Rugby league launches in Guernsey thanks to former Super League star

Rugby league will take another small step forward this week, when the first competitive game of the sport is played in the Channel Islands.

Two teams of 12-13-year-olds are set to play each on Wednesday on the island of Guernsey, when La Mare will play Les Beaucamps.

Leading the initiative to bring the Greatest Game to the Channel Islands is former Swinton, Rochdale Hornets, Huddersfield Giants, Halifax and Oldham player Paul Smith.

Smith played for the Giants in Super League between 2004 and 2006, making 69 Super League appearances and scoring 13 tries.

Now, he is head of Maths at a local school on Guernsey, and is desperate to spread the gospel of the 13-a-side code in a prosperous and sports-mad place.

“I’m a schoolteacher, so I’ve got it started at my school, and I’ve got it going at another school,” Smith told Love Rugby League.

“So it’s two schools that will be playing. They’ve only just started with league, they’re all rugby union players.

“They do enjoy their rugby union down here. Just after Christmas I started doing a bit of rugby league in training and things like that, to get started.”

Smith made a conscious decision to play a junior game, before looking at establishing a foothold for rugby league in the open-age ranks.

Sparking some local rivalry with the nearby island of Jersey could perhaps be another step on the journey.

“The idea of this is that it’s the easiest way of getting it going, with my contacts in the schools,” Smith explained.

“I’m trying to create a bit of interest in it through the media, and, after the rugby union season has finished, I’m hoping to either set up a junior match against someone else, or a seniors game against a developing nation or similar.

“It’s just baby steps at the moment. I’m based in Guernsey, which is quite a small island, about 60,000 live here.

“It’d be good if I could get a contact in Jersey, with someone doing something similar, as that’s a bit of a bigger island, and then we can take it forward.”

The strategy moving forward could well see a Guernsey select look to play a fixture against another developing nation, such as Belgium or Malta.

“That’s ideally what I would want, to get a fixture like that,” Smith added.

“To get some of the rugby union lads interested in playing a one-off game.

“Let’s say if someone like Belgium or Malta visited, that would be massive for Guernsey, it would be like front page news.

“Even though it’s a small island, it’s a very wealthy island.”

That wealth, coupled with a passionate interest in sport, could make Guernsey an important, if geographically small, outpost on rugby league’s ever widening frontier.

The rugby union team on Jersey currently play in that code’s Championship in England, the second tier.

Channel Islands rugby union also recently secured a sponsorship deal from banking group Investec, showing that cash is present in the region which could also help rugby league.

“It’s a sports-mad island,” Smith exaplained.

“The local football team play at three levels below the professionals, and they get two to three thousand people watching.

“The local rugby union team on Guernsey are in something like Division Two South, and they get quite good crowds, so it’s quite a good sporting island, really.

“They like to get involved with anything that’s going on.

“Specsavers, who sponsored the World Cup, are based in Guernsey.

“It would generate quite a bit of interest if we could get something like that going.

“There’s lots of other companies based here for tax reasons.

“The finance sector is massive down here.”

As for whether the Channel Islands have any potential Super League stars of the future among the ranks of their athletes, Smith is sure that there are some gems to be found.

“There are some really good athletes down here,” he said.

“The rugby union teams play in the Hampsire set-up, and you see some people who are naturally good at running and tackling, and you think, ‘Wow, they’d be ideal for rugby league.’

“But obviously they would need the experience of playing against similar people.”

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