Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

Thank you (Wigan fans look away now) Josh Jones for giving us our on-field moment to crow over and savour this weekend.

His late try, combined with the two sublime, back-to-back offerings by Castleford at the start of the second half against Leeds – both involving England-apparent scum half Luke Gale – got us talking about events on the field that mark out our sport for the joyous entertainment it invariably is.

And try telling the long-suffering fans of Oldham, who drew a record crowd to the Whitebank Stadium to see them win promotion at the seventh attempt in recent times, that anything other than results is what it’s all about.

But debate and discussion for most of the time, Super League General Manger Blake Solly’s media charm offensive aside, has been about ancillary, off-field topics; video referees and who owns the Rugby World Cup.

The truth is that we have undermined on-field officials and over-scrutinized video referees to such an extent that responsibility is abdicated and they are now the sport.

The balance is out of kilter and a game whose essence is continuity and speed is being overly broken up by the time taken to try and get things right.

We’ve moved too far away from technology being an aid to an end in itself, it no longer justifies the means.

It can’t be dis-invented but we have to rein it back, not least because the televised version of a game is becoming significantly different to ones played without such camera judge and jury.

Part of the problem is that it has become too much of a crutch for the man in the middle and the protocols misunderstood by fans and viewers alike as they no longer appear clear-cut.

We had instances this weekend of checks to see which side should have a scrum feed, was it a goal line drop out, was someone held up – despite the official peering over the top of the players.

Yet we don’t go for ball steals or forward passes and nor should we.

The only time a video referee should be called into play is to check what happens in the in-goal area if he has an obstructed view – negating the need for the whistle-blower to adjudicate – or guess – what has happened before sending it upstairs; everything that counts as in-play should be their sole preserve.

And they will make mistakes but so what; players do, coaches do and our opinions as fans aren’t always cast in stone – it’s what makes sport unpredictable and, therefore, passionate.

Obstruction was back this weekend but surely the on-field referees are best to judge in real time and at full speed if a defending player has been prevented from making a tackle, whichever shoulder they’ve run into.

The other cascade of debate was that other World Cup and the Union authorities trampling on history, as seen by their crass and inaccurate tweet about internationals being played at Wembley – it wasn’t even Sonny Bill’s first there!

First and foremost, we gave away the title. In 1999, when the ‘Rugby World Cup’ was proposed by those with 15-men, we could have legally prevented it.

The RFL hierarchy were told that they would probably win a legal case preventing its use but that it would potentially cost the type of money we don’t have – and certainly didn’t then – to defend our cause.

So we gave away our birth-right however much that currently sticks in the throat.

And money is what it’s all about, the number of PR companies currently working the message for the Union authorities is simply astonishing. Unsolicited on Saturday, for example, were details from them of London cabs, the dogs trust and national grid all supporting the event, and that aside from the numerous opportunities to interview or watch ex-players and celebrities extolling it.

It is an astonishingly well-oiled and extensive machine, the best running feature Jack Whitehall, sponsored by Samsung, training with the England team – it’s genuinely funny, irrespective.

We cornered Ryan Giggs after the epic Wigan and Saints game who was terrific, we just have to do more of that when our big events come around – and use the likes of SBW and Sam Burgess to help promote our Kiwi series.

Blake Solly, reasonably, says we can use the RUWC to trade off the back of and, in a sense, we can, what we’ve seen so far is that events sell, not necessarily sports – a record union WC crowd of almost 90,000 at Wembley on a Sunday evening to watch the All Blacks play Argentina shows that.

It was anticipated to be a walkover, there were periods of near-silence during the play but it didn’t stop hordes wanting to be part of it – without the lure of discount tickets either.

SBW and SB et al are our Jarryd Hayne within union, we have to make more of that.

Add in that 450 million on global tv supposedly watched the opening ceremony and game, and that Japan produced one of the most uplifting sporting sensations to justify the unwieldly competition and we have little grounds to stand on the sideline and carp.

If, as Blake rightly asserts, that we need to elevate international competition to compete for sponsors, column inches and airtime, then the first thing we must do is shorten the domestic season.

We are getting some close games as the denouement hastens but that is, generally, at the expense of a quality threshold.

So what did we learn from the weekend? That the race to finish top of Super League is an incredibly exciting one – just like last year and involving, principally, the same teams.

That Leigh despite their nonsensical threat to ‘break the salary cap’ were not equipped to play consistently at the highest level.

So often in the Championship, one player can make such a difference and, in the Centurions’ case, Martyn Ridyard’s absence against the Bulls – who controlled the game superbly and have learned how to play without Lee Gaskell – was a factor.

Huddersfield look the form side going into the deciding round and their continued momentum seems to be based around Jamie Ellis taking the pressure off Danny Brough, offering an alternative outlet and making the Scotland skipper, on the back of a rumbling pack, even more strategically effective.

The broadest smiles are from Roughyeds the morning after.


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