Forty-20 Column: The Morning After


There was a time, not long ago, when owners and chief executives were seldom seen or heard. Anonymous, shadowy figures, they plotted, schemed, wheeled-and-dealed away from the spotlight.

Not so now.

Apparently there was some rugby played this weekend. But almost all the headlines – from the boycotting of Leigh’s directors (and what a game they missed at Odsal) and the Centurions fans wearing Derek Beaumont masks, to the French equivalent of New Zealand’s ‘mad Butcher’ as Bernard the BBQ went off on one about refereeing standards – weren’t about the action.

It was a weekend of remarkable attacks – and how the Catalans v Huddersfield game could have done with that.

The most surprising and direct one came from Leeds coach Brian McDermott, aimed at Salford supremo, the enigmatic and absent Dr Marwan Koukash, after his side looked anything but expensively assembled.

To put it bluntly, Salford were abject, looking very much like London did last season, all of which was supposed to have been swept away in the new era.

On paper, the Red-faced Devils had some big names on the team sheet, certainly enough to prevent the 70-point humiliation that followed, a record-ever loss to Leeds.

Yes, there was much to admire about the cut-throat Leeds inter-play but clearly every minute – or indeed any, as they shipped a point-a-minute from the off – didn’t matter to the visitors.

After praising his side, McDermott launched a stinging tirade laying the responsibility for the Salford capitulation at the hands of Koukash.

Speaking on behalf of those who can’t, most notably the players and staff under the current regime at the AJ Bell, McDermott talked about a lack of leadership from the top; supposed coach Iestyn Harris in ignored limbo and Rangi Chase, who didn’t play, the latest player looking to leave, with Catalans hot on his trail.

Immediately social network opinion was divided on whether it was McDermott’s place but the ex-Marine knows what he’s talking about on the subject; it is not about results but setting the right culture, a defined course and sticking to it and treating those under your command with respect, if a team is to pull together.

He also knows a number of the players there – five ex-Rhinos were in the side – and some of the support staff, so his observations were clearly informed.

Koukash’s response, on his favoured medium of twitter, was to tell McDermott to ‘keep his mouth shut’, even though the gruff Yorkshireman was speaking for a number in the game disillusioned with the Doctor’s antics after he promised to be a breath of fresh air.

Unless the Doc delivers something he has prescribed soon, there is an air of constantly shifting sand around the current Salford soap opera, which seems to have more dramas than Corrie at present.

Former London Bronco under McDermott, Danny Ward, ‏offered his salient advice on the matter, also on twitter, saying, ‘doc, if Brian Mac says its ur fault, agree, hold ur hands up, apologise profusely, buy him flowers, do whatever u need to do.’

All of which was a shame, not least because Leeds showed a superb tribute to former Trojan Adrian Morley on their big screen post-match after what is likely to be his last appearance on his old stamping ground.

But the ultimate warrior had skulked off not knowing, as did most of the crowd as it played out to a rapidly emptying stadium.

It’s HERE and a worthy reminder of one of the very best of his generation. 

Catalans defeat in, possibly, one of the least edifying games in the top flight in recent memory was followed by Bernard Guasch lambasting the performance of referee Joe Cobb, whose honeymoon in the fulltime ranks is clearly over.

Like so many young players brought in to sides, who make stellar entrances and then understandably tail off, Cobb is learning to cope with the unknown mental rather than physical pressures and intense scrutiny that come with the role.

His far more experienced colleague Phil Bentham appeared to make a greater howler at Wigan to allow an offside try, but it wasn’t subject to a video screen.

Cobb, and his touch judges, may well have made mistakes – its part of what makes sport unpredictable and gives it the oxygen of debate, the TJs at Wakefield couldn’t agree if a conversion had gone through – but he didn’t miss a conversion or not find touch with a penalty or barely complete a set due to poor handling.

Questioning referee’s integrity is extremely dangerous ground, it goes against any idea of a respect policy and sends out a message of weakness; no side has ever won anything that operates a blame culture.

Contrast that to Sherwood Wolf Hunt RLFC’s experiences this weekend, as they posted:

“Its rare in Rugby League that we pay match officials a compliment, and we’re usually very quick to have a whinge at them. So then its only fair we pay this chap a compliment….

“Malcolm Holmes travelled from Cheltenham today to officiate our game versus N.E.W Ravens. He was also asked at the last hour to officiate our Development team game, which kindly he agreed to do.

“But as if having to officiate two games one after the other in extremely hot conditions wasn’t enough, Malcolm kindly donated his match fees to the fundraiser for our injured Fran Appleton.

“Malcolm, take a bow you absolute gentleman….’

Hull KR’s benefactor, Neil Hudgell, also came out with a strange comment prior to his side’s ‘desperate derby’ encounter with Hull, that maybe his side would be better off fighting in the Qualifiers than treading water in the top 8s – as indeed, now, it looks like they will.

Salford’s collapse must give succour to Leigh and Bradford, especially, in their quest to replace the Red Devils come the looming middle-8s and an excellent near 10,000 gate saw the pair produce not only a terrific atmosphere but a superb encounter with honours ending breathlessly even.

It felt like it mattered and again showed that games between equally-matched sides are what will generate the most meaning, rather than being indicative of the Championship standard.

Halifax secured a top four spot which is a massive achievement for coach Richard Marshall in his first season and they can now have some rarefied fun and Sheffield did likewise, beating Featherstone to celebrate playing their 1,000th game.

Whereas the likes of Bradford, with parachute funding for this year only, and Leigh might ‘have’ to go up, the Eagles and ‘Fax will almost double their central income for 2016 regardless, which will enable them to continue to build responsibly.

St Helens did what champion sides do and found a way to win at Warrington, rivalling ‘wide to West’ with the quality of Jordan Turner’s late winning try, the centre also coming up with a game-saving tackle on his own line which must have cheered Saints CEO Mike Rush.

He was pictured numerous times sitting behind the posts with the fans and his son during the broadcast which might be why administrators are hogging the limelight these days; surely we need to focus more on the players.

Mark Flanagan’s stats were astonishing and James Roby immense.

Debate intensified about the need for a reserve grade with the spilt coming and players likely to be frozen out, some clubs looking to take matters into their own hands and arrange fixtures.

It is equally important to give those who have been absent for long spells with injury the ability to readjust out of the ultra-competitive spotlight.

Too many are having to complete their rehab while out on the field, which also detracts from desired intensity.


The broadest smiles are in Halifax the morning after.