C’est magnifique! Catalan Dragons stun Wire at Wembley

But is it time to look at the showpiece event, and specifically, is it time it left Wembley?

Firstly, the match itself. There is no doubting that Warrington certainly looked stunned when Catalan went ahead inside the first 5 minutes, bur from that point on, the victor was hardly ever in doubt.

Warrington looked like staging a late comeback, but the Dragons defence was strong enough to hold on for an historic 20-14 victory.

Ahead of kick off, I bumped into Alex Simmons of Rugby AM, and asked him how he felt the game would go…

As it was, Catalan Dragons went home with both the Challenge Cup and the Lance Todd trophy for Man of the Match, which is voted for by the press, went to Tony Gigot.

There had been a Twitter campaign to #LetsFillWembley but it fell someway short as the crowd of 50,672 was the lowest of the modern era. Quite a few people blamed this on the fact that one of the finalists came from France, and traditionally, the month of August is a holiday period, and the short turnaround between the Semi final and Final.

Me?

I think the Challenge cup needs a MAJOR overhaul.

Wembley is too big to stage a rugby league showpiece final.

The amount of buildings that have gone up around the stadium means there can be no fan park for supporters to mingle and to build the atmosphere ahead of entering the ground, and this is important.

When you’ve a stadium that holds 90,000, generating an atmosphere with just over half of that really takes some doing. You can’t rely on a couple of 1/2 time games and a choir before kick off to generate one. No matter how good the stadium announcer is, and in Pete Nuttall the sport has one of THE very best in the business, he cant do it if there is no crowd to motivate.

Even the small fan park at the Grand Final gets fans in the mood for what is usually a really tasty encounter, even if you’re not a fan of either team, there is always something to do and see for fans of the sport, and a decent band during the break always helps.

Wembley without a full crowd is a soulless void of concrete with a nice green oblong of grass in the middle.

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

A soulless concrete void with a green oblong

Credit to those Catalan fans (and those from other clubs sporting “Dragon for a day” tee shirts) who did their utmost to create an atmosphere, but really? I’m not certain Wembley would have filled 90,000 if it had been both Hull clubs in the final, let alone Wigan v St Helens.

Its played on a bank holiday weekend during the English school summer holidays. The RFL needs to look again at perhaps moving it back to its traditional May date, and hold it away from Wembley.

The London Stadium would be a better venue.

The former home of the Olympic games has been configured for a ball game, has superb transport links, has already hosted a big rugby league event and is easily big enough to accommodate a match of the stature of the Challenge cup. It holds 57,000 people, and given the outward lack of concern from the RFL about fan numbers, it seems perfect to move the game away from Wembley, keep it in London and actually fill a stadium.

May though is Magic Weekend.

I want to see the Magic Weekend stay in Newcastle, as St James park is perfect, but I think it’ll be moved in 2019, probably to the Etihad in Manchester as part of the RFL move to the campus full time, but surely, Magic Weekend can be moved to accommodate an early season final for the Challenge Cup?

From small acorns…

There is room at West Ham for a decent fan park, as provided by Rugby AM when England played the Kiwis there a couple of years ago, and if anyone fancies a spot of shopping, there is the Westfield centre within walking distance.

Sadly, the lack of imagination from the RFL means that they won’t even consider a move away from Wembley.

Perhaps if the mooted break away from the RFL by the top flight happens it will stir some action from Red Hall, but somehow, I cant see the breakaway happening either.

For too long, the sport I love has stagnated from the top down. It’s high time that there was some new thinking at all levels.

Next years Challenge cup final?

Not unless Hull KR are playing.

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Whats your State of Mind?

As the State of Mind charity prepares to take over the Super League for an entire round, Andrew Riley went along to the AJ Bell stadium in Salford to see what the charity does and how you can be part of a world record attempt this coming Wednesday…

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2018 Super League season predictions and Joel Tomkins interview

Here we go…2018 season is nearly upon us, and this year I will be posting very few match reports. Because I spent the back end of last season concentrating on my university studies and getting a job, I failed to get enough bylines for RFL accreditation in 2018, not to worry though, the clubs themselves have been more than understanding and are happy enough to grant access to players and coaches for interviews.

I’d like to wish every player, coach and fan of rugby league all the very best for 2018. With a replacement for Nigel Wood yet to be decided, it’s bound to be another year of ups and downs for the usual clubs, but hopefully Red Hall can sort out a peaceful and smooth succession…

Given that the clubs and the RFL have yet to decide how the league will be structured next year, it looks like the club v RFL war will carry on until one side either loses or gets bored.

Looking ahead, here are my predictions for 2018, as well as the top four in the Championship.

Super League

  1. Wigan
  2. Warrington
  3. Leeds Rhinos
  4. Hull FC
  5. Castleford Tigers
  6. St. Helens
  7. Hull KR
  8. Wakefield Trinity
  9. Catalan Dragons
  10. Huddersfield Giants
  11. Salford Red Devils
  12. Widnes

Championship

  1. Leigh Centurions
  2. Toronto Wolfpack
  3. Featherstone Rovers
  4. London Broncos

SL Grand Final Winners

  1. St. Helens

Challenge Cup Winners

  1. Leeds Rhinos

 


Joel Tomkins

Joel Tomkins

When you hear the surname Tomkins, most rugby league fans first thoughts are to the Wigan full back, Sam, but his elder brother Joel has his own ambitions, not only for his on-field exploits, but his life post game as well.

“This year, we’re aiming to do the treble” he tells me at the Warriors media launch in the stunning surroundings of the Haigh Hall country house, on the outskirts of the town.

“We are more than capable of winning the Grand Final, Challenge Cup and the league leaders shield”

After a spell in the “other” code of the game, he is aware that at the end of his current 2-year deal, he will have to prove himself in order to keep playing:

“I’m the wrong side of 30 now, and after injury stopped me making as many appearances last season as I would have liked, and I appreciate being in this position, as I might not have too many years left playing this game”

The groin injury that side-lined him for some of last year appears to be gone, and Joel says this pre-season has been one that he has enjoyed immensely.

Having won every major domestic honour in the game, he says that it’s the winning of more trophies that keeps him hungry as a player:

“When you win a Grand final or a Challenge Cup, you get a taste for it, and you want it again.

“I know I’m in a privileged position, coming in and training with an immense bunch of athletes who all want to win things.

“We get paid to train and do something we enjoy, and OK, there are times when its tough, giving up weekends and time with the family, but I can’t complain, its an honour to come in and play for this club.”

Looking further ahead, Joel has his wife, Nicola, as well has there two children, Anna and Seth, and I asked if they enjoy watching him play the sport he loves, and if he’d be happy with Seth following in his footsteps;

“I wouldn’t push him into playing the game, but I suppose that’s because I’ve been playing the game for 20 plus years, I’ll be happy if he plays tennis or golf.

Having a family changes your perspective and priorities on the game. Up to being 25, rugby was all I thought about, but getting married and having kids changes all of that.”

Looking further ahead, I asked if he fancied following in the footsteps of a fair few others and into the Wigan version of the Liverpool FC “bootroom” and onto the coaching staff after he hangs up his boots:

“No, I don’t see it for me. You have to really want to be a coach, watching hour after hour of game time during the week, as well as picking all the side and getting players ready isn’t for me.

I want to stay in the game, but on the management side. I’d rather follow the likes of Kris (Radlinski) and Kevin (Sinfield) into the business side of the game, that’s where I see my future.”

Surrounded by his team mates, he cuts a more introspective figure than some of his more outgoing team mates, and that’s borne out by his plans for the future.

He may not be the first Tomkins that comes to mind, but he certainly wants to be the one that leaves the lasting legacy on and off the field at Wigan Warriors.

 

Roar on the England team to victory on Saturday

As good as it was to watch the Union boys win a World Cup in Australia back in 2003, to see the League team do it in 2017 would be an even bigger feat of sporting prowess.

Sadly, most of the mainstream media have ignored Rugby League for so long, its not a shock if you haven’t heard about a World Cup taking place in Australia.

There are plenty out there, ready to belittle the achievement of a team making it to a World Cup final, but look beyond the doubters, and see just how hard these players play the game, how tough they have to be, mentally and physically, just to make it in a sport where, sadly, a lot of players get by on part time wages, and only the very best get paid the big bucks.
Come Saturday, when the two teams take the field, every single player will have the weight of history on his shoulders.
It’s been 22 years since we last took to the field in a World Cup final, and 45 years since we last won it, and back then, we were Great Britain.
I’m no old romantic, I understand that beating one of the finest International teams, coached by one of the all time greatest players EVER to grace a pitch will be no easy feat, but I do believe this England team, if they play for a full 80 minutes, are more than capable of beating anyone.
It’s the playing for the full 80 minutes that has me worried.
During this tournament, they have too often switched off when seemingly in the box seat, and were very lucky not to lose to Tonga in their semi final last weekend.
A more experienced side would have beaten England.
The pinnacle of every sport is to become its World Champion.
This England squad are just 80 minutes away from becoming that.
In Wayne Bennett we certainly have the quiet man of coaching, but it’s out of his hands once the chosen XIII cross the whitewashed sideline in, what will be for some, the biggest game of their careers.
I cannot stress enough, just how tough it will be to beat the Kangaroos in their own back yard, but if it wasn’t for hope, what would we sports journalists write about?
The RFL team out there in Australia have worked wonders with Social media to keep fans back in England as up to date as possible, and the “OuRLeague” app has been superb. I’m happy to admit, they have surprised me with their ability to engage with fans in way they havent managed before.
No England player has EVER lifted the trophy, so here’s to our captain, Sean O’Loughlin, Slammin’ Sam Burgess, Flyin’ Jermaine McGillvary and rest of the boys.
Get up early Sunday and roar the Lions of England home to victory.
#BringItHome

The squads

England: G Widdop, J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall, K Brown, L Gale, C Hill, J Roby, J Graham, S Burgess, E Whitehead, S O’Loughlin, (capt).

Interchanges: A Walmsley, B Currie, T Burgess, C Heighington.

Australia squad: B Slater, D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes, M Morgan, C Cronk, Woods, C Smith, D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J McGuire, W Graham, J McLean, R Campbell-Gillard, T Frizell, F Kaufusi, T Trbojevic, J Mansour, J Maloney.

Looking beyond the final, England will take on the Kiwis in a three game Autumn test series in 2018.

Who knows?

Buy your tickets now and you could be watching the World Champions…

International Test Series Fixtures

Saturday October 27 (14:30), KCOM Stadium, Hull.

Saturday November 3 (14:30), Anfield, Liverpool

Sunday November 11 (15:00), Elland Road, Leeds

Another long season ahead for Salford.

After a season of (relative) calm at Salford Devils, it looks like 2018 could be another of off field mayhem.

Rumours are reaching me that head coach Ian Watson may have lost the support of a number of senior players after belittling their efforts in last seasons race to the top 8 finish

I’m told two players from the club came to blows on “Mad Monday” outside a Manchester bar and BOTH were knocked unconscious in an altercation that was caught on CCTV, but was hushed up at the time.

At least one fan favourite left the club after being told he wasn’t pulling his weight on the field, to be snapped up by another club.

There are players telling fans how unhappy they are with Ian Watson, with one being disciplined after speaking out whilst at a local gym about being dropped last season.

Now, I’ve always found Ian to be approachable and open when interviewed, and I have approached the club for comment, but have yet to hear back from them, probably because most of the squad only returned on Monday to begin pre-season training.

I hope the rumours are untrue, as, even though I am a Hull KR fan, Salford have always had a place close to my heart.

Not only do I live in their catchment area, but I have covered them for a few different outlets over the years, and to see Salford fans on the verge of taking over the club in the form of a trust after Marwan Koukash decided he’d had enough.

Indeed, one former assistant coach’s Brother and I served in the Armed forces together and my best friend is a life long fan.

I would dearly love to see Salford win silverware, just as along as it’s not against Hull KR!