Welcome to a weekly series where I give my thoughts on the goings-on in the world of rugby league looking at the good, the bad and the ugly!
For the second week running the Scottish performance in the Four Nations has left us with a greater hope for international rugby league. Against New Zealand they were determinate and truly resilient in gaining an 18-18 draw with the current number one rank team in the world. They used the poor conditions and strong atmosphere to their advantage to record a remarkable result; the first point secured for the fourth nation in the competition’s history.
The second good point is the fact over 1.6 million viewers peaked the figures for the BBC coverage of the England-Australia game, that’s 700,000 more than any programme within that two-hour time slot. I don’t think the excuse of lack of national coverage can be used when looking for reasons why our great game isn’t growing all that much.
Leading on from the last point, Wayne Bennett’s honesty after England suffered yet another defeat to Australia was truly a breath of fresh air. He’s been criticised by the majority of the media and fans alike for his rudeness in interviews, but for the first time in a long time there was a brutal honesty about what England need to fix up and there were no exemptions from the honest approach, as England captain Sam Burgess – who was sat next to Bennett in the post presser – was also criticised.
Away from international rugby league and Lee Gaskell has secured a new four-year deal with Huddersfield Giants. It is thought that he’ll take up the full-back berth from Scott Grix after the Giants were previously linked with Zak Hardaker and briefly Morgan Escare. It’ll do him the world of good to finally be back in the big time with a club looking to bounce back from a poor season.
I spoke of recently how England’s mentality was the reason they fail to reach their potential. It’s a sentiment echoed by Wayne Bennett, and frankly it needs changing and very quickly. Against Australia the English gave us that all too familiar ‘close but no cigar’ feeling. We started well and battled greatly for the first half but then succumbed inventively to the speed and power of the Kangaroos in the second half. We lack an ability to maintain pressure without pressing the panic button and Australia know that, that’s why we can never beat them as we beat ourselves eventually. We can point to poor tactics and selections, but we have the players and the coach to be a success; it’s our lack of mental strength in big game situations that costs us every time we come up against New Zealand and Australia.
The second bad point is how much both the New Zealand players and Sam Burgess looked to blame anything and everything in the wake of their respective defeats. The Kiwis blamed the pitch, facilities and referee for not beating the minnows of the competition, which was disrespectful to Scotland and their players. England captain Sam Burgess blamed Robert Hicks for not being good enough to referee at international level. In part he’s right, but like outlined above, there was more to the losses than a bad pitch and a whistle happy referee. I don’t believe New Zealand or Burgess would have these excuses had they won.
Going away from International Rugby League once more and the South Stand at Headingley is to remain open after planning permission had been delayed for the entire 2017 season. Now in principal this is good for the Leeds fans, but digging deeper and there are big problems with the later than planned redevelopment expecting to cost Yorkshire CCC millions in missed International Test Matches. Rhinos season ticket holders who purchased their 2017 season passes in different areas of the ground must now transfer into the South Stand should they wish. This has caused a massive headache for the departments behind the scenes and could have been avoidable.
Just the one ugly point in this week’s edition – Bradford Bulls have entered administration once more. By my count that’s the third time in about five years! Not only is this yet more poor management, but they’ve sold season passes promising certain things knowing this was inevitability around the corner. The only thing that can save Bradford now is if they start a fresh with fan ownership. Otherwise this nightmare will never end, especially after so many false dawns in the last five or so years.