On reading the title of this blog there will be people who already think I’m at best a fool and at worst, well, let’s not go there just yet.
For the one thing I want above all else in Rugby League; an Ashes victory fought over a three test series against the old enemy Australia, can and will only be delivered by players from expansion teams. There I’ve said it, some will agree, some will be scrolling to the end of this blog to start giving me grief, but surely that’s the beauty of the debating greatest game, isn’t it?
To explain myself I have to go back to July 2008 – a date that changed the future of Super League. Now, I am the fiercest critic of the RFL at the best of times. Yet, in my opinion, the switch to a licence system is one of the good things to come out of that corner of Yorkshire in modern times.
As a sport we are our own worst enemy, for 110 years we’ve been entrenched across the M62 suffering from self doubt and deprivation. A few bad decisions by mavericks away from the heartlands have made those in there dig their heels in even further.
Look at how the economy of the north, once rich, powerful, industrial and gritty stood toe to toe with the manicured hands of the south has slowly ebbed away. Nowhere is this more evident than in the docklands of Cumbria. View that decline over the last 40 years and the pace has hastened at an alarming rate.
Is it coincidence that we haven’t beaten Australia in that time? Before I’m bombarded with comments about north v south, that’s not what I’m saying. My point is that the north has had to reinvent its industrial worth. The landscape of mills and their entrepreneurial owners who would support our game have been replaced with the call centres of faceless corporations who don’t. In the meantime the south has predominately benefited from organic growth. In turn this has impacted on our game, the investment in it and its ability to stand up for itself in an increasingly commercial world. For the world we now live in means that financial failure off the pitch all too often leads to failure on it.
So why do I think that a team in a far flung corner of Wales can deliver the holy grail? Firstly, Super League has to expand outside the M62 area. There simply isn’t enough talent within it to take on a game that, despite its problems on the other side of the world, is growing in both Australia and New Zealand.
There are people who will say that I’m wrong and that we must invest in the heartland and that the talent is there. Well where is it? It’s not playing amateur rugby because the clubs all scout these games. The next Ellery Hanley is working out how to get on to X Factor, or any of the other menagerie of “reality” tv shows that fill our screens and not in the gym or doing kicking practice. Those who are playing have far too many distractions in their time poor lives to understand what it takes to be Sam Tomkins, or they simply don’t want to put in that level of commitment.
Secondly, Cumbria doesn’t seem to collectively want to have a Super League team. The want seems to come from outside. Nevermind the logistics, infrastructure or investment, because the last time I looked Cumbria is a big place.
Wales is bereft of first class sport, no Premier League football and three 5/6 nations wins since 1989. The sporadic pockets appear to be in the south as football, cricket and union appear to reside here. This is our gap to fill. Add to the mix that the disposition of the average union follower in Wales is not the stiff upper lipped Johnny perceived of the English but more of the honest worker that follows our own pied piper. So to introduce our sport is not the paradigm shift people may think; an oval ball, tries, goals, a tribal following at the highest level of the game playing against the English week in week out at a price that attracts…well, you can start to see the groundswell.
So, I really do hope that the Crusaders get over their troubles and establish themselves in the game. Because then the reach of our sport grows, and so to does the talent pool. And who is going to complain when, in 2018 a Great Britain team (reformed because the Sport England money has run out) takes on the Aussies in a three test series and wins… all with the help of the next Ellery Hanley, Lewis Jones or Jonathan Davies? For not I, I will be celebrating with my son a famous win, praying that it is not another 50 years to the next one.