Archive for December, 2008

We’re in the Money…

December 20, 2008

Life ain’t nuthin’ but bitches and money

-Ice Cube

Very good news for Rugby League in the UK this week as it was announced that the RFL have managed to secure £29.4 million pounds from Sport England to get them through the next four years. The number represents an increase of £10.9 million on thier last grant, and now means that the RFL are the third highest funded ogverning body behind the English Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union (although it should be pointed out that the Football Association don’t get so much because much of their development work is done via the separate charity, The Football Foundation). Interestingly, the RFL appear to have been able to secure such a massive increase of funding due to their plans to utilise touch and tag rugby as a veichle for encouraging female participation in the game.

This strikes me as being important for a few reasons. Firstly, it shows that the RFL clearly have their act together if they can submit such a wildly successful bid. Secondly, it serves as outside recognition of the widening reach of the game in the UK, as a lot of this cash is going to be needed by Development Officers outside the heartlands, the demand for whom has increased significantly in the last few years. Thirdly, the game needs investment in its grassroots programmes, and now it has a chance to do something about it. If the money is used wisely, we should hopefully see the benefits in the not-too-distant future…

RIP Vince Karalius (1932-2008)

December 13, 2008

St Helens RLFC have passed along the sad news that Vinty Karalius, one of the legendary figures of the British (and indeed international) game, has passed away. Although he was a bit before my time as a Rugby League spectator, Karalius’ reputation preceeded him as a true great, and certainly everyone I know who was old enough to have seen him play tell me that he was one of the greatest.

Karalius played for St Helens and Widnes in a storied career spanning 15 years. He is considered one of the finest hard men that the game has ever known, and his performances for Great Britain against Australia led to the Aussie press dubbing him ‘The Wild Bull of the Pampas’, a nickname that stuck. He was well known for developing punishing tackle technique, and for also being far ahead of the British game in terms of his conditioning and fitness work. Those factors, combined with a fully working rugby brain and a more-than-capable handling game meant that Karalius was often lauded as the complete Loose-Forward.

Karalius leaves a legacy as one of the most punishing defenders ever to play the game, but also as being a gentleman off of the field as well. One of the players truly respected (and indeed feared) by the Kangaroos, he brought passion, determination and no shortage of skill to the field. Although it is past forty years since he last played, he is still respected as a great player and as an innovator, and also as a nice guy. He will be missed.

One Australian paper declared Karalius "a dedicated wrecker of Australian forwards", but it wasn't just Australians that he smashed.

Twice as Nice, or Double the Trouble?

December 11, 2008
Scary, isn't it?

Scary, isn't it?

So the NRL has officially decreed that for next season there will be two referees on the field for NRL matches. The plan is to have one patrolling the ten metre retreat and one in charge of examining the play-the-ball. Or as it sounds to me, one in charge of defence and one in charge of attack (a gross over-simplification, admittedly).

I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand it should mean that players have even more scrutiny and that the game will be officiated to a higher standard since there will be more coverage of the field by officials. On the other hand, too many cooks have been known to spoil the odd broth or two. I guess it’s to take some burden from the main referee over the issue of ball control, as trying to watch and ajudicate the grappling match of the tackle area whilst simultaneously trying to keep a neat defensive line back ten metres can stretch the talents of even the best referees. It comes across as Rugby League once again stealing from American Football which already has seven different officials (the NRL at this point already has a main ref, two touch judges and occasional in-goal judges, not to mention a video ref).

My biggest worries over this endeavour are threefold. The first is the matter of interpretation. The codes of Rugby are perhaps the sports most affected by how the referee interprets certain aspects of the rules, like how long to hold someone down for. If two referees have two different interpretations, couldn’t that lead to confusion for the players on the field? They already have enough to worry about. Secondly, there are going to be internationals at the end of the season and we already have enough interpretive differences between northern and southern hemisphere Rugby League without having to debate the number of referees that will be on the field. Thirdly, this will almost certainly result in a further split between the game played at professional and recreational level, certainly if it ever gets implemented in the UK as there are simply not enough referees to go around in this country (want to become an RFL accredited referee? Go here).

Anyways, if it is deemed a success in Australia then look for the RFL to introduce a second referee into Super League (and probably the Championships) next season. And then Rugby Union will adopt it a few years after that.

The Pryce is Right Again

December 10, 2008

Remember him?

Remember him?

I honestly had completely forgotten that Karl Pryce had moved to Wigan, which meant I was given a little shock when it was displayed on the BBC Sport website that he will be making his Warriors debut in their preseason game with Warrington.

Pryce, once seen as a real top prospect, has dropped off the radar drastically in the past few years for reasons both self-inflicted (his silly cross-code adventure with Gloucester) and also imposed on him (his injuries last season). This means that next season could be a re-learning process for him, meaning that he could either be an arduous trial by fire or a glorious phoenix-like rebirth. Or a so-so rebuilding process. Whatever.

I think Pryce clearly has the physique and the base to be a very good centre, but he chose to waste time in Union at the worst possible time in his development process for League, and he now hasn’t played top-level Rugby League for two seasons now. He’s likely still got skills, but if he’s got to both relearn how to play the game and also see if his body can still take the demands of professional Rugby League. As someone who was being touted for international honours a few seasons ago, he’s really got a struggle on his hands to prove himself relavant again.

Bye Bye, Ricky

December 9, 2008
So long, and thanks for the memories...

So long, and thanks for the memories...

I’m pretty sure I opined earlier that it was odd that Ricky Stuart was still Kangaroos coach when they lost their first World Cup Final in 36 years, which judging by what happened to Wayne Bennett after the 2005 Tri-Nations seemed like cause for an automatic sacking, not to mention his outburst at Ashley Klein in the aftermath of the final.

Turns out I was right. Ricky has done the honorable thing and fallen on his sword, and will not be reapplying for the Kangaroos job next year (well, the honorable thing would have been to not go on a tirade at the officials when your supposedly superior side was outplayed, but I digress…).

Things We Have Learned From The World Cup (some of which we knew already)

December 4, 2008

Australia are beatable

Well, the Final proved this, didn’t it? Australia are still the gold standard, and they have by far and away the best collection of Rugby (either players) in the world, yet this was their fifth defeat in five years. Okay, so one defeat a year is a very healthy average, but since the ‘Invincibles’ tour defeat has not been an acceptable outcome for the Kangaroos. They still carry this aura of greatness about them, but because New Zealand chose to ignore this aura they were able to defeat them fair and square.

Wayne Bennett is one of the greatest coaches of all time

Stephen Kearney was lucky enough to have an all-time great as his assistant.

Stephen Kearney was lucky enough to have an all-time great as his assistant.

I know that Stephen Kearney was the head coach, and I don’t wish to undermine his contribution to the New Zealand victory, but it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming presence of Bennett. As well as a record number of Grand Final victories and a production line of modern greats that he achieved with Brisbane, he was also a driving force behind the Tri-Nations and led The Kangaroos to that first title. When he lost the Final to the Kiwis a year later he was cast away from the job, which makes it somewhat ironic that his revenge has been achieved with the Kiwis. As a passionate supporter of the international game, he will be pleased that this victory reinvigorates the international scene.

Ricky Stuart is too astute for his own good

Before the Final, Stuart was quoted in the press as saying that he felt that his side hadn’t been pushed hard enough in their run up. Admittedly this had a lot to do with the Kiwis and England sucking in the group games, but they also followed those games up with two games against well meaning but ultimately understrength second tier nations. I wondered if Stuart was just trying to make sure his players were on their toes, but ultimately he was right; Australia were caught out by the intensity of a team who had been in two tough scraps with England.

England flatter to deceive far too often

This was a real disappointment. England came into the World Cup with high hopes, particularly on the back of their sweep of the Kiwis a year before, but ultimately they were off the pace. Their undoing appeared twofod; firstly, they didn’t look like a team that thought they could win the tournament, and secondly they lacked the facility to engineer offensive openings against a set defence (it says a lot that their try against the Kangaroos was a barge over on the line). They weren’t completely terrible, and they could have beaten the Kiwis twice (they should have in the first game) but they failed to deliver. (more…)

Silly Season continues… but unfortunately this time it’s true

December 1, 2008

This is either the worst or the best idea in the history of professional sport.

For those who can’t be bothered with the link, here’s the gist: Super League’s expansion to 14 teams next season has thrown the play-off system into a quandy, and it was announced that from next year the play-off list will expand from six to eight teams. There has been much speculation as to whether Super League would adopt the McIntyre Final 8 system as used in the NRL or instead adopt the AFL model. Instead, they’ve decided to take a new approach… by letting the highest placed sides choose their opponents.

I can see the potential upsides of such a system, and they all involve synergy with TV. It’s ready made drama with the potential to spectacularly backfire, and the coach of the chosen sides will have their motivational speeches written automatically. However, it also strikes me as an unnecessary burden on the coaches and CEOs of clubs who will have a good season potentially ruined because they happened to pick a side who managed to have its best game of the season in the first round of the play-offs. But worst of all, this just positively screams ‘GIMMICK!!!!’. I know that part of the switch to Super League in the first place was the idea of increasing the branding of the league and turning it into a product for TV, and the cheerleaders and the play-offs were acceptable, but this might just be taking things too far.