Forty-20 Column: The Morning After


It’s heresy, no more, no less, the thought that the only real, genuine, inter-city derby in rugby league will, most likely, be no more other than at senior level….except.

The announcement that the Hull Academies are set to merge in 2016 to produce a Super one allying the red and black halves of east and west produced more reaction than any of the matches played over the last week, and that included a heavyweight, but more like paperweight, clash between first and second in the top flight.

The devil is always in the detail, and actual logistics rather than an overall framework are still to be detailed – hence the hostility to the proposal – but maybe there is a need to temper the hysteria.

First and foremost, this isn’t something either club has rushed in to as a panic measure, it has been on the cards for three years. Yes, it is unquestionably a business decision, this is professional sport after all, but involved in it, especially on the Hull Kingston Rovers side are men like Niel Hudgell and CEO Mike Smith who not only support the red and white but bleed it.

Having heard Smith speak live to BBC Radio Humberside last Thursday, there is absolutely no doubt that he would do anything other than put his club in jeopardy or subsume it to their bitterest rivals, there has to be more to the reasoning behind it than that.

The cold, hard facts of the bigger picture are that, for the last five seasons, this will be the sixth, the two clubs have been scrabbling for a play off place between them. Yes, in part, their top line recruitment has been questionable but, more importantly, and especially compared to those who are consistently above them, very little local cream has consistently risen to the top.

That is especially so at half back and yet, just like in the rhubarb triangle and, to a lesser extent Cumbria, where the community game is purportedly so strong, none have come through who can hold down a regular place.

The issues are wider than who plays for which after a draft or in what colours. Significantly for the sport as a whole, the message was forcefully made that not enough youngsters are playing the game in one of its real hotbeds and the majority of those who do are struggling to make grade A.

That is a significant worry for us all. As Mike Smith pointed out, it is ludicrous that both Hull clubs have turned to loan players from other Super League sides in recent times, they should be the ones with the overabundant supply.

There is encouraging talk of one of the by-products of this dangerous liaison being the formation of a joint U23s team, which should be music to the ears of those who want to reintroduce a form of reserve grade, and temper the unsettling need to dual register. Having that side as well as the U19s may well encourage and, crucially, retain more local youngsters into the proposed AirlieRobins alliance.

It is a potential minefield but talk of having eight Super Academies is also interesting, a tacit public acknowledgement that the areas that have historically and selflessly supported the sport in its traditional guise are reservoirs running dry, we have to cast the net wider and more strategically to catch a mackerel rather than a sprat.

Equally as revealing although receiving far less publicity and outcry was the news that Widnes – in a similar position and prognosis to the Hull clubs – will now manage the Cumbria Academy, already made up of the best youngsters from both Whitehaven and Workington, a ‘merger’ that would have been thought of as equally unthinkable in the not so distant past.

The Vikings again struggled this week, at resurgent Cas, but they need half a dozen more Kevin Brown’s who’s six week absence has left them looking threadbare.

Fewer kids are coming into every sport, the now acknowledged lessening of participation post Olympics and Tour de France shout that out, why should we think rugby league would be any different? Nor do we have vast backers who are interested in pumping money into development, it’s a long term strategy and everyone needs an instant return these days – especially fans.

Combined centres of excellence with the very best facilities, coaching and infrastructure might just be the only way ahead and the biggest red herring is possibly ‘denying’ a talented youngster the chance to play for the team he supports.

This is a professional career, every sport is littered with those who play for one club and support another – exhibit A Alex Walmsley who was one of the few shining lights for a below par Saints at his Headingley temple of spectating choice.
If players only turned out for the sides they followed as kids, there would be no need for agents.

Although only Monday last week didn’t have a game, the other story with the biggest implications was about the field but off it, Cas getting the final go-ahead to lay a spade at Xscape which is wonderful news for their long term future.

The irony of down-the-road Wakefield serving notice on their Belle Vue lease the week before wasn’t lost either. Some Tigers fans are worried about losing the atmosphere currently roaring around the Hose but it needn’t be so, as a rocking Halliwell Jones showed when Warrington outgunned tottering Wigan on Thursday night. It might not have been the Wilderspool Zoo but the place was definitely #hardwired.

Sky brought us two midweek games not on the original schedule, which is why they were ‘Xtra’, and were rewarded with a couple of great clashes.

Albert Kelly’s late steal and Wakefield’s astonishing renaissance – new signing Mickey Sio, who apparently has ‘whack in his tackle’, superb – were both great watches even without a live clock or tackle count. There were more ups and downs than Matt Ryan’s shorts.

Buffering issues aside, it appears to be a foretaste of every game next season being, at least, livestreamed.
Richie Myler put out the best-ever cv for Australian suitors with his wonder try that, following team mate Kevin Penny’s in the Cup, went viral, while Taulima Tautai won this week’s Joe Westerman ‘cows tits for hands’ award.

Salford, with or without Iestyn Harris and over 5,000 watching for free accounted for Catalans who continue to woefully underperform on their travels.

Mitch Garbutt’s arrival added size and competition for engine room places at just the right time in the season for Leeds, clean-shaven Zak Hardaker sinbinned on the back of his new contract deal – a significant piece of business again for the sport here with the NRL vultures hovering.

In the Championship, Bradford and Leigh cemented the top two positions, the Centurions with five fixtures still to play pre-split, Halifax continued their superb run of beating teams around them to put Sheffield’s top four hopes under threat and Featherstone, who performed so brilliantly at the Bulls in midweek, couldn’t back it up at Dewsbury which could be a telling intensity indicator.

And there are even four Super League games on Sunday this week.


The broadest smiles are in Halifax the morning after.