Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by IMAGE: PHOTOSPORT
As the year comes to an end, Zack Wilson takes a personal look back at six things that disappointed him in rugby league in 2018.
The international game is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, but too many club coaches in both hemispheres seem to see international rugby league as something intended to make their lives as difficult as possible. NRL clubs trying to undermine the scheduling of Test Matches, and players not being allowed to play for Wales and Scotland in the European Championship were just two symptoms of an illness that is taking a long time to be eradicated from the game.
Once again, 2018 saw too many rugby league clubs experience existential financial crisis, often as a result of their own idiotic budget setting. A complete inability to view reality as it is certainly seemed to grip clubs like Leigh and Keighley, who both were in dire straits at the end of the 2018 season. Poor marketing, backwards thinking, outright hostility to any kind of expansion and a basic lack of intellect all seem to be problems in the hierarchies at rugby league clubs, especially outside of Super League. There are no easy answers, but the constant drip feed of stories about financial problems really needs to dry up in 2019.
With the nation paralysed by damaging internecine party squabbles in some quarters, and utter inaction from others, it is perhaps not surprising that rugby league faced its own internal convulsions in 2018. The seemingly ongoing power struggle between Super League and the RFL does not look to have been resolved as yet. There has even been talk that it has affected the structure of competitions, with Sheffield Eagles and Doncaster not invited to participate in the new Yorkshire Cup preseason competition, because they voted with Super League clubs in the recent restructuring debate. Pettiness, myopia and an inability to see the big picture look set to continue in rugby league in 2019.
Who could have guessed in 2018 that the phrase ‘Rectum of Wigan’ would emerge into the culture? The drunken exploits of the Tomkins brothers were just one incident in a catalogue of idiocy from rugby league players in 2018. Going into further details about individuals like Zak Hardaker and Scott Moore only serves to give them publicity that they do not deserve. Suffice to say, rugby league seems to need something of a culture change, as it seems to have forgotten about notions of community and family that made it great and has become more like soccer, in many ways.
Crowds continue to decline in the UK game, especially in Super League. Almost every club lost fans in 2018, and they don’t look like coming back. The numbers of young people attending games seems to have dropped, which is worrying for the future. Endless debate over the structure of the league served to alienate more people. The attitudes of fans towards newcomers and development have often been atavistic and hostile. All this has indirectly led to the ridiculous situation where Toronto and Toulouse have been asked for a bond to enter the Challenge Cup, to protect the RFL from its marketing incompetence. That’s a disgraceful and vindictive thing to do, and is a mark of the low-calibre of people we have running our game right now.
West Wales Raiders as a club had a tough season, carrying the banner for rugby league in Wales, and deserve enormous credit for coming through the campaign intact despite some absolute hammerings. A semi-professional Irish team is in the works too, while Edinburgh Eagles have started to show the potential that exists for rugby league in Scotland. The players that these clubs produce might well be the future of the Great Britain brand, giving rugby league a genuine Lions team. Yet support from the game’s governing bodies continues to be thin. The way that support of all kinds has been cut to the Celtic fringes in recent years is something else that the governing bodies should be ashamed of.