Does Chambers have the skills?

It seemed as though almost nothing in rugby league would take the spotlight off referees and their controversial performances, but the arrival of the – if anything even more controversial – sprinter Dwain Chambers has done just that. Even if Chambers never takes to the rugby league field that is something of an achievement, and just goes to show what this move is mainly about: publicity.nnThis was one of the biggest rugby league stories I can remember and has brought the game very much into the public consciousness, at least for a short time. Sports fans are actually taking about rugby league , and should Chambers ever play for Castleford (it’s not impossible) his debut will be a very high-profile game. It’s likely that such an event will bring rugby league more column inches than England bringing home the World Cup at the end of the year.nnBut, when the dust dies down and Chambers actually has to adapt to rugby league, will he be able to? That is probably the key issue, even more so than the issue over his drugs ban. In my view Chambers having served his two years is perfectly entitled to play the game in just the same way that Ryan Hudson is entitled after the end of his two-year ban. The question is over whether Chambers can catch a ball, sidestep, send a pass, tackle and be tackled. nnIt takes a lot of skills to make a rugby league player and Chambers, despite being a world-class athlete, does not necessarily have those skills. He can run fast and appears to have a fair amount of power at his disposal, but there’s a difference between running as fast as you can down a running track than running as fast as you can down the wing with people waiting to hit you as hard as they can. nnIn some ways the game will receive a lot of bad publicity if Chambers is successful. I’ve already seen comments from fans of other sports suggesting that this shows that just about anyone can play the game. It might be better for the game if Chambers was to struggle greatly; it might give some indication of just how skilful the people who play this game week in week out actually are. Not that bad publicity will worry Castleford: they’re just anxious to avoid capitulating at franchise decision time.nnAnother controversial issue is Chambers’ desire to still compete at the Beijing Olympics. Assuming for a second that he is serious about making it in rugby league, and that he does make a success of it, are the Tigers prepared to let him take time off to go back to his chosen sport just when he might be getting to grips with our game? Chambers shouldn’t be able to have it both ways: if he wants to stay in athletics he shouldn’t be trying to join another sport.nnAll this may prove to be pointless conjecture yet. Chambers may never play for the club, and there are people out there who don’t even expect him to. A rumour earlier this week suggested he may make his debut against Saints on Sunday. My feeling is that if he doesn’t play then he never will.nnReferees have done their bitnnChambers’ arrival has not taken the heat off referees entirely, as coaches and chairmen line up to vent their spleen about overbearing officiating at games. It’s true that there have been too many penalties – a staggering 32 in Wigan’s 8-4 win over Wakefield, a dire spectacle – and that the problem is ruining what should be a fast, free-flowing game. If only the referees would let some indiscretions pass.nnThe problem, though, is this: referees let a great many offences pass, even when awarding over 20 penalties a game, and apart from that coach the players not to commit penalties by shouting things like “stay back!”, “both feet!”, “hold, hold, go!” and, incredibly, “no penalties!”. I guess that even with the 32 penalties, there were another 32 incidents that could have been penalised and another 32 incidents that were prevented by the referee’s coaching. At least.nnNo-one is saying that referees are faultless, but they’ve done their bit to keep the game free-flowing by turning a blind eye to so much of what goes on. If they bow to coaches’ demands and let even more go then there’s no point having rules any more, the game may as well be a free-for-all, like the days of folk football when the only rule was that the team that got the pig’s bladder into their opponents’ village had won. nnSuper League clubs could be disappointednnThe other big news story this week has been about the deadline for Super League license bids to be submitted to the Rugby Football League. There were no real surprises as all the clubs that applied had previously announced their intentions (the only surprise on that score was the shock story that the 19th bid was from a Whitehaven-Workington merger – don’t you love April Fools Day).nnBut as the deadline date has grown nearer and the analysis has grown in depth – Boots ‘n’ All are conducting an exhaustive explanation as did Code 13 Magazine – it appears that one or two of the NL1 candidates may have stronger applications than their Super League counterparts. Widnes and Salford are the two that have the strongest applications, while Celtic Crusaders have a strong application by virtue of being in Wales. nnThis situation leaves three favourites for what look like two extra Super League places, an equation that can only be made to work if a club is kicked out of Super League. It will be interesting – and possibly infuriating – to see if the RFL are willing to deny a license to a current Super League club. Those clubs with weaker applications near the bottom end of Super League will have an anxious wait. nnKeep Your Eye on Rugby League

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