Readers’ Awards 2019: Villain of the Year

James Gordon

There was a pretty one-sided vote for the winner of this award.

3. Wayne Bennett

A man who started 2019 with far more credit than he ended it with was Wayne Bennett, who somehow managed to almost single-handedly undermine the return of Great Britain as well as talk himself out of the England job for the 2021 World Cup.

The results of the RFL’s “investigation” are as yet unpublished, and Bennett is likely to remain in charge of the national team for the past two years, despite significant fan opposition, dismayed by the limp performances shown by the Lions on their tour Down Under.

It wasn’t just that though – Bennett’s poor squad selection, which saw six half-backs picked and sparse options in the outside backs as well as no non-England selections; his comments on the GB tour simply providing practice for future England games; and the constant confusion and reference to both nations all added up to a dismal tour all round.

2. Andrew Chalmers

The outspoken now former Bradford chairman, Andrew Chalmers, ruffled plenty of feathers during his time in charge – as well as running up an alarming amount of debt in a short time.

Billed as the saviour, ironically by now current joint shareholder Nigel Wood of all people, Chalmers was far from it – managing to build up plenty of enemies, notably Wigan chief Ian Lenagan – during his tenure.

He also oversaw the departure of the Bulls from Odsal to Dewsbury, and there’s no timescale on when the club may return to the city. Some legacy.

1. James Rule

As if being banned for a drugs cover up wasn’t enough, James Rule almost had the disappearance of one of rugby league’s founding member clubs on his hands. He started at Widnes when he still had time to serve on his two-year ban for his part in the Martin Gleeson drugs scandal, and spent seven years as Vikings chief executive, as well as working his way on to the board of directors as a shareholder.

After reportedly taking more than a million pounds in salary and expenses out of the club, Rule called the administrators in back in February after the gravy train finally ran dry with the club having less than £1,000 in the bank.

Widnes underspent on the salary cap in Super League for several years, all the while its top brass were taking alleged six-figure salaries and building up a £600k debt, leaving the local council, private hospitals, suppliers and others out of pocket.

Vikings fans didn’t get the criminal investigation they wanted against the actions of their former owners, though they did at least rally to stop Rule’s new career as a motivational speaker – forcing the cancellation of his “Lonely Leader” talk at the University of Coventry. Boo hoo.

Love Rugby League Readers’ Awards 2019 Villain of the Year – James Rule