Cumbria display provokes SL talk

It usually happens after a moderate example of rugby league success in Cumbria, and once again following the 18-18 draw against England, there are calls for a Super League team in the county.

The forgotten heartland of the game, Cumbria continues to produce Super League quality players, highlighted as recently as yesterday as their home grown squad pushed a strong enough England side all the way, and were well worthy of the draw that they achieved in the match, played as a tribute to the late Garry Purdham, himself a solid player in the lower leagues.

The performance of Kyle Amor caught the eye – the former Whitehaven player who was tempted south by Super League giants Leeds last season has struggled to make an impact in Super League so far, but his display yesterday certainly suggested that he deserves more of a chance than he has got so far.

In fact, it’s Purdham’s brother Rob who has carried the torch of quality for Cumbrians in Super League in recent times, establishing himself as a key player for Harlequins and also putting himself, at worst, on the fringes of the international scene for much of that time too, featuring at the 2008 World Cup Down Under.

The amateur scene in Cumbria continues to thrive but, sadly, take that to a professional level, and the future of rugby league in the county looks bleak.

Whitehaven have found themselves gripped by uncertainty over recent weeks, their relegation from the Championship compounded by administration, which then almost turned in to complete extinction courtesy of an office cock-up, while Workington have only just about recovered from the decline they suffered following their sole season in Super League back in 1996.

The fan base, the player production and the community is all there, but there is no vehicle to drive it forward, and with both west Cumbrian sides lining up in the third tier next season, Super League couldn’t be further away.

Forgive me for neglecting to mention Barrow so far – they are an entity who will strive for the big time on their own and are undoubtedly too far away to attract the interest of fans in Whitehaven or Workington. The only feasible merger, or partnership, would be between those two.

Thanks to the advent of Super League in the mid-1990s, merger has become a word synonymous with negativity. Merger is perhaps the wrong word for the Cumbria situation. Its people must come together to help form a strong Super League franchise playing out of a purpose built stadium between the two towns that can help service the needs of both communities, and help them unite under one umbrella.

Whitehaven and Workington could be retained as feeder teams, working in a similar way to how South Wales Scorpions do with Crusaders, with special offers enticing fans to enjoy Super League whilst also making it affordable to watch the traditional clubs too.

All it needs is a bit of ambition. There will always be doubters, people voicing their opposition to any such suggestion, but for just how long can the “Cumbria should be in Super League” debate be dragged up for before somebody does something about it.

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