Scotland Rugby League needs support now more than ever

Scotland as a rugby league country currently faces a major point in its development.

The nation has done tremendously well over the last decade and a half to produce an international side which could compete with any country outside of the top three.

It has done incredibly well to bring knowledge and understanding of the 13-man code to a country where football is king, and rugby of any kind comes a long way down the media pecking order.

But there are some potentially very serious storms ahead.

The country is in danger of losing its RLEF full members status, and might have to drop to being an affiliate member, or even an observer, which would be a disaster, and seriously hamper future participation at World Cups.

There is also a lack of meaningful domestic rugby league in the country, which is hampering the development of domestic players.

The decision to drop the funding that the SRL received – on the very day that they were about to  play a World Cup quarter final against New Zealand – was idiocy, and idiocy done in that special rugby league way of seemingly being wilfully stupid, myopic and self-destructive.

But the 2013 World Cup was meant to have made good profits, and it was meant to be about ‘legacy’. That word has become irritating in the extreme, as meaningless as the plethora of other buzzwords which swarm around our politics and entertainment currently.

There has been little real delivery on the ‘legacy’ that World Cup, and, indeed, in Scotland, it can be argued that it has gone backwards.

But we have known as a game that Scotland would be in the Four Nations for two years now, and yet nothing was done.

There was no game for the Bravehearts North of the Border in the Four Nations, so we were left with the embarrassing spectacle of 5,339 people turning up to watch Scotland v Australia on Friday night in Hull.

That’s in a rugby league hotbed, to see the best team in the world. Getting a crowd of 3000 in Glasgow, Gala or Aberdeen would have done far more for rugby league than that pathetic effort on Friday.

Time and time again, the work done on the ground in Scotland just gets ignored.

It is almost like the powers that be don’t really want the Scots involved anymore.

Easterhouse Panthers are a case in point.

This is club who isn’t taking the game to well-heeled suburban southern kids, but some of the most deprived people in the UK.

Easterhouse is infamous in Scotland. Along with Possil and Paisley’s Ferguslie Park, it is a by-word for deprivation, violence and crime.

That a rugby league club has formed, functioned and excelled in such an area should make us all proud of our sport.

To take troubled kids and turn them into respectable young men is something that governments spend millions on, social workers ponder, and academics study. Rugby league just gets on with doing it, in places like the Cranhill Flats, in Glasgow.

A young man was murdered there in January of this year.  Named Jamie Johnstone, he was a former Panthers youth player. The club was at the front and centre of the community’s tributes to him.

This is in the West of Scotland, where football is, literally, more important than religion to the majority of the population.

But a rugby league club has managed to place itself at the heart of the community.

Surely something that is worth praise, publicity and meaningful support, from not just the RFL but government, whether Scottish or UK.

Instead, many of the personalities involved with the Panthers are now plying their trade in rugby union.

Former Scotland RL youth international and Scotland Wheelchair RL coach Jamie Seery has been forced to turn to coaching in rugby union, with Cambuslang RFC, simply to keep coaching meaningfully.

Chad McGlame, a good young player who spent time at Hull FC’s academy, is now playing for Cambuslang, along with Louis Senter, a player who came through at Hull KR and Halifax, before moving back home.

Senter did apparently have a deal ready to go at Gloucestershire All Golds, but personal matters kept him in Scotland.

But the pathway has become choked off, as opportunities to play rugby league in Scotland have dried up.

Scotland have a domestic club XIII who are meant to play internationals, but never seem to have any games.

The contrast with Ireland could not be greater. Ireland has grafted rugby league into its traditional provincial structure, which is basically borrowed from Gaelic Games and also functions in rugby union.

They have also now established a league where teams have regular fixtures all summer long, and have actually started to become proper clubs too.

Clubs in Ireland like the Belfast Eagles organise trips to internationals, while the Athboy Longhorns, thanks in part to the sheer enthusiasm of characters like Casey Dunne, operate youth teams and look for fixtures outside of Ireland.

Rugby League Ireland also has a true rugby league intellectual helping it develop, in the shape of former Oldham and Great Britain player Des Foy.

Scotland does not have a similarly engaged and engaging figure, as things stand currently.

Ireland, like Serbia and other countries, have also established a heritage operation in Australia, where players are found and incorporated into the international structure.

Scotland has nothing like this currently.

So, what needs to happen?

First of all, Scotland needs money. The last World Cup was meant to have made profit, so where has that money gone. Just £100,000 would go a long way towards employing development officers and coaches, and helping clubs to establish infrastructure and travel arrangements.

If the money cannot come from the game’s governing bodies, for whatever reason, then provate finance needs to be chased.

There are Scots involved in rugby league and business – Jim Doyle at the NZ Warriors is one. The SRL needs help finding them so that they can contribute.

More clubs need to be established, and it may well be necessary to move in alongside rugby union outfits in order for this to happen.

A regional structure would help too – simply because of the distances involved in travelling from Aberdeen to the Central Belt or Borders.

A semi-professional club needs to be established as soon as possible, possibly playing in the south west, at somewhere like Kilmarnock.

The Scotland Club XIII needs help with having more fixtures, against their amateur counterparts in Ireland, Wales and elsewhere. Countries such as Belgium, Malta, Germany and Italy have all played amateur internationals this year.

Having a figure who can help drive domestic coaching, development and match official training would help too. Someone like London Broncos coach Andrew Henderson, whose passion for both Scotland and rugby league is inspiring and infectious.

The Scotland senior team must also play more games. If England are going to play midseason Tests under Wayne Bennett, then the Celtic nations and France must get games too.

There is a sympathetic media in Scotland too, ready to celebrate success.

But, to use the old Scottish football cliché, there is a power of work to be done.

And it is crucial that those who are working so hard North of the Border receive the help, both practical and financial, that they deserve.

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