The new year always begins with the feeling of a fresh page being turned, of new stories waiting to be written.
Rugby league is set to travel down some interesting roads in 2017. It would be nice to see some successful and sustainable destinations reached at the end of those roads.
The World Cup will be the centrepiece of 2017, at least internationally, and it would be great to see a successful and popular tournament take place Down Under. What would make it particularly excellent is if all the British teams can exceed expectations and enjoy some real success.
While England winning it outright looks unlikely at this stage, it would be good to see Wayne Bennett’s team at least reach the final. But it would also be fantastic to see Steve McCormack’s Scotland build on their Four Nations progress. John Kear’s Wales have been bubbling away nicely over the last couple of seasons too, and them using the tournament to achieve some meaningful reward for the Principality’s excellent development work would be appropriate. Ireland have come on leaps and bounds domestically since the last tournament in 2013, with players from Ireland starting to appear in the professional ranks of the game. With a canny coach in Mark Aston, and an appealing bucaneering spirit, hopefully the Irish can make an impact too.
The news just before Christmas that the FFR13 was €200,000 in the red was pretty shattering to those of us who pay more than passing attention to the game across the Channel. Mismanagement and obfuscation seem to have characterised the governing body’s previous regime, with a lot of dissatsifaction from fans and those involved with the club game.
On an international level too, there have been many years of chronic underachievement from the French, who never seem to be able to get their best players together in one squad, for a whole host of reasons.
With a new team in charge of the governing body, with Marc Palanques doing his best to bring all the factions in the French game together, and a young, ambitious national team coach in the shape of Aurelien Cologni, hopefully we can see France undergo something of a revival. The days of the 1950s, when Puig Aubert’s French team went to Austalia and won a Test series twice, seem very, very distant indeed right now.
Super League in 2016 often seemed to lack quality and intensity. There are many probable reasons for this, but one would certainly seem to have been the sheer number of injuries which teams sustained during the season. Every team seemed to be affected to at least some extent, with players often ruled out for long periods. Who knows what Castleford or Hull KR, as random examples, might have achieved with fewer injuries. Many other teams could have said the same thing.
So this year, hopefully the rugby league gods are being kind to our players, and will keep as many as possible out of the treatment room. With the likes of Denny Solomona and Josh Charnley departing from the ranks of Super League to another sport, we need as many of our stars on the pitch for as long as possible in 2017.
Seeing Leigh emerge from the Qualifiers section of the Super 8s last season showed that the new format can work well. The Centurions were rewarded for their work and progress over the last few seasons, but not before they had showed that they could beat Super League teams and possessed the required quality to be much more than just whipping boys in the top tier.
What would be great to see again this season is a similarly inspiring story emerge from the Qualifiers, and to see some really classic clashes between aspiring Championship clubs and Super League teams desperate to avoid the drop. With Hull KR looking to bounce back at the first time of asking, and an ambitious Toulouse now in the mix too, things could get really interesting – especially if Toulouse end up tangling with Catalans in the Middle Eights.
Prince of the People’s Game
The RFL has a new patron in the shape of Prince Harry, who has taken over from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. The appointment of rugby union fan Harry has raised eyebrows in some quarters of our game. Personally, I would rather have seen someone else with a slightly different profile appointed.
But, let’s see. If Harry starts turning up at league matches and helping to grab the sport a few column inches, then it might turn out to be useful to us. But he needs to show up. After all, we didn’t see his grandmother at many games over the last 60 years or so.
Less Ignorant Moaning
Lastly, and probably most optimisitically, it would also be nice to see those who purport to support the spot stop whining about everything and anything that they possibly can, particularly when they, at best, have a tenuous grip on the facts. The continual blaming of Toronto Wolfpack for just about every current issue the game faced in 2016 was a case in point. The Wolfpack have been continually smeared and slighted on the basis that the RFL was somehow subsidising them. This was a complete fallacy, an opinion seemingly adhered to by thousands of vocal types on social media. It is not an egregious example, either.
The continual ignorant sniping at every other aspect of the sport from certain quarters erodes the sense of community and deepens a sense of alienation from people who work hard in rugby league, mainly for no, or very little, financial reward.
This sport does not have the financial resources or revenue streams of soccer or rugby union, or even the wide local appeal of Gaelic football, so we have to cut our cloth accordingly. If more people grasped this reality, and took the time to appreciate the facts of situations a little more, then the sport would be healthier as a whole.
Happy New Year!