Archive for the ‘Championship’ Category

Alistair Campbell and the Keighley Cougars

May 25, 2009

 

Maybe I shouldve added more about the Cougars after all...

"Maybe I should've added more about the Cougars after all..."

Very interesting piece in the Times over the weekend by Alistair Campbell, former king of spin doctors for Labour, about a visit he made recently to Keighley Cougars. Campbell is a Keighley native, and accepted an invite from the Cougars to revisit a club he hadn’t seen play in over forty years. He presents a story of a club who have to make do without the perks of full professionalism but manage to find a way, all because of a love of the game.

Campbell does a very good job of painting the scenario that faces many clubs in the Championships: smaller crowds, limited resources and semi-professional players who have to back up playing with full-time jobs (I imagine there’s a significant number of amateur players who find it hard enough to do this, let alone having to cope with the demands of semi-professionalism) and yet he’s far from patronizing. Indeed, he shows the passion and energy that those at this level of the game exude (read Barry Eaton’s pre-match speech). He also does a good job of showing the contribution Keighley make to the local community, and the difficulties and rewards of outreach programmes for these clubs. The people at the club realise it’s not easy, but they still love doing it anyway. 

Oh, and although it’s barely related to the article, I thought I’d bring it up anyway: Keighley Cougars will be playing London Skolars in the traditional Friday Night Lights game the evening before the Challenge Cup final. If you’re in London for the final and are looking for something to do the night before, come on down. Perhaps the Skolars should invite Campbell?

Ouch

March 12, 2009

I started watching the Widnes-Toulouse game whilst cooking dinner, meaning that I wasn’t giving it my full attention. Even so, as I was simmering down my Chilli Con Carne*, I couldn’t help but notice that Widnes appeared to be running riot very quickly. Then the time came when my food was finally ready, and so I stopped watching and started eating. When I started watching the game again, it was 40-0 to Widnes… and it wasn’t even half-time yet.

Watching the bits of the game that I did, it seemed perfectly clear to me that Toulouse were not up to the defensive standard required. They barely dominated any tackled at all, and the few that they managed to get a bit of momentum in were often ruined by some sloppy discipline. Most worryingly for them their wide defence was horrible and Widnes kept finding a way through it. 

Of course Toulouse have some excuses, the most pertinent of which is that they’d basically not played a game in months until their cup game at Sheffield last week, and if ever a team looked undercooked it was this Toulouse team who really should have prepared better for the standard of the Championship. Also, Widnes looked almost as tasty as my Chilli and I think that Paul Cullen will instill some extra direction into them once he comes fully on board (he was in an ‘observational’ capacity tonight, although he looked fairly communicative with John Stankevitch whenever the cameras cut to him) although we’ll have a better idea of their standing within the Championship after their game with Halifax next week. It’s possible that Toulouse have gotten the hardest task out of the way, and frankly the only way from here is up. 

*very tasty with sour cream and cheddar

All Kinds of Crazy Stuff Beginning Today / Tomorrow

March 12, 2009

Through taking my eyes off the ball, I’d completely failed to notice that two competitions will be starting up in the next 24 hours, meaning that there’s even more Rugby League to watch. I call this a Good Thing.

First off, later this evening sees the start of the Co-Operative Championship, as Widnes Vikings get to take on Toulouse Olympique. The Championship should be especially interesting to watch this year, as we get to see just how the clubs manage to cope without having any promotion to aim for in the immediate future. Of course a Grand Final appearance is one of the requirements for promotion into Super League, and the clubs that genuinely hope to get a license will be planning for it right now. Widnes will undoubtedly be one of those teams aiming for the top flight, and so it will be interesting to see how they get on against a club that many feel the RFL are hoping to fast-track into Super League. It will also be interesting to see at what level Toulouse will compete at, because if they perform at a high level in the Championship in the next three years I would imagine they will be aiming for a Super League place as well.

Then tomorrow morning (evening local time) the best Rugby League competition in the world kicks off, as the NRL begins its 2oo9 season. I must admit that I’ve not followed the NRL so much in the last few seasons. This isn’t out of any belief about its entertainment value or anything like that, it’s just because Setanta took the rights from Sky and I don’t have Setanta. However, I hope to watch a lot more of it this year. I had indeed hoped to be able to get an Aussie Sports subscription, but due to their stupid online payment system I’m not sure I’ll do that after all. If they don’t want my money, then that’s their problem. Still, I’m sure I’ll find a way… Manly Sea Eagles start as favourites (rightly, after their performances over here) but given that they seem to be trying to self-implode at the minute, they might not be the safest bet…

Cullen to Widnes

March 10, 2009
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? (widnesvikings.co.uk)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Paul Cullen. I thought that was obvious. (widnesvikings.co.uk)

Interesting.

I think this could be a good move for both parties. Cullen seemed a little out of his depth at Warrington towards the end, but the club was still in better shape when he left than when he joined, and they haven’t gotten particularly better since he left (in fact, it seems they’ve got worse). Widnes might just be the sort of club (large pedigree, sense of underachievement recently) where Cullen can restore his reputation as a  top coach. Widnes for their part get a man who’s had success leading teams up to higher levels of performance, even if he can’t quite crack the elite level (something that won’t be a problem for three years anyway).

All Kinds of Crazy Shit Going On

February 18, 2009

Stupid work, with it’s stupid time consumption. In the last few days some notable things have come up in the game and I haven’t been able to write about them… until now.

Widnes fired Steve McCormack after one competitive game this season. Jesus, that was quick! I feel sorry for McCormack but he was definitely on his last legs at the Vikings. Failure to win either of the NL1 Grand Finals he led them to (not to mention his two other Final defeats with Whitehaven) had left him with a reputation as someone who just couldn’t get over the final hurdle, and with Widnes hoping to make their case for a franchise impenetrable for next time around, losing 22-20 to Oldham in the first game of the Northern Rail Cup (a team in the division below) really wasn’t the best way to start the year.

Brian Noble wants Salary Cap dispensation to sign Rugby Union players. I shouldn’t need to explain why this is just stupid.  The main point I would make is that it would take a shit-load of money to get any reasonable Union player into Super League, and I’m not sure where this would come from, and if it did suddenly become available would probably be better spent on League coaching and grassroots infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, I would be very interested to see how many international Union players would go in Super League, but why would they leave Union? They would be swapping high-profile media coverage, a regular established international programme and a sport at which they have already proved themselves to be competent (not to mention the increasingly silly wages) for a lower-profile, possibly more demanding sport (it certainly would at least start off more challenging for those without any experience of League). I don’t see what they would stand to gain, and I doubt many of them would turn out to be value for money.

Gareth Ellis needs re-educating on the basics according to Tim Sheens. When you see one of Australia’s top coaches saying this about one of Super League’s top performers over the past few seasons, alarm bells start to go off in your head. I do think that the difference in standards between the NRL and Super League is overstated, and what we see between the competitions is a product of the difference in priorities (defence is paramount in the NRL, which is why it is more tolerant of wrestling at the tackle) but there can be little doubt that the basic standards of skill in Australia do seem natually higher. I hope whoever is in charge of coaching standards at the RFL is taking heed of this, because this sort of thing that drags down England’s international performances.