‘Imagine them in the Challenge Cup Final’ – Former Sky Sports commentators call for merger

Though Super League has its established clubs like Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and St Helens, we have long been searching for additional teams outside the M62 corridor to come into the UK rugby league scene.

Expansion clubs have been tried and tested, with some success stories like Catalans Dragons, and some less than successful such as Gateshead and Celtic Crusaders.

We have also seen many mergers come and go, with Hull Sharks and Huddersfield-Sheffield springing immediately to mind – though these have often been born out of financial problems at the respective clubs.

And now the talk of a Cumbrian merger has again come to the fore with Whitehaven currently going through money troubles as they try to raise the relevant funds to survive in the British rugby league system.

The Cumbrian-based team have been sounded out for a merger with their local rivals Workington for years now, particularly by former Sky Sports commentator, pundit and Great Britain legend Mike Stephenson.

‘Stevo’ believes the teams should come together to form ‘Cumbria’, which would fast-track them to Super League and give the sport in the UK another big club with a big fan base in another part of the country.

Speaking on the Eddie and Stevo podcast, he said: “I am mentioning mergers. I’ve been saying it for years. Look they’ve produced so many wonderful players up in Cumbria and why should we get to a situation where one club is going down the gurgle?

“I keep saying it, people hate me in Workington and Whitehaven asking what that bald-headed so-and-so knows? What I do know is that they have produced so many great internationals, some fantastic players, and if they just put their heads together instead of knocking them against each other and just say, let us form Cumbria.

“What a great opportunity they can do there! We keep mentioning this IMG, it’s not a matter of just what’s on the field of play, it’s what’s going on off the field of play.

“Well, hopefully they can get to a point where they can build a new stand or at least you know bring one of them up to scratch that would be quite happy to play in Super League.

“If they want to see top-class rugby league in Cumbria there’s only one way it and that’s to just put their heads together for the first time and just say come on.

“Could you imagine the amount of people that would go to Wembley or then go to Old Trafford if the Cumbrian side went to the Grand Final or went to the Challenge Cup final? They’d sell it out straight away because they’re just mad over rugby league up there.

“It’s time to just say, you know, things are changing and what a great opportunity. It’s not a matter of getting into Super League now with what is playing on the field of play. It’s a matter of what’s off the field of play and it’s quite obvious.

“You don’t need glasses to see what’s happening. If poor Whitehaven go, the trouble is if Whitehaven go, all the people in Workington will be clapping their hands. We don’t want that.

“Well if Whitehaven go, then that just leaves you with one team so forget about the merger and I’m sure Whitehaven fans won’t go and see Workington and vice versa because Whitehaven’s gone but they will go and see Cumbria and why not?”

Stevo’s partner in crime Eddie Hemmings then went into more detail about the situation at Whitehaven and the serious predicament the club finds itself in.

“Well, I was just going to come on to this. Whitehaven are fighting for their very existence. The players are behind on pay, they’re not getting anything at the moment, some of them have walked out,” said former Sky Sports lead commentator Hemmings.

He continued: “Two supporters have started this GoFundMe page to try and raise £12,000 in the short term to help with their survival. They’ve gotten about nine and a half grand in the coffers at the moment so far. New sponsors have come in. It may have an impact though.

“It would be a tragedy to see Whitehaven go. We don’t want to say mergers but we do want to say Cumbria don’t we?”