Talking RL: Excitement in sport shouldn't be contrived
Widnes chief executive James Rule thinks Super League teams should start 'on zero points' when the Super 8s starts.
His comments echoed remarks made by Wakefield’s Chris Chester, who said: “I’d like everyone to be on the same points, which gives everyone the opportunity to get into the top-four.”
We’re two years into this league structure and I still have to explain the structure on a regular basis. And that’s not a criticism – for passive fans, it can be hard to understand, the same way I know about bonus points in rugby union but still need a refresher every now and again on how, exactly, it works.
I admire league bosses for innovation. And yes, I admire them when they admit things haven’t worked and scrapped them (Exiles, War of the Roses), but they should avoid tinkering with the league structure when the current one hasn’t even bedded in yet.
And that’s not even my main objection to these calls which have emerged this week from Widnes and Wakefield.
Of the 16 clubs involved in the Super-8s - Super League and the Qualifiers - only two have nothing to play for.
Yep, Widnes and Wakefield.
The two clubs who want the system changed to give all eight clubs a crack at the title!
Ignore the flaws to the proposed changes. Ignore the fact it would make the regular season a long, exhaustive campaign and remove any shred of excitement once teams are ‘safe’ from the bottom-four. That games throughout the summer would become dressed-up friendlies.
There are 23 games before the Super-8s begin. Plenty of time to amass points – every minute matters, remember – to earn the right to battle for a play-offs spot.
You want a crack at the top-four? Win more games before and during the Super-8s then!
As it stands, Widnes and Wakefield have little more than professional pride to play for.
But look around the world and you will see leagues with teams in exactly the same position. Football sides too good to be relegated, not good enough for a crack at silverware.
And that’s fine.
It can’t be exciting all of the time for everyone.
Sure, sport is great when it goes down to the wire, even better when more teams are involved. But you can only contrive so much.
Wigan’s crippling and persistent injury problems this year can be illustrated with one statistic: by this stage last season, not a single academy-product had made his Wigan debut. This year, there have been eight.
With that in mind, the Warriors have done remarkably well to remain in the top-three in Super League for most of the season.
And with just six games to go before the four-team play-offs, Wane finds himself with the unusual luxury of having real competition for places.
“Who is playing the best, will play,” he said. “I don’t find these decisions difficult at all.”
Last Friday, Ryan Sutton’s 100 per cent appearance record came to an abrupt halt when he was dropped to make way for the returning Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Lewis Tierney also made way, to accommodate the available Josh Charnley.
The return of Anthony Gelling and Liam Farrell has nudged Oliver Gildart and Jake Shorrocks out of the 19-man squad to face Castleford.
And when Tony Clubb returns, it will dial up competition for places in the middle even further.
Already, Wane has Ben Flower, Dom Crosby, Taulima Tautai, Lee Mossop, Nuuasala and Sutton.
I’ve not included Willie Isa on that list. He has featured mainly at second-row this year, and even with Farrell back, he will probably secure a place on the bench. His ability to also play centre and prop is another attraction.
And assuming Sean O’Loughlin is fit and available, there will be seven ‘middles’ going for a maximum of five spots.
Nothing like a bit of healthy competition to drive up performances!
A fan has launched an online petition to try and persuade national coach Wayne Bennett from calling up Australian players to the England side.
To recap, Bennett has been linked with a number of players who qualify through the ancestry or residency rules ever since he admitted in February he would consider overseas-born players.
The RFL website runs a weekly column which keeps tabs on the progress of England contenders - and Aussies Trent Hodkinson, Blake Austin, Chris Heighington and Chris McQueen have been added to the list.
Admittedly, the article is written by independent journalist Steve Mascord, not an RFL staff member, but it illustrates the intensifying speculation over who Bennett may look at – and one fan has had enough.
A tip of the hat to Dave Sinclair, who is asking for fans to support his petition on website Change.org. It reads:
We, the fans, are unhappy about rumours of the England RL team being flooded with Australian-born players, with tenuous links to English nationality. We want our team to be made up of English players, please. If they weren’t born in England or have an English parent (not grandparent) they shouldn’t take the jersey. This is the international game, not club rugby. It’s about making the best of what you have, not sneaking ‘ringers’ in.
We don’t want to see any more players selected through the loopholes of residency or the grandparent rule. Please Wayne, don’t go down that route. A coach of your calibre shouldn’t need to do things this way. Just because they’re ‘eligible’ does not mean it is right... or what the fans want. We have plenty of talented players in Super League (and genuine English players in the NRL) please don’t snub them in favour of Australians whose Grandma once drank a pint of John Smith’s.
Best wishes, the England fans.