Saturday, December 09, 2006

How do you like your eggs?

If you're the Bradford Bulls, the answer to that question is not poached - no siree Bob it most definitely is not...

They've been found to have "no case to answer" by the Rugby Football League in respect of an illegal approach to Wakefield's David Solomona, who they signed recently in a player plus cash deal. Solomona was still contracted to Wakefield at the time, but the contract would have become void had the Wildcats been relegated from Super League. According to Wakefield boss Steve Ferres, around eight other SL clubs had made approaches to Solomona while he was still a contracted Wakefield player, which is illegal under RFL bye-laws. All this speculation and the knowledge that bigger clubs were interested in him unsettled Solomona, and led to him submitting a transfer request to Wakefield which led eventually to his move to one of those clubs.

Of course, the problem then becomes proving it.

Back in the "good old days" it was fairly easy to spot. The only way to approach a player would be either directly or through his club. If the player got a better offer from somewhere else and nobody had approached his club, then the club knew the player had been tapped up.

These days of course it's much more difficult. Agents act for the player, agents act for the clubs and on some occasions an agent may find himself acting for both at different times. You don't have to actually make an illegal approach directly to the player in order to establish what he may want to sign for you should he decide to leave the club he's currently contracted to. All you do is get someone acting on behalf of your club to make informal contact with someone acting on behalf of the player to discuss the metaphorical scenario that he might be interested in playing for you. Strictly speaking, no rules have effectively been broken but the effect has been the same once the agent reports back to the player what he may be able to earn elsewhere.

It's so difficult to stop that in my opinion the RFL should just ditch its anti-tampering rules. Clubs don't have to sell a player even if he is approached from elsewhere, and it's no good any club playing the victim when they've all at some point been guilty of the same crime. Allow clubs to approach players under contract at other clubs in the same way they would be allowed to "head hunt" employees were they businesses in any other industry than professional sport.

Monday, November 27, 2006

One moment in time

Picture the scene....

It's the 10th minute of the Tri Nations final, arguably the biggest and most important game of your season, if not your career. It's the last tackle, and due to some poor handling and communication the ball ends up in the hands of you, a back rower not renowned for your kicking game. Do you...

a) Hand the ball (and the responsibility) on to your outside backs - after all, they're the flair players, not you?

b) Take on the responsibility yourself, and kick the ball as far down field as you can. Course, there's no real guarantee of accuracy and it could go anywhere - including out on the full?

c) Weigh up your options while moving forward with the ball in two hands, and throw a flat cut out pass to your right to a player in space hitting the ball at speed?

If you're playing in Super League, including those at the peak of the game in this country, then I suspect the answer may well have been a), or possibly b) for those who like to see themselves as multi-skilled. If you're Canterbury captain Andrew Ryan and the date is Saturday November 25 2006 however, the answer was c), and seconds later Australia were touching down for the opening try and had a lead they were never to lose.

So why the difference? Why was Ryan so able to sum up the situation, weigh up the options and execute something that had looked beyond even Great Britain's half backs in the previous four weeks in delivering an accurate pass to a colleague in space?

If you want my opinion - and you must do, otherwise why would you even be here - it comes down to intensity. Andrew Ryan plays week in, week out in a competition that asks him to make snap decisions under pressure umpteen times a game. When he was presented with such a decision on Saturday, it was second nature for him to weigh up the pros and cons of various forms of action and make his decision in adequate time to put whatever he decided into action. How many times are players in Super League challenged to make similar decisions, particularly forwards? Their main objective in attack appears to be either make as many metres as you can then try to slip the offload, or find the floor quickly then generate a quick play the ball. It's all stuff you can do without thinking or in many cases without a significant level of basic skills such as the ability to time and deliver a pass.

Why is this the case though? To me it comes down to the refereeing interpretation in our competition. Often it's all too easy to break down a defence with a simple play, so keen are referees to increase the speed of the game by penalising holding down. When that tactic was taken away from GB by Paul Simpkins' interpretation in recent weeks they looked lost for ideas on how to break down a well organised defence. Take away the quick play the ball and scoot, and suddenly players have to start thinking of ways to create chances, to unlock defences. Often this means challenging the defensive line and then having to make decisions and execute skills with a defender right in your face. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more like second nature this split second decision making becomes.

By looking to make our domestic rugby league a television product and keep up the pace of the game, are we strangling the creativity out of the national side for the sake of allowing an extra second at every play the ball and denying the attacking side such an easy ride?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

GB on the slab

So - the dust has settled, the gnashing and wailing has quietened and it's time to give Great Britain's 2006 Tri-Nations campaign a thorough post mortem and a burial according to the religion of its choice.

What started so positively with the narrow and controversial defeat to the Kiwis followed by the win in Sydney finished with a sense of deja vu and a couple of substantial defeats. The usual culprits have already been trotted out by players, coaches and pundits alike - too many foreign players, too many games, schedule against us etc. While each has an element of truth to it, are they alone enough to explain the difference between the two hemispheres?

Since the lifting of the international ban in the 1980s, the UK has been an attractive place for Australian and Kiwi players to ply their trade, and even more so in recent years with the exchange rates making Super League more attractive despite competitions in both hemispheres operating under a salary cap. While there is little doubt that some sides in SL have more non-GB qualified players than is necessarily healthy, developments in employment legislation such as freedom of movement for people with EU passports and the Kolpak ruling have made it much harder to control numbers in the domestic game. The presence of high quality overseas players such as Jamie Lyon and Trent Barrett is undoubtedly beneficial, but I'm not sure the same can be said for many of the others.

Too many games? I'm not going to sound like one of the dinosaurs often reeled out to provide local radio commentary by banging on about the number of games they used to play in the depths of winter in their day. The fact is that the game has changed and there is only so much abuse the human body can take and still perform to its full potential. Including league, cup, playoff and representative games some of the GB players will have been racking up their 40th appearances of a season that began with pre-season training in January. Their antipodean counterparts will have played roughly ten less games and had an extra month's rest before the start of their season. Does it make a difference? It's hard to see how it doesn't, but until the tail stops wagging the dog and SL is no longer run by those with petty club loyalties and pound signs in their eyes it isn't going to change radically for the better.

Scheduling is probably less of an issue, but it's one just the same. Given the timetable for the Tri Nations and the respective Grand Finals, it's hard to see how much can change to stop GB having to play four weeks on the bounce while allowing Australia and New Zealand vital time off mid competition. The only way you could accommodate it in the present situation would be to start the competition two weeks later, but then you wouldn't be finishing it until some six weeks before the start of the northern hemisphere season and thereby increasing the risk of player burnout. Forget Ricky Stuart's protestations that he'd rather play four weeks in succession, and ask his players instead. I doubt you'd find many complaining about not having to play every week.

There may be lots of easy questions and plenty of easy targets for those who wish to pick over the bones of another ultimately disappointing international campaign, but unless some minds, hearts and wallets are opened there appear to be very few easy answers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pride of Lions

In the words of Eminem, "if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?"

Great Britain's one shot at making the 2006 Tri Nations Final comes up tomorrow in Brisbane where they take on Australia, knowing that a win or a draw will put them into the decider against the same opposition next weekend.

They have the memories of their win in Sydney two weeks ago to feed off and counterbalance the disappointing performance last week against New Zealand. They know what it takes to beat this Australian side, but can they put it into practice and win back to back Tests against the green and gold for the first time in 30 odd years?

You don't see many bookmakers sitting in the gutter with "hungry and homeless" signs so you'd have to go with their assessment of the home side as hot favourites, but then again they said that last time the two sides met and look what happened then.

It's imperative that Great Britain get off to a good start and dominate field position in the early exchanges. If the Australians get their noses in front and build up some momentum, they could be very difficult to peg back although it must be remembered that they scored first in Sydney off the back of a British mistake, and it was the try from Paul Wellens right on half time that gave GB momentum going into the second half. The forwards have to dominate up front and win the collisions to give our good runners from dummy half such as Roby, Newton, Pryce and Raynor the opportunity to pick holes in a retreating defence. Whoever takes on the kicking game from the departed Sean Long needs to get it spot on to pin the Australians back in their own half.

Perhaps more importantly, the GB players need to take a long hard look at the badge on their chests and consider whether they did it justice last week, and what they can do to put it right. In a tight game, that Pride of the Lions could make all the difference.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A week is a long time...

... in politics apparently. It must seem like an even longer time in sport for Brian Noble and the Great Britain boys.

This time last week the players would have still been basking in the reflected glory of their outstanding performance in Sydney and preparing to book their spot in the Tri Nations final by turning over the Kiwis. Sadly, it appears that there was a little too much basking, and not enough thinking or working going on as Britain were rolled over by an enthusiastic Kiwi outfit 34-4.

Scrum half Sean Long was then involved (or not) in some unspecified shenanigans (or not) on the flight back from New Zealand to Australia which may (or may not) have involved the consumption of alcohol in breach of a ban that may (or may not) have been in place. Alternatively, if you believe the official story he was mentally and physically exhausted and needed to come home to be with his heavily pregnant partner. Either way up, it has provided an unwelcome distraction at a time when the focus needed to be on the must-win game against the Aussies in Brisbane this coming Saturday.

In a bid to seal their place in the final, coach Brian Noble has made a number of changes to the side beaten last week. Hull half-back Richard Horne replaces Long for his first competitive game since the Grand Final a month ago while Sean O'Loughlin returns to the side after missing last week's debacle through injury. Gareth Ellis moves forward to the second row and Jamie Peacock to prop while Adrian Morley is among seven replacements to be trimmed to four.

Perhaps the most surprising change is the dropping of Hull centre Kirk Yeaman to be replaced by Martin Gleeson, who was himself dropped after a below par performance in GB's first game of the series. Yeaman wasn't the worst player in a GB jersey last weekend, and played a full part in the previous week's win in Sydney yet appears to have been a sacrificial lamb to enable Noble to bring back another of the tried (and failed) old guard. One of the criticisms of Noble's selection policy since he took on the GB job is that it has had an air of "jobs for the boys" about it rather than players being picked on form. This selection does nothing to quiet those accusations.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Putting the Great back into Britain

"Phil Gould, Rolf Harris, Willie Mason - your boys took a hell of a beating..."

Apologies for getting a little carried away, but given recent results against the bread stealers it was nice as a GB fan to be able to spend Saturday afternoon searching the TV schedules for re-runs of the victory in Sydney.

From the moment Mason popped one on the button of Stuart Fielden, you could see the visitors resolve increasing by the minute. The Aussie media likes nothing more than whaling on the Poms, and they've been in good voice in the build up to the series, describing GB as amateur, average and capable of getting beaten by Australia's third/fourth/fifth choice side* (delete as appropriate).

Well on Saturday, the lion stuck it's teeth in the Kangaroos arse and refused to let go until it had finished picking the bones clean with a late drop goal. Once the initial charges of Mason, Hindmarsh et al had been repelled, the lack of quality in depth on the Aussie bench backfired on them, with the likes of Thaiday and Tupou looking well short of the required standard. Sure, the injury to Gasnier won't have helped - but isn't this Aussie side supposed to be so far ahead that surely losing one player wouldn't make such a difference? And weren't GB equally disrupted by losing Brian Carney to injury and Stuart Fielden on a day trip to Disneyland for a chunk of the game?

The GB forwards were led from the front by Jamie Peacock, ably backed up by club colleague Gareth Ellis and another electrifying spell of the bench from James Roby. Finally, Sean Long converted some of his club form into the international arena and the centre pairing of Keith Senior and Kirk Yeaman were manful in defence when required and strong in attack.

Perhaps more significantly, when put under pressure the Australians turned almost exclusively to Darren Lockyer for a piece of magic to pull them out of a hole. It seems hard to conceive, but are the self proclaimed best team in the world very far away from being a one-man side? Certainly the captain was one of the few players in green and gold who looked capable of making a break or creating an opportunity other than from a British mistake. More needs to come from the players around him if the home side are to hit the heights they are universally expected to achieve.

A word of warning however - in the 2004 Tri Nations, Great Britain finished top of the table after the group phase. Come the final, they were on the receiving end of a blistering first half performance that blew them away and showed the gap between the two sides. It's not just the Aussies who need to improve if they are to be walking away with the trophy in three weeks time.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One down, four to go?

Great Britain opened their Tri Nations campaign on Saturday with a narrow defeat to New Zealand in Christchurch, in a game that has generated more than its fair share of talking points already.

It turns out that New Zealand fielded Australian-born hooker Nathan Fien on the basis of his supposed Kiwi heritage under the "grandparent" rule, which enables a player not capped by any other country to represent the land of his parents/grandparents even if he wasn't born there. Apparently the relative from the land of the long white cloud whose birth certificate Fien produced was actually his great-grandmother, one generation too far to qualify him for New Zealand and therefore making him ineligible.

It's not clear at the moment whether the NZRL were aware of this and played Fien anyway, or if it was just a genuine administrative error. Usual procedure in most leagues around the world is that points are deducted for fielding an ineligible player, even if it's by accident. Given the way the Kiwis have started this competition with two defeats prior to the win over Great Britain, losing those two points would make the next meeting of the two sides in a fortnight a must win.

If that wasn't enough on its own, Aussie coach Ricky Stuart has chipped in on the subject of foul play, obviously looking to protect the little angels in his own side from any unnecessary fisticuffs. From Saturday's game the two notable incidents involved Adrian "12 seconds" Morley - the first a tackle on Ruben Wiki which started off across the chest then slipped up under the chin putting Wiki on his backside, the second a cuff round the head for Brent Webb in retaliation to a sly elbow. Given that Stuart was Morley's coach at Sydney Roosters prior to taking the Australian job, he'd be hard pushed to complain that he didn't know what to expect particularly in the light of Morley finishing his Roosters career with a lengthy suspension - not the first of his time in the NRL either.

Stuart obviously sees an advantage to his side if the game is kept open and flowing on Saturday, and will have been peeved at the selection of Ashley Klein as referee who he believed kept a very poor 10 metres between the sides in the two games against the Kiwis. His comments would appear to be the first step towards putting pressure on Klein - Aussie born but based in the UK - to referee in a way that favours his side when they meet Great Britain. Hopefully it won't work to influence the way Klein referees, but recent series between the two sides have shown that when the Aussie coaching staff complain about something, British referees have a record of rolling over and complying with their wishes.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rugby League's Big Night Out

So it's that time of year again - Super League Grand Final day. There's a chance of a new name on the trophy this year as Grand Final virgins Hull FC take on hot favourites and minor premiers St Helens. Hull have just two players with Grand Final experience in their squad - Lee Radford with the Bulls and Chris Chester with Wigan - but will be able to pull on their win in the 2005 Challenge Cup Final, their most recent big game experience.

It's easy to forget that the whole play-off and Grand Final concept has only recently been revived in the sport in this country, starting again in 1998 after two years of deciding the SL title on a "first past the post" basis. The concept had its fair share of critics at the outset, but it's fair to say that most people now recognise it as the "right" way to finish the season for a number of reasons.

The concept of a top five/six playoff isn't new in the UK though. For many years through to the early 1970s, the Championship final was the conclusion to the season. The top clubs at the end of the year played knockout football to decide the competitors and it was winner takes almost all, with the team finishing top of the table after the regular season picking up the league leaders trophy.

Then as now, the fixture schedule was uneven with not all teams playing each other home and away over the course of the year. In that case, as with the NFL and most other US sports, it's impossible to declare a champion based simply on regular season results. Arguments would rage over who had the easier fixtures during the season and how their opponents were handicapped by having tougher opposition. It's fairer to make the sides who had the best records over the season face off against each other to decide who really is the best in the land.

There's also the more modern argument of what the play off concept brings in terms of keeping the season alive for a number of clubs. A club in 7th or 8th but safe from finishing bottom would find the latter half of its season rendered almost meaningless - they were too far away from the top to have genuine title ambitions in first past the post, but weren't fighting for survival either. Under the play off system, these clubs are battling to the end of the season to give themselves an outside chance of making the showpiece finale.

Should the regular SL season ever revert back to playing each other once home and away - a possibility if the league is expanded beyond the current 12 sides - it would be interesting to see if the Grand Final and play off concepts retained the goodwill of fans as a whole. If your club finished as runaway leaders after everyone had played the same schedule, would you be happy with them having to go and do it all again to confirm what they'd proved over the year? A dodgy decision or a couple of injuries here and there could undo a whole season's good work after all...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Won't somebody think of the children...?

So, it's Castleford Tigers then that fall through the relegation trap door, their form at the business end of the season not being good enough to keep them ahead of a resurgent Wakefield.

Tigers coach Terry Matterson made some interesting comments in the aftermath of the loser-takes-nothing defeat on Saturday in respect of relegation and junior development. Apparently, he had been wanting to get more game time out of young players such as Craig Huby and Andy Kain this season, but because of the pressure to stay in Super League had been forced to stick with veterans and unable to take that gamble. Matterson reasoned that had there been no such pressure to avoid the drop, these young players would have gained valuable experience that benefits everyone in the long run.

Seems a pretty reasonable statement to make, and tugs at the heartstrings of those who have the best interests of the GB side at heart. If these youngsters are being frozen out because they can't be risked by clubs in the bottom half, then how will they ever develop into players capable of playing at the highest level?

That's until you ask yourself one question - if the pressure to stay in the competition disappears, what is likely to replace it? Will club chairmen set their coaches a goal of developing as many outstanding young players as they possibly can, and sod where we end up in the league? Of course they won't. The expectations will still be there to either win the title, get in the playoffs or simply avoid finishing bottom even if that doesn't send you through the trap door into the void that is National League One. Coaches will still find their job on the line based primarily on results, not the number of home grown players in the side. If those results dry up at any stage, who is likely to be first out of the seventeen on a weekend - the promising youngster who is prone to still making some (potentially expensive) rookie mistakes, or the steady but unspectacular veteran with a couple of years NRL experience and an EU passport?

So nice try Terry, but you'll forgive me if I don't buy into this one.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Not-Quite-So-Grand Final?

This weekend sees the Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham between Huddersfield and St Helens - not that you'd know if you didn't follow the game, so low key has the advertising and promotion for it been.

The Challenge Cup has taken a bit of a battering in recent years. It's found itself moved around the calendar with the change to summer, first staying in its traditional late winter, early spring slot but being almost a pre-season competition, then being spread out more across the season with the final in late summer. The final itself has done a tour of the country while some itinerant Aussies try to build a national stadium out of lego and pipe cleaners, taking in Edinburgh, Cardiff and the home of English rugby union.

Where the "big day out" at Wembley used to be the showpiece of the rugby league calendar, it now has competition from the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford each October. Its position as the ultimate achievement for a player and fan alike has been usurped and some of its thunder stolen by the newcomer. While there's still nothing to compare with a knockout tournament leading to a showpiece occasion, the SL playoffs provide exactly the same thing so that uniqueness that used to belong to a cup run has gone.

Perhaps some of the gloss has also been taken off by the loss of the unpredictability in terms of results. Upsets seem to be fewer and further between as the gap in standards between Super League and the National Leagues grows - victories by Tolouse over Widnes and Hull KR over Warrington not withstanding.

Of course, try telling this to the fans of competing clubs this weekend. All that will matter to them is the result, although Huddersfield fans (as with Hull last year) will take a sense of satisfaction out of simply being there whatever the outcome after such a long time between drinks. Hopefully the game will match the occasion, and to roll out an old cliche "rugby league will be the real winner".

Friday, August 11, 2006

To cap it all...

Just when Wigan Warriors fans thought a thoroughly miserable season had turned the corner, two events come along to kick them firmly back down into the relegation dogfight.

Firstly, a Castleford Tigers side that have been difficult to beat at home turn into pussycats against the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, despite having a man advantage for the second half. Then to rub salt into the wound, the club are penalised two points and fined for exceeding their permitted salary cap expenditure in 2005.

Should Wigan lose at Leeds tonight and Wakefield beat the relegation immune Les Catalans tomorrow, the Warriors will find themselves two points adrift again in the relegation battle with games running out.

Much has been made of the fact that the penalty actually applies for the season after the offence has been comitted, so any advantage gained (and the statement to accompany the fine in particular reads as though the breach was to deliberately gain an advantage) isn't nullified. Last year's Grand Final winners the Bradford Bulls are also under investigation for a possible breach in 2005, yet any penalty would not deprive them of the title they won in that year.

It's hard to see what the RFL can do about this though. Clubs are asked to submit two returns, one mid-year and one at the end of it. These returns then have to be audited by the RFL, and given the complexity of the cap rules this is a lengthy and involved process. It's only at the end of the season that any breach can be truly identified as the expenditure limits relate to the full year.

It's far from being a perfect system, but other than dishing out the sort of retrospective punishments that have been so troublesome in the recent Italian football scandal the RFL doesn't seem to have a hatful of alternatives.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

So Who Gives a XXXX?

St Helens coach Daniel Anderson was in the media recently, having a little whinge at the Great Britain training days for robbing him of his best players in the build up to Super League games. Of course, how Great Britain perform on the international stage is of no concern to Anderson. He's a Kiwi after all even though he lives in the UK and works with some of the national side's leading players on a daily basis. But from a wider perspective, it seemed indicative of the attitude in this country towards representative games from those involved with clubs.

Wherever you stand, the fact remains that if GB are going to be successful in the Tri Nations later this year they need to be able to perform as a team, rather than just a collection of talented individuals. Every last advantage that can be gained in terms of preparation has to be taken, and that includes getting the squad together on a regular basis to train and play during the course of the season.

There has been talk of playing fixtures against a Rest of the World or Overseas XIII, but would those generate the necessary intensity? The opening exchanges of the recent XXXX Test were fierce, but would you still have got that if the Kiwis had been representing some artificial, created entity rather than their country? Regular games against the French have also been on the agenda, and their results in recent years against touring sides create a strong case for at least one game per season between the two countries.

Of course, space then has to be found in the calendar for these fixtures. And by space, I mean free weekends to allow adequate time for travel and preparation. Expecting players to represent their clubs on a Friday or Saturday then back up to play for their country on a Tuesday night after two training sessions just simply is not good enough. Timing also affects attendance. Midweek representative games don’t attract crowds, as witnessed by the turnout at St Helens, at Headingley for the game against New Zealand "A" a couple of years ago and the last "Origin" game at Odsal. Playing in big stadiums in big atmospheres is an integral part of the international learning experience.

This is where the potential expansion of Super League comes into the representative equation. An expanded league of 14 teams means 26 weekly rounds, two less than the current format. The two free weekends could then be used to play France, or with some co-operation from the NRL with the scheduling of their bye weeks possibly a Kiwi side with a full New Zealand Warriors contingent.

Following the announcement earlier this season of the clarified roles of Super League and the RFL in the organisation and running of the competition, perhaps it’s time the two got their heads together and discarded club self interest in favour of giving the international side a better chance to be successful? I’m sure no one will be forgiven however for not holding their breath.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Life is full of ups and downs

Yesterday's defeat by Bradford sees Wakefield Trinity Wildcats installed as hot favourites for relegation from Super League. They're leaking points, coachless (and with their perceived first choice of James Lowes stating that he doesn't want the job) and struggling to see where their next win is coming from.

According to departed coach Tony Smith, the players weren't fit enough. Perhaps he misunderstood what the meaning of the word "coach" entails, as you'd have thought it was his job to make sure they were. Or he's maybe just using "fit" as a euphemism for talented?

Of course, they're not the only Super League club standing on the edge of the cliff looking down. Wigan are edging away from the precipice with the help of Dave Whelan's emergency airlift, while the likes of Harlequins, Huddersfield and Castleford can't break out the sun loungers at training just yet. Catalan Dragons may still finish below all of them, but are of course exempt from relegation for their first three seasons. There's also the slim possibility that the National League One winners may decline or not be accepted for promotion, giving everyone a reprieve.

Should Wakefield fall through the trap door into the National Leagues, they may become victims of unfortunate timing. Relegation in any of the previous years would have seen them maintain a full-time squad in an attempt to romp through NL1 and win back their place in the elite on the field. The spectre of franchising hangs over any team relegated this season however, and there is a distinct possibility that on-field success in 2007 on its own would not be enough to get promotion.

Traditionalists, particularly those linked to clubs currently outside SL, have been gnashing and wailing at the prospect of "pulling up the drawbridge" and denying teams automatic promotion to the top flight. Without that, they argue, what is there to play for in the National Leagues? The counterpoint to that argument is the experience of promoted clubs, who have such a short turnaround between the NL1 Grand Final and the start of pre-season to try and recruit a side capable of competing and finishing at least second from bottom in Super League. Wouldn't it be easier for those clubs to have a year or two to plan for entry to the top flight as Catalan Dragons have had?

Rugby League is not football. The sport does not have 25-30 teams all capable of playing in the top division, the sort of market where on-field criteria can be the only way to judge who plays in the top division while still maintaining both on and off field standards. It is important as the flagship competition of the game that Super League is seen to be played in front of decent sized crowds in modern stadia with adequate facilities, rather than in front of 3,000 people in a ground with toilets like something out of a Dickensian novel. If clubs cannot deliver that, do they deserve to be in the competition simply because they won a one-off game in the autumn?

Franchising does not pull up the drawbridge. What it does is create a set of guidelines that all clubs with Super League ambitions will have to meet, both on and off the field, before they will be considered for entry. Those clubs who have genuine ambitions of making the elite will strive to meet those criteria, improving the experience for their own fans in the process - as Doncaster are already doing with their new lakeside development. Those clubs who wish to stay in the top flight must also strive to develop both new markets and improved facilities as in the case of Salford.

Tradition should be something to celebrate when you look over your shoulder, not a millstone to stop you going forward.

Friday, July 21, 2006

So here it is...

...Merry Christmas, everbody's having fun...

Sorry, got carried away a bit there. So here it is, my amateur hour attempt at a blog.

Why? Well, I guess I'm really a frustrated writer at heart, and this gives me somewhere to air my views, vent my spleen and get it all down on virtual paper. I've tried getting some of what I've written into print (with extremely limited success) and in the absence of any other takers I thought I'd put it out there on t'interweb for you good folks to read/agree with/laugh at/sue me for libel.

What? I'm a simple soul, as anyone who has tried to teach me anything will tell you. Nobody wants to hear me prattle on about the situation in the Middle East, or global warming, or reality TV. My life isn't interesting enough that I can stick a diary of it on here without depressing myself, never mind any poor sod who stumbles across it. So I thought I'd stick to something I like, and that I reckon I know about. Hence this'll be a blog about rugby league, the second most important thing to me behind family (but only just). It'll contain my musings/rantings/ramblings on the game in general, specific games and other miscellany as it enters my head and hopefully before it leaves it.

When? Whenever the muse strikes me, dammit. I'm not doing this for your benefit you know!

Who? By day, I'm a mild mannered civil servant from Leeds in his late 30's with a wife and two cats. By night, I'm pretty much the same bloke except on Saturdays when I'm Josephine, but more on that later - or maybe not.

So read on gentle viewer and prepare to be entertained/informed/bored witless...