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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Salford Devils announce 1/2 season ticket deal

Who isn’t interested in a bargain that will also help their local club?

Well, With former owner Marwan Koukash announcing that he will write off the debt the club owes him, if the club becomes self financing for the remainder of this season and the next, alongside 1/2 season tickets being sold by the club, the people of Salford and Manchester have that chance.

When the email dropped earlier today, I clicked on the link (Which you can find below) only to happily see that the rush had almost crashed the clubs website, and there was a wait of nearly 30 minutes before you could purchase one.

As the transfer of control was only approved by the Rugby Football League on eve of the 2018 season, time was always going to be of the essence to merely keep the famous old Club afloat, let alone replicate the successes of the campaign before.

Club Director and Holding Company Member Andrew Rosler said in a press release: “Whilst prior to the season we had many initiatives planned to explain the new structure and start the marketing push for Season Ticket sales, the delays meant we had to scrap all that and concentrate instead on the opening game of the season. It was incredibly frustrating to not be able to announce anything for months, in fact there were times just after Christmas when I doubted it would happen at all.”

Given, the likely restructure to the entire competition by the clubs and the RFL for the 2019 or 2020 season, especially the format of promotion and relegation this is the most crucial season, probably ever, for the Devils.

The Club are currently in 8th position and will be pushing hard for a Top 8 finish in the regular season, which is a great achievement given the size and spend of the current squad, however, given the financial position is still uncertain and a general feeling of despair it is understandable that fans are getting frustrated.

Director Andrew Rosler: “For many weeks we have been engaging with the Supporters Trust with an emphasis on fund raising and sustainability,” he continues “They have been considering the various fan ownership and fund raising models that have been facilitated by Supporters-Direct, mainly in Football”

The Club can anounce that it will formally begin discussions with Supporters Direct to consider a number of options that will give fans the chance to raise funds for the Club, take ownership and have more say in how the Club should be operated. Details of the various schemes will be made public in the very near future.

As an incentive to motivate the whole Community to get behind this scheme, former owner Marwan has now offered to write off the entire debt owed to him, even though he has not asked for any repayment since his departure. But this is conditional on the Club becoming self financing for the rest of this season and next.

Andrew Rosler comments: “I think Marwan felt that having gifted his shares, the local Community would vote with their feet to demonstrate just how important the Club is to the City. He has been disappointed with the declining attendances and felt that the demand just wasn’t there. However he has now bought in to what we are trying to do and can see that the fans can shape the fortunes of the Club directly. It is an amazing gesture to write off such a large amount of debt but he is testing the fans and the whole community so do its bit and prove him wrong.

In addition, the Club will attempt to raise additional short term funds by shortly issuing half season tickets for the remainder of the season. There will also be a big push to target far more local businesses to buy season tickets. The Club is also delighted to announce that as a further gesture Marwan has also offered to match all half season ticket proceeds!

Paul McNally, Head of Communications at the Red Devils said: “Announcing, half season tickets on the back of four bad defeats would ordinarily be a tough sell however the facts are quite simply that this is the most intense and important period in the Club’s history. We need every lapsed, casual and disillusioned fan to stick it out and support the team like you’ve never before.”

Andrew Rosler agrees: “I think all of us are fed up with turning up every with season with no real expectations other than mediocrity and disappointment. The Club has to almost re-invent itself rapidly and challenge all the objections that have been levied against it for years. We have some fantastic ideas which we will be rolling out soon, including the very important local player development and there could finally be a great future for the Club. But in the here and now we need to all work together to make the fund raising schemes work and more than ever back the team no matter what.”

Half season tickets will cover the four remaining home games in the Betfred Super League as well as each home game in our 8s campaign; which means you could even get a potential eighth game FREE

Your half season ticket will cover this Friday’s game against Huddersfield Giants before our other remaining fixtures at the AJ Bell Stadium against Widnes Vikings, Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos.

The Red Devils have already earned some impressive victories at the AJ Bell Stadium this season including dominant routs against Hull Kingston Rovers, Hull FC, Catalans Dragons and Wakefield Trinity.

Supporters can purchase their Half Season tickets at the Club Ticket Office, over the phone on 0161 786 1570 or online here.

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.

 

How do you promote a sport full of power and passion?

By not bothering to show any of the sport itself according to the new RFL Super League 2018 launch video.

Recently, the RFL marketing department have managed to get a couple of things spot on. The new OuRLeague app is fantastic. Superb content, really engaging and easy to use. During the World Cup it became the go to app for info on England and what the players were up to.

Then we get the 2018 launch video…

We know that professional rugby league players are supremely fit. We also know that the Brownlee brothers are superb athletes as well.

What we dont see is any reason for watching the sport when the season starts in just over a week.

Where are the big hits, the jinking runs through defences, the offloads and the magic? Apparently, the public dont need to see the skill of the players, but images of them running up and down in the snow tell you all you need to know about the lack of imagination shown by the RFL marketing department.

The RFL have some superb staff, but marketing needs a shake up.

Why advertise along the M62?

You’re playing into the hands of those who look down their noses at the sport and call it parochial!

Advertise along the M6 and the M1. It’s a summer sport, entice people heading to Bridlington, Scarborough, Blackpool and the Lake district to take in a game, not those who already know where games are played.

What does this video tell anyone who accidentally happens upon it about the game these athletes play?

Nothing…

I appreciate that there is an air of change at Red Hall and Media City with Nigel Wood leaving, but if we allow the game to continue to stagnate at every level, which is what we are in danger of doing if we don’t look for a candidate for his position from outside of the sport, we are in danger of the sport as a whole dying.

Thats not just my view, but one given to me by one of the most respected writers on the sport. As it was a private conversation, I’m not going to name him here, but it shows just how far those who write about the sport feel the game and it’s leadership have sunk.

Indeed, he felt that by the time of the 2025 World Cup, the UK version of the game may well be entirely amateur.

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!