The sight of former Premier League footballer Jimmy Bullard kitted out in the bright pink shirt and black shorts adorned by rugby league match officials shouldn’t necessarily be cause for optimism.
But the guest appearance of St Helens and England winger, and of course former Golden Boot winner, Tommy Makinson on Sky’s Soccer AM programme is a positive step.
Rugby league players are honest and hard-working, often from humble backgrounds, that gain great respect and admiration from their peers in other sports.
The trouble is, that over the past two decades the players have largely become anonymous to the general public through lack of opportunity.
Makinson was good value on the show, a down-to-earth professional athlete at the absolute peak of his powers. He is far more relatable to those watching the show than the elite footballers would be these days; which in itself, is part of the reason programmes such as Soccer AM have declined over the years.
More should be done to get rugby league players out there. And Super League needs to be responsible for that.
👀ICMYI – Tommy Makinson produced some top drawer skills during his Soccer AM appearance on Saturday morning👌
📺Catch the full episode via Sky Sports On Demand!
— Sky Sports Rugby League (@SkySportsRL) April 7, 2021
What makes it so encouraging is that new interim chairman of Super League, Ken Davy, specifically said in one of his recent press calls that he wanted to get more profile for the players.
To see something that is said being put in to immediate action is a positive sign.
For a long time, rugby league nerds, like me (and you too, Paul Bennett) have questioned the dearth of items like sticker albums, trading cards, annuals or other collectables that would help add profile for players.
Whats might have been… Leeds Bobcats? Castleford Cougars? Bradford Rams?
— Яichard Shaw-Wright #PeopleAreIdiots (@thersw) February 18, 2021
Sure, commercial deals and brand endorsements are the big wins that everyone wants to see, but given the younger generations are now more captured by what they can play online or collect, there surely must be a market for it.
There are some theories that have been bandied about over the years, that I’ve been unable to verify, that the reason why such ‘collectables’ died out wasn’t due to popularity – but due to concerns over player image rights implicating the salary cap.
Youngsters engage more with football through FIFA than real-life football itself.
While it’s true that the rugby league video games are a long way off the quality of their football counterparts, exploring opportunities in esports (not necessarily playing rugby league) might not be the worst idea for some community foundations.
The pandemic has highlighted the plethora of ‘football culture’ that keeps even older fans engaged – be it old shirts, memorabilia, even Subbuteo.
— NRDCollectables (@NRDCollectables) February 3, 2021
At the moment, rugby league players aren’t put on a pedestal even within the game – which makes it even more difficult to make those outside take notice.
Got any rugby league memorabilia to share? Post your photos in our new Rugby League Nostalgia group on Facebook.