Right To Reply

However, on occasion we have to put up with the half-baked ramblings of people who think that just because they’ve been given access to a keyboard and a national newspaper they can write any drivel they please.

That is the category in which must be placed the inane ramblings of Mick Cleary, rugby (union) correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Cleary does not like rugby league. Fair enough, everyone’s entitled to like or dislike whatever sport they please – but quite why the subject deserves a place within a supposedly upmarket broadsheet is beyond me.

Cleary’s article is an interesting one, frankly because it can be picked to pieces, almost in its entirety. The union correspondent starts out saying: “I don't like rugby league. I find it dull, insular, repetitive and dreadfully chippy”.

I can deal with each criticism in turn. He may well find rugby league dull, and such is his right. But surely any sport on the planet can be seen as dull by somebody – we don’t all put pen to paper about it.

Insular is not a word that can be applied to rugby league. There are certainly some who wish to keep the sport within its perceived localised boundaries, but most of us are supportive of expansion in some shape or form. We lend our support to the RL Conference, teams like London Skolars and Celtic Crusaders, and applaud the march of our game across mainland Europe.

League is repetitive? I assume Cleary is getting at the fact that when both teams are completing their sets then five tackles and a kick follows five tackles and a kick. But what sport isn’t repetitive? Soccer – they keep passing it around that field! Cricket – they keep throwing it at those stumps! Tennis – they keep knocking over that tedious net! Union – they keep kicking it into the stand! Yawn.

Chippy? I take it that Cleary is referring to some sort of chip on our collective shoulder. The sheer irony of it blows you away – Cleary obviously has a chip on his shoulder about league; one that he’s not shy about announcing.

Cleary goes on to say that the influx of ex-league stars into union and the adoption of league tactics in union may give the impression that league is the superior game. Well, yes. That’s surely why union clubs are bringing those people in and adopting their tactics.

The “chippy” hack then goes on to lament St Helens BBC Sports Team of the Year award. He says: “Tell me, how did they win the BBC's Team of the Year award ahead of the Ryder Cup boys? One lot beat the best of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the other lot defeated the most powerful country on the planet.”

Strange how your sense of perspective changes with what agenda you are trying to push through. I could just as easily write: ‘One lot beat just one team in a two-horse race, while the other consistently defeated some of the best teams in the world, virtually all year long’.

Cleary also derides our complaints that rugby league coverage is lacking. He writes: “Why doesn't league get more coverage, they ask? It's a southern conspiracy, they say. Ever thought that perhaps not enough people like it, follow it, rate it?”

Well, yes I have if you must know. Then I dismissed the thought. Judging by the replies to Cleary’s blog alone there are more than enough league fans out there. Consider also that Saints’ award was voted for by the public (multiple votes did not count I hasten to add, so this was by sheer numbers) and that the engage Super League is the best attended domestic league outside of soccer.

I have seen nothing to ever convince me that union is any more popular than league, especially considering that most of the sporting public think it’s the same sport. I seem to remember that union was ready to take over from soccer after the Union World Cup – I also seem to remember that we’re still waiting for it to do so.

Part of being a sports fan is having sports that you dislike. I could not sit through a game of rugby union, but I’ve never thought to write an article here on Last Tackle telling you why, as though it’s news or something. I wonder if next week Cleary will take time out to tell us why he dislikes other codes of football, soccer perhaps, or Aussie Rules, or American, or maybe even the Eton Wall Game?

It must be a slow day in the union world when union journalists have to write about league. Or perhaps this sad little man is suffering from a form of extreme inferiority complex. I’d close by saying that I hope he sticks to his job in future, but it won’t really matter to me – I never read his column before, and I probably never will again.  
Keep Your Eye On Rugby League

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