If there was ever a matchup or rivalry in sport that had the ability to capture the audience’s attention and the minds of its fans, it would be War of the Roses.
You can most certainly see the evidence of this domesticated rivalry in not just Rugby League but several sports. Look at Cricket, every time the two counties play, especially in Twenty20, it brings with it a lot of hype and a packed-out ground ready to see if their respected County comes out on top. If you’ve ever sat in the Western Terrace of Headingley Cricket ground, you will know there isn’t a better place to get a feel for the atmosphere, passion and excitement that is exhibited from such a fixture.
It wouldn’t be the first time we see these two go head to head in RL though. Both counties first played each other all the way back in the 1890s and would continue to play each other annually for the County Championship all the way until 1982. After a three-year absence, the County Championship was replaced by the ‘War of the Roses’ in 1985 but the competition was scrapped in 1991 because of a lack of interest. A rejuvenation of the matchup came about in 2001 under the name, but once again it didn’t take off with the entire series ceasing all together in 2003.
Now however, after the success of the War of the Roses legends clash at Headingley recently, could it be time to revive the Rugby League series between the two county giants? The event saw the likes of Keith Senior, Lee Radford and Kyle Leuluai featuring for the White Rose and Paul Wellens, Sean Long and Iestyn Harris featuring for the Red Rose of Lancashire. Is it possible to see it once again with the Super League’s current crop of players? Seeing the likes of Luke Gale, Danny Houghton and Ryan Hall going up against the likes of George Williams, Mark Percival and Sean O’Loughlin could have the potential to be a crowd pleaser.
Obviously if we were to see the return of the series, then several factors would have to be taken into account. One would be when to host it and the other would be selection rules and player eligibility, which has up for debate in the NRL’s ever-popular State of Origin series.
Until 2012, the only rule in being selected for either New South Wales or Queensland was where you played your first senior Rugby League game. However, after much debate and controversy, new factors were eventually brought into place to decide a players’ eligibility, to encompass the likes of the place of the players’ birth. However even still with these changes, the selection rules have still come under slight scrutiny. Take for instance, players such as Greg Inglis. Inglis’s selection for Queensland was disputed at the time. His selection for the Maroons was based on the fact he played his first senior game in Brisbane but beforehand played for Hunter Sports High School based in New South Wales, in a competition known as the Arrive Alive Cup. Now, many believed this was considered a senior tournament also. So, if we were ever to see a similar clash between Yorkshire and Lancashire then a tightening of selection rules will be something that possibly the RFL will need to take under serious consideration.
When the series revived in 2001 under the Origin Series name, player eligibility was down to place of birth but players born outside of Yorkshire and Lancashire could also feature depending where they played their first senior game. However, this is where the problems could have been for the continued success of the series. Allowing players from outside Yorkshire and Lancashire to feature could obviously bring with it more potential star quality and more hype. However, an issue with this it can make it all feel less important and credible by not just featuring players from the respective counties.
The selection process you know, is never always going to be straight forward and depending on the criteria it could always end up coming down to a players’ allegiance and choice. Look at players such as star centre Kallum Watkins. Born in Manchester but spent his entire career playing for Leeds Rhinos. Even John Bateman, born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, but has now being plying his trade at Wigan for the last three years.
There could be two different ways of how the whole selection debate could work. Should players be selected based on both where they played their first senior game and where they were born? Or should it be one or the other to try and avoid any dispute and controversy?
If this series is going to work and become a success, one thing that is needed will be to try and generate a form of credibility and prestige to the competition. Make it feel important and that it can be worth something. That’s why the selection criteria needs to factor in both player birth and where they played their first senior game. With mitigating factors like the likes of Kallum Watkins and John Bateman then allowing players to pledge their allegiance in situations like that could be a way to generate more pride into the potential series.
Looking at the prospect of a series between these two counties, it’s hard not to fathom the possible potential and hype it could bring with it. Some people say it’s lived out its use and just wouldn’t work, others say let’s bring it back and why not? If looked at from an entertainment standpoint and the possible spectacle that it can be but also from a financial aspect as well and what it could bring to RL in this country. A three-game series between two of the biggest domestic rivals in sport for decades. Also, with the ability to be played at numerous grounds, such as, Headingley, KCOM Stadium, DW Stadium, with even Old Trafford or the Olympic Stadium being aspiring venues. There isn’t a reason worth noting why it couldn’t work, if done right, the series could be a fresh, entertaining and welcoming addition to the RL calendar.