Super League mergers, NRL dreams & no d**kheads

George Riley
Chris Thorman on the Love Rugby League podcast

Chris Thorman has revealed Workington’s “no d**khead policy” that fired them to promotion, but admits a merger with Whitehaven might be the only realistic path into Super League.

The ambitious Town coach led the Cumbrian outfit up from League 1 but is still awaiting his first Championship win after a start to the season every bit as tough as he envisaged.

And in a fascinating discussion on Love Rugby League’s latest ‘The Big Interview’, Chris Thorman outlines the finer details of his Derwent Park project, discusses the dreaded ‘M’ word, backs Huddersfield starlet Will Pryce to shine in the NRL and reveals his own ambitions to coach in Australia’s top tier.

“You need to formulate a good plan and have the guts to follow through with it,” he says.

“The first thing that I did was give the club an identity that had been lost. The club had forgotten what it stood for, and that is its stance in the community. A lot of people rely on their local rugby league club up here.

“I just identified the best Cumbrian players and did my best to bring them in. It gave us a core of Cumbrians that the town, club and fans could relate to.

“We also have a no dickhead policy. It is very important that they are good human beings. They have to be good rugby league players. But we do a background check to look where they have worked and played.

“If they are coming into the club they have to buy into everything. When you are a semi-pro rugby league player it is important how you live your life.

“A lot of them work full-time and have families. So to take your rugby seriously you need to be a good person.”

Cumbrian merger?

With three Cumbrian sides into the Betfred Challenge Cup fifth round, the region remains in great shape. But Thorman believes that any hope of bringing Super League to Cumbria may require the dreaded M word.

“I think we can get a Super League club in Cumbria but I have mixed feelings on it. 

“I am here to do a job for Workington, we have a new stadium on the horizon in 2024/5 and that was part of the reason I signed a long-term contract.

“For there to be a long-term venture and potentially a Super League club, I don’t want to say the word mergers but it potentially would have to happen really.

“Maybe it is easier for me to talk about a merger because I’m not from the area, maybe that’s why I’m more open to it.

“But I do know how passionate they are and what the Workington-Whitehaven derby means.

“Also how far Barrow is from Whitehaven and Workington so whether that (merger) would include Barrow as well I’m not sure.

“I know Barrow have their own aspirations and targets which probably don’t include Workington and Whitehaven. So there’s a lot to think about.”

The future of London Broncos

Speaking of mergers, what of Thorman’s former side London, who attracted just 551 fans to their latest new home last weekend. Is it a realistic notion that the Broncos may have to join forces with the Skolars to survive?

“I’m not sure how much a merger there would influence crowds. 

“It is disappointing but you see how it has happened. They have gone part-time and the buy-in from the public is less when they don’t see the glitz and glamour and appeal of Super League and the biggest clubs and travelling fans.

“Honestly the fall from grace has been disappointing. I’m all for expansion and I do think there is a place for a London side in professional rugby league but how we do it I don’t know. David Hughes like Ken Davy at Huddersfield probably wrote a cheque for a million pounds every year. It is not about making money for those guys.

“It is a tough one for London and I had a fantastic time there during the time of Richard Branson and Virgin. But is there that appeal any more in the capital for the club?”

Going to the NRL

As a player Chris Thorman made his name at Huddersfield, playing over 150 times across two stints with The Giants and also coaching the side. 

And there is one of the current crop of Giants who stands out.

“Will Pryce is undoubtedly talented enough to play in the NRL now but I would suggest he needs to stay in England for a couple of years and prove himself.

“It would take him a bit of time to acclimatize to the NRL and the consistency you need in training and in games. You have one bad training session and you don’t get picked nevermind one bad game.

“I think he would be successful but if I was his advisor or his father I’d say you need to prove yourself in this country first before you explore those avenues.

“I’ve no problem with players going to the NRL because I did it. I listen to Jon Wilkin say we need to keep all of our best talent in Super League and I don’t think that is the case, as long as we keep them in our sport they will come back and play for England.”

Thorman is wholly focused on achieving success as a head coach and hopes to mastermind Workington’s consolidation and climb as part of wider professional ambitions.

“I really don’t see myself doing anything else. If I’m going to be successful as a coach I have to be fully immersed in it. I have aspirations, I went to the NRL as a player and I have aspirations of going to the NRL as a coach.”

MORE: Chris Thorman: The Geordie that went to the NRL