Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

There is only one rugby league image after the weekend.

Not Zeb Taia blazing his way to the posts in Perpignan. Or Stefan Marsh crashing over from another choice Kevin Brown short ball.

It is the picture of Lizzie Jones carrying her two bemused twins, one in either hand and wearing the tiniest of shirts bearing the word Daddy on the back, taking tumultuous acclaim from the over 4,000 fans at Cougar Park.

Her heart must be broken and, as the image went viral, a sport built on imperviousness to pain dabbed its collective eye.

Her courage and that of Danny’s family and friends transcended facing any monster tackle. How his team mates played with such heavy hearts, the memory of their fallen hero so fresh, only they will know. 

And massive kudos to Keighley’s opponents Coventry Bears who were the epitome of the dignity and support shown in the impeccable minute silences observed through the sport.

The scenes at Cougar Park as shirts of almost every hue queued to get in made the national news. 

The fundraising will continue but too quickly the spotlight will dim and that is when Lizzie, Bobby and Phoebe et al will need us the most.

Nor should we forget Zane Purcell who passed away on the field during the game between Lower Clarence and Ballina in New South Wales this weekend, apparently following a head clash. He too was 29 and a father of two.

The mood music was sombre overall, post-election poet Ian McMillan tweeted, ‘I hope Labour doesn’t end up like Rugby League; struggling to break out of the heartlands’. 

Off the field, in the UAE, president of the rugby league, Sol Mokdad, was arrested – yes, for wanting to stage the sport – and threatened with deportation firstly for alleged fraud in getting Nissan to sponsor his four-team cup when all auspices of ‘rugby’ come under the rugby union, and then the UAE RU claiming that, as a non-national president, he was guilty of, “Unauthorised representation of UAE sovereignty.”

A scandalous throwback to the days when league was banned in the armed forces here and in Vichy France. At its heart, Mokdad – of Lebanese decent – has been trying to get the sport off the ground in the UAE for three years, putting his own money into it and was not considered a threat until announcements recently that a 2017 RL World Cup qualifier is to be played in Dubai in late October between South Africa and Lebanon, and that the UAE was considering bidding for the RLWC in 2021.

The unholy dispute will show if the RLIF, with its new chief executive David Collier at the helm, has any balls and how bodies like the International Olympic Committee – who will include 7s in Brazil for the first time next year – will react to union’s imperialism.

It had a feel of going back 120 years but just shows the power of the global and why it is so important for rugby league to embrace it if rugby league is to prosper and grow domestically. 

On the field internationally, Spain moved closer to World Cup qualification, defeating Latvia 32-12 in the first game on the road to the Antipodes in a great clash in Riga, to join Malta and Greece in the next phase.

In a picturesque setting, the match was superbly live-streamed by a local broadcaster, the match a contrast of styles; Latvia bigger and forward-dominated, Spain reliant on their faster backs, winger Hector D’Alessandro with a genuine first half hat trick. 

It was also heartening to see both nations observe a minute’s silence beforehand for Danny Jones, a proud Welsh international.

Never mind the standard, the contest was a fine contrast to the rain-dampened night before at Wigan and Salford which, understandably in the downpours, both produced matches of limited spectacle and nillings – Wigan’s third in five games as they begin to look ominous.

Sun also lit up Perpignan where one-legged Todd Carney helped orchestrate defeat of St Helens, four-try Adam Swift and all – as the Dragons continued their Jekyll and Hyde campaign in a colourful and highly entertaining clash. 

We need a fully fit Carney, and it is to be hoped reports that unfortunate Luke Walsh is set for another lengthy spell on the side lines for Saints are premature; such artists paint our canvas.

Another was missing at Widnes as Sinfield-less Leeds went down to Widnes, whose game management on the back of more direct running and greater discipline was extremely impressive. 

It even had gravel-voiced coach Denis Betts quoting lines from Morrissey in his post-match press conference and playing the Smiths track on his phone to journalist afterwards, surely a first.

Salford got into a spat about their attendances, again using the emotional blackmail route to appeal to the lost supporters while at the same time slipping to eleventh – surely no coincidence. To their credit, they are offering cheap tickets for their next game but will be hoping the disruptive, flare-throwing element will find something else to do.

Hull are the other form side having sneaked back into the eight after their fifth win in six, under-scrutiny Marc Sneyd with the last-gasp drop goal to win, eye-openingly away at Warrington. 

It is a reward for Lee Radford who, as much as anyone in the coaching ranks wears his heart on his sleeve, stands by his principles and is refreshingly and disarmingly honest.

The broadest smiles are in Widnes the morning after.

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