Should the Exiles be revived? Fans have their say

Brett Hodgson and Pat Richards after an Exiles gameBrett Hodgson and Pat Richards after an Exiles game
Brett Hodgson and Pat Richards after an Exiles game | other
Our 18th Man columnists give their thoughts on the Exiles, the £16m government loan - and the best and worst away grounds...

Shaun Wane floated the idea of reviving the Exiles next year. Good idea or not?

Robert Kenyon: I think so, yes. It gives us a more sterner test rather than playing Wales or France, we need to play better opposition in order to beat Australia, New Zealand and Tonga and the exiles are the best option.

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I know theres a lot of Antipodians who would be up for it, we have a large selection to choose from and it would be a great spectacle, I’d just hope the NRL clubs would release the English players. Canberra would be most affected, and it would affect their season.

Alex Graham: One of the biggest weaknesses about rugby league is our international scene. I think the Exiles concept only goes to dilute the credibility of international competition within the sport and also prevents those international sides who could compete from progressing. We have had a French club in Super League for 14 years and the competition has seen the benefits with the likes of Theo Fages, Morgan Escare and Tony Gigot starring for clubs outside of France.

If we’re going to improve international rugby league and benefit from expansion there must be long term plans for the French national side and scarifies of initial one-sided results against England before we see the benefits.

Jon Lyon: If I’m honest I couldn’t really care less about this fixture.

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It does nothing for me, much like the War of the Roses, and if it happens I’ll just be hoping any Wigan players involved come through injury free. At a time when we need to be looking at decreasing the number of games the top level players are involved in it seems unnecessary.

That said, if the players want it and Wane thinks it will help with the development of his international plans then by all means go ahead, but maybe look at reducing or cancelling the loop fixtures instead.

We can’t keep complaining about the welfare of the players and just add more and more games.

Darren Wrudd: I quite liked the idea of the Exiles, players who are overlooked from the antipodean internationals mainly because they are playing in our ‘lesser’ competition. But a couple of thoughts would be, lets only play British based players in the team, not fly over the big names from Australia, as they would be exiles over there.

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But also, perhaps room in the schedules need to be looked at long term.

Setting aside a couple of weeks for internationals like the State of Origin matches Down Under.

I know it won’t be the same intensity or bitter rivalry that has built up in the Origin games over the years, but we still want our players to be fresh for the Super League clubs who pay their wages. So yes, bring it on, but on a proper plan rather than a half-baked idea to squeeze it in.

Jess Foxley: I always thoroughly enjoyed attending the England v Exiles games but I think the concept has long passed.

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It was always a decent game to attend and watch but in theory it was a Micky Mouse game, it meant nothing.

I will always remember when Tommy broke his leg playing for the exiles and then went on to miss a big chunk of the Super League season. Stick to normal, regular internationals for me, leave the exiles concept in the past.

Jeanette Lusher: The Ashes series would appear to be under threat so reviving the Exiles could be good preparation for next year’s World Cup. There is presently such a wealth of big name overseas players in Super League so an Exiles team would be a strong and competitive one. I feel that it would definitely provide a sterner test than an international match against France.

A line-up with the likes of Maloney, Naiqama, Hurrell, Fifita and Kasiano to mention but a few would certainly test any international side.

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How pleased were you that the RFL secured a £16m government loan?

Robert Kenyon: It’s great that we have this money, I don’t know how much the sport would need to see it through.

If it were me I’d use this money to get rugby league up and running again behind closed doors as a way of gaining maximum publicity and viewership. It may be more expensive to show the Super League so maybe they could do it with the Championship and League 1.

Take all the players to one stadium, have a mini-Magic Weekend/Summer Bash every weekend in a modern but small stadium with plenty training facilities and hotel nearby to house the players. Somewhere like Manchester Citys facilities and the small academy stadium they have could be used to show every championship game, with a view to doing the same with Super League once they’ve ironed out any issues with the Championship.

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Championship games get around 1000 per game, if they make £10 profit from each fan thats £10,000 per game, fly Toulouse in and play 7 games a week (Friday 1, Saturday 3, Sunday 3). £70,000 per week to keep the Championship going. Give the players a bonus for being away from family and not working of they have jobs. You keep the game going and get more fans. Further down the line introduce the Super L eague clubs once you’ve made it run smoother.

Alex Graham: I was somewhat pleased if it assists with the short-term survival of the sport, however it’s not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things.

It’s also a debt which will have to be repaid. It would be interesting to know how the money will be used.

Jon Lyon: It is a huge benefit to a relatively financially poor sport, and its good that the government has recognised the importance of rugby league to the towns and cities it is played in.

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Obviously like all loans it will have to be paid back somewhere down the line but it should hopefully ensure clubs can keep ticking along until the paying public can start rolling through the turnstiles again.

Let’s hope it is used sensibly and divided fairly.

Money making events like the Challenge Cup Final and Ashes are looking less and less likely to take place this year, so we need to make this money last as long as possible.

Darren Wrudd: If the Governments loan of £16 million helps our sport survive through this awful pandemic, then I am chuffed to bits that we are seen as important enough a sport to warrant that kind of care from those on high. The money needs careful management throughout the game now though and I hope that it is monitored and not just sucked up by the top executives of the RFL and Super League.

A totally transparent approach to where the money is placed should be insisted upon by the sport as a whole. Not by covert requests and freedom of information, but by the organisation itself as a collective proactively putting the information out there for all to see.

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Jess Foxley: Absolutely thrilled for rugby league in general as it will certainly help out struggling clubs but I can’t help but feel that people are getting too ahead of themselves as this is a loan, and it will certainly have to be paid back at some point. Fingers crossed it doesn’t leave the RFL in more trouble in the future. How are the repayments going to be calculated? Will it only have to be repaid once a profit is made? Where will the money come from to pay it back? Time will tell. But for the near future, it is most definitely a security blanket.

Jeanette Lusher: I was very pleased as I feel that without this government support the sport I love would have been in very serious trouble!

Hopefully it ensures that rugby league will now survive these difficult and unprecedented times. All clubs operate on very tight financial margins and this total loss of revenue so early in the season must surely have put many clubs on the brink of collapse.

For me this loan recognises that rugby league cannot be allowed to fall victim for it is far more than just a sport in its community. Rugby league is at the very heart of its community and strives to afford opportunities to disadvantaged groups whilst encompassing equality and diversity.

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Finally, which away grounds do you most and least look forward to visiting?

Robert Kenyon: I look forward to going to any of the grounds, I don’t dislike any of them, I like them all as they all hold good memories.

I really do like Headingley due to its history and also it holds good memories, particularly the 2002 semi final versus Castleford. I suppose you could say Craven Park when it’s cold, which is 99 per cent of the time, if I had to say a least favourite.

Alex Graham: It depends on other factors such as the weather or time of day when kick-off is. As more modern stadiums are built the more you appreciate the nostalgia of places like Castleford’s Wheldon Road and Wakefield’s Belle Vue. But the experience at those places which have no roof for away supporters can differ from a warm sunny Sunday afternoon to a cold rainy Friday night in February.

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It can also depend on form too, for example other than St Helens (when form goes out the window) heading to Warrington or Hull when your form isn’t great can be quite a daunting thought.

Jon Lyon: As my dad’s mobility is not what it used to be I don’t tend to go to away matches as much any more.

I never really enjoyed trips to Hull.

Maybe we were just unlucky but every time we have been we have encountered some form of hostility there from the home fans, my dad was even punched and spat on once. This is unusual with most fans in our sport being friendly and fair minded, even in the midst of intense rivalries.

My favourite ground of old was Knowsley Road.

Always a fantastic atmosphere, usually a hard fought, exciting close game, and a ground that we won more than our fair share on. Even when the result matters more than it probably should, I found the Saints fans good company, plenty of friendly grief given and taken and hands shaken afterwards.

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Darren Wrudd: Over recent years I could have answered Saints for both remarks, for very different reasons of course.

But for the grounds experience, I suppose the least title would need to go to Castleford. A shed of a ground and occupied by a standard of folk which I would be hard to find a name to do them justice. An angry crowd I suppose is their job as supporters and that I don’t mind, but too often it can spill onto the terraces and the stewards do nothing to help.

One ground that I do actually like to visit on away days is St Helens.

We can park the bike on the ground and the staff are brilliant. The supporters have a real bite at one another but the rivalry is largely well intended and I usually have a chat with the opposition on the way in and out. That’s what makes our game the pinnacle of sport in my eyes, sworn enemies for 80 minutes can chat on the way home and usually agree if the win was deserved either way, usually...

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Jess Foxley: I’d have to say the ground I LEAST look forward to visiting is Wakefield. There is absolutely nothing good to say about that ground. I just find it boring. It’s in desperate need of modernising and as a spectator, I don’t feel like you get a buzz when you enter the ground and that’s important. I know they have spoken about improving the ground in the future, so fingers crossed those plans come to a head as it will really benefit them.

I ALWAYS look forward to a good trip to the Halliwell Jones.

The stadium itself its brilliant, it has just the right capacity for a rugby league team and always looks full. I’m a huge fan of having the stadium split in terms of standing and seating as this always creates a better atmosphere, plus you have the choice!

Jeanette Lusher: I most look forward to visiting the Catalans ground. The opportunity to holiday in Spain with the rugby family for a few days and then to travel over to France on match day is brilliant.

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The camaraderie and fun travelling on the coach, stopping at the services and dancing in the square at Perpignan gives the day a good old Wembley feel! The friendly banter and rivalry between the fans pre-match is such fun with all the singing and chanting.

I least look forward to visiting the Castleford ground. I find it archaic and depressing with very poor facilities. I hate that fans are allowed to change ends at half time for this often leads to unnecessary arguments and aggravation.

I really cannot believe that this stadium is considered to be of Super League standard!