The Cumbrian Challenge

There are several clubs from Lancashire and Yorkshire in the Super League but none from Cumbria.

You won’t find any teams in the Championship either after Workington Town and Whitehaven were both recently relegated in recent weeks. Next season could see all three Cumbrian clubs in League 1 if Barrow fail in their promotion bid.

With these sides struggling financially and also failing to entice more fans through the gate, the sport in the north-west is in a worrying state.

Love Rugby League poke to several players and coaches with Cumbria links to see what could be done to help the game there.

Hull KR hooker Shaun Lunt, who was born in Cockermouth and spent two years at Workington, believes insufficient funding has been the principal reason for the downfall of Rugby League in Cumbria.

“I am sure Workington and Whitehaven would benefit from extra financial help because they could then develop a strong youth set up,” Lunt said.

“It is about building strong foundations. Promoting the game in schools is also a massive thing.

“The lack of money being pumped into clubs in Cumbria is partly due to the fact it is forgotten about in the Rugby League world.”

Current Scotland head coach Steve McCormack, whose list of former employers include Barrow and Whitehaven, agrees with Lunt about the need to establish a solid base.

“The links with the community game is crucial,” McCormack said.

“Getting the community to buy into the clubs is vital. It is all about creating a culture from the kit man to the chairman.

“If you can get that right I think you have the building blocks for success.”

McCormack also believes a Cumbrian team in the Super League would be a very viable prospect. A Super League side, formed from a merger of two of the current Cumbrian clubs, has been mooted before but never progressed.

Some believe the rivalry between Workington and Whitehaven is too strong for a merger to be succesful.

“I think there are a huge number of people who will always turn up to watch. Rugby League is the main sport in the area.

Scotland has been based up in west Cumbria and we had a packed house at Derwent Park only a couple of years ago.”

Carl Forster, who is one of four senior players currently in charge at Whitehaven, admits the amount of funding a club receives plays a key part in their success.

“Every club that has had money issues tends not to do as well on the field,” said Forster.

“There certainly isn’t a lack of talent being produced. It is just hard for clubs like ourselves and Workington when the Super League clubs come calling and sign them up before they get a chance to play in the first team.”

Forster also thinks a Cumbrian team in Super League wouldn’t look out of place one bit.

“I think it could definitely work. They are mad for Rugby League in Cumbria.

“Some towns would love to have the enthusiasm for the sport that they have up here.”

Whilst it may have been a disappointing season for Whitehaven and Workington, Barrow could seal promotion from Championship 1 and Raiders head coach Paul Crarey admits it would be huge for the town if they go up.

“It would be great to progress as a club,” Crarey said.

“We are under no illusions it would be a test in itself to survive in the league but it is one that excites us.

“It would bring better players and bigger crowds. After being in the doldrums for the last few years Barrow is a rugby town that wants to progress.”

Cumbria is a hotbed of the game and continues to produce quality players – from James Donaldson to Greg McNally, Kyle Amor, Ben Harrison and more. But most have to head south to further their careers in the professional game.

Crarey, who has coached Cumbria in the past, believes a lot of work needs to be done to promote the junior set-up.

“The likes of Barrow and other Cumbrian sides are really isolated so it is massively important that we breed our own teams.

“I think Workington and Whitehaven should have their own academies who play each other.

“From that a reserve team needs to be developed. It is clear dual registration isn’t working. We have refused to buy into that system because it is so ineffective.”

When asked about the possibility of a Super League team from Cumbria, Crarey admitted there would be a lot of obstacles to overcome.

“I think you would need a massive financial backer and new players from out of the area.

“Do professional players want to live in a vast, rural area like Cumbria?

“Do they want to travel? For most lads it would be an hour-and-a-half’s drive up here and then the same back which could be quite unappealing for a lot of players.”



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