St Helens on Saturday evening will have done much to strengthen their case as being dark horses for the Super League title.
If you are one of those compulsive types who likes to have a bet, you can still get odds of 5/1 on the Dragons to go all the way and win the Grand Final, although it is Wigan who remain heavy favourites with the bookies.
That did not stop Shane Wane’s men being pushed all the way by Hull Kingston Rovers at the KC Lightstream Stadium, with the visitors having to come back from 18-8 down with 15 minutes to play.
The defeat also means James Webster’s KR side have not won back-to-back matches in the league this season.

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Jack Smith ahead of his Super League debut (Picture: @RFLReferees)

Jack Smith makes his mark: The observant rugby league followers out there will have noticed a few new names among the men in the middle in recent months, with The RFL giving several referees from the Kingston Press Championship an opportunity at the highest level.
Generally, the whistle-blowers only make headlines for any controversial decisions they make, but Jack Smith is a little bit different.
The 27-year-old former Royal Marine took charge of his first Super League game two weeks ago, which came just under six years after being shot by the Taliban in Afghanistan and being left with ten broken ribs, and severe damage to his lungs and lower back.
Medically discharged from the Marines after two years of intensive rehabilitation and unable to resume his amateur playing career with Crosfields, Smith took up the whistle in September 2012 and has progressed rapidly.
His first Super League game in the middle was also televised live on Sky Sports and Smith received plenty of praise for his handling of the match. Hopefully he will get another opportunity soon.

Championship round-up: It was not just Super League which was restricted to low-scoring, tightly-fought matches, with Qualifiers hopefuls Halifax coming from behind to draw 12-12 away to Whitehaven.
That was enough to keep them ahead of Bradford Bulls in the race for a top four place, although the Bulls still have a game in hand after their trip to Cumbria saw them defeat Workington Town 29-22.
Despite a wobble after their flying start, part-timers Batley Bulldogs are still in with an excellent chance of being in the promotion shake-up come the split and they further strengthened those claims with a 29-10 triumph at Sheffield Eagles last Friday.
The question is can anyone stop London Broncos and Leigh Centurions? The former ran out 42-16 winners at Swinton Lions, while Leigh were pushed by Featherstone Rovers before winning 14-12.

League One round-up: Although they remained unbeaten and are still stop of the league, the aura of invincibility around Toulouse Olympique seems to be slipping.
The 32-22 win at Newcastle Thunder was the French side’s smallest margin of victory in the league this season and they found themselves behind to the hosts for much of the first half.
A further boost for the Thunder was that the attendance of 902 at Kingston Park was the second-highest crowd across all of the weekend’s Kingston Press Championship and League One matches.
Meanwhile, London Skolars kept up their bid for a place in the League One Super 8s with a 42-34 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Barrow Raiders thanks to a second-half fightback.
The Skolars, who have been around since 1995, were knocked out on the semi-finals when they last reached the play-offs three years ago and it would be an incredible achievement if they were to do so again after only finishing 11th in 2015.

Amateur score of the week: Hindpool Tigers 18 Bamber Bridge 36, North West Men’s League Division One. The efforts of Bamber Bridge’s Swarbrick brothers, Jack and Harry, helped condemn the title hopefuls to defeat.
Formed in 1984 by a group of friends who played in a sevens competition in Wigan, Bamber Bridge have been stallwarts of the North West League, and have played matches against the Dutch development team and Malta Knights.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email marcbazeley@googlemail.com, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

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


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

The Armchair Pundit: Rugby league goes to the races

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Why the long face? (Picture: @CTRLFC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State of Origin revives War of the Roses debate…again

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

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

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

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

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

The Armchair Pundit: Keighley Cougars savour memorable iPro Sport Cup win

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Keighley Cougars claimed the 2016 iPro Sport Cup

IT IS little over two decades since one of the greatest injustices perpetrated by rugby league’s administrators robbed Keighley Cougars of their place among the game’s elite, but last Saturday they at least got to enjoy a moment back in the spotlight.
As many of the 9,521 crowd were slowly filing into Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road for the opening day of this year’s Kingston Press Championship Summer Bash, the Cougars were doing battle with York City Knights for the first silverware of the season.
The iPro Sport Cup might be the lesser-heralded of the professional game’s prizes, yet that should not diminish how much it meant to either of these sides – in particular Keighley, who 20 years ago could have been founder members of Super League had events transpired differently.
As many will no doubt recall, the club had lodged itself firmly in the consciousness of the rugby league community and beyond thanks to what would eventually become known as ‘Cougarmania’.
Not only did they set the template many others have since followed in terms of community engagement and matchday experience, but they also succeeded in raising crowds from an average of 350 in 1989 to over 4,000 regularly packing out their Lawkholme Lane ground in 1994.
The zenith of this period was in 1995 when Keighley – a club whose previous most-notable on-the-field achievement was finishing as Challenge Cup runners-up in 1937 – stormed to the Second Division title and, seemingly, had secured a place among the elite.
But the restructuring ahead of the switch to summer and the formation of Super League dashed those dreams, despite threats of legal action against The RFL and bizarrely offering to move to Burnley and rebrand as the Pennine Cougars.
Six years after that Second Division title triumph, Keighley were being liquidated and have spent much of their time since then bouncing between what are now known as the Championship and League One.
Cup success has proved elusive for them down the years too, with the aforementioned Challenge Cup final – an 18-5 defeat to Widnes – and two Yorkshire Cup runner-up finishes being the closest the Cougars have come to knock-out glory.
Saturday’s opening match of the Summer Bash gave them the opportunity to change that against York – another team long starved of silverware – and those spectators who were there in time to see it were treated to a thriller.
Keighley were ahead 10-6 at the interval, but the City Knights looked to have secured the trophy five minutes from time when James Morland went over to give them a two-point lead.
But from a short kick-off, the Cougars marched straight up the other end and Charlie Martin wrote himself into the club’s history books by grabbing the game-clinching try two minutes from time, with man of the match Paul Handforth kicking the conversion.
The only downside was Sky Sports had elected not to broadcast the game live. Ah well, at least the Cougars and their 300 travelling supporters could enjoy their moment in the sun.
Who knows, there could still be many more to come…

Summer Bash round-up: The RFL were clearly quite pleased with themselves over the success of this year’s annual gathering of Championship clubs in Blackpool, as evidenced by them trumpeting the “record attendance” at Bloomfield Road over the two days.
Given this is only the second year of the Summer Bash, it seems pretty hollow to be trumpeting anything associated with the event as a record, particularly as the aggregate crowd of 15,912 was only 531 up on 2015.
Nevertheless, those who either did go or were watching on Sky Sports were undeniably treated to an exhilarating spectacle of rugby league.
Not only did the iPro Sport Cup final, but the opening day saw Championship leaders Leigh Centurions edge out Bradford Bulls 24-20, Whitehaven edge bitter Cumbrian rivals Workington Town 28-24 and London Broncos show why they are still one of the teams to beat with a 32-14 triumph over Sheffield Eagles.
The only real blow-out of the weekend was Halifax’s 37-0 trouncing of Featherstone Rovers, but the second day’s other games saw Batley Bulldogs emerge 28-24 victors in the Heavy Woollen Derby clash with Dewbury Rams and Dominic Brambani snatch a 25-24 win for Swinton Lions over Oldham Roughyeds.

Meanwhile, back in Super League: The Armchair Pundit would have bet his Eddie Hemmings hairpiece collection on Leeds Rhinos making the Super 8s – even after their almost comically-dismal start to the season.
Alas, the not-for-much-longer defending champions now seem firmly on course for a place in the Qualifiers following their 52-18 evisceration at the hands of Warrington Wolves last Friday.
The half-time score of 18-12 to hosts Warrington might have suggested another thriller like the opening match of the campaign at Headingley back in February.
The fact Leeds were out-scored 34-6 in the second half tells its own story though and while Warrington must be given credit for the ruthless way they punished the visitors at every opportunity, some of the Rhinos’ defence was cover-your-eyes awful – particularly down the middle.
It was a week for runs coming to an end as well, with early-season darlings Widnes Vikings putting their eight-game losing streak firmly to bed after coming from 16-0 down to beat Huddersfield Giants.
As mentioned before in this column, the Giants’ collapse from Super League dark horses to hapless also-rans has been almost as stark as Leeds’ and with seemingly little explanation for why performances have dropped off a cliff this season.
Logic would suggest the two Yorkshire sides should have too much quality in their squad to be in any serious danger of relegation come the split, but there will be plenty of their supporters looking over their shoulders – along with the Championship promotion hopefuls eyeing a couple of notable scalps to press home their case.
Catalans Dragons continue to go about their business at the other end of the table and a 34-16 win over Hull Kingston Rovers keeps them well in contention, while the black-and-white half of Hull continue to lead the way after seeing off St Helens 32-24.
And it was refreshing to see Salford Red Devils making headlines for their on-the-field performance, running in seven tries to end Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ recent revival with a 38-8 triumph at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Thursday night attendance watch: The crowd of 5,558 at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle to watch Wigan Warriors see off Castleford Tigers 33-26 was 2,214 down on the same fixture last year, which was held on a Friday night.
Despite the offers of free travel for away fans, it seems many supporters are voting with their feet as regards to what they think of Thursday Night Super League.

Barlow makes a name for himself: Gloucestershire All Golds have not had much to crow about in League One so far this season, but the recent try-scoring exploits of Chris Barlow have been garnering plenty of attention.
The Sheffield-born outside back, who originally started out playing the 15-man code for Bakewell Mannerians, now has eight tries to his name after a double against Toulouse Olympique in the only match in the division last Saturday.
Despite Barlow’s efforts, the French side ran out 48-16 winners to move up to second in the standings.

Amateur score of the week: Myton Warriors 14 Thornhill Trojans 17, BARLA Xamax National Cup final. Man of the match Danny Ratcliffe landed a late drop goal to see Thornhill clinch the amateur game’s premier knock-out competition for the first time in their history.
Former in 1988, Thornhill play in National Conference League Division Two, with one of their finest hours prior to this cup win coming in 2000 when they stunned Sheffield Eagles in the Challenge Cup.

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

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

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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.