With the new Super League season due to start this month, Social Account Manager Rob Stewart presents his A-Z of reasons to love rugby league.
Accessibility – Relationships between humble players, coaches and owners with journalists and supporters are refreshingly healthy and it’s common to see stars who don’t get too big for their boots and are happy to stop for a post-match chat with fans and members of the media.
Len Bowkett – I’ve always had a sentimental attachment to the game because my late mum worked for this Huddersfield legend as a ‘barmaid’ in his pub, The Fleece in Sheepridge, long after his days of captaining my hometown club to Challenge Cup glory in 1933.
Challenge Cup Final – The day Northerners traditionally descend on Wembley Stadium and set the scene for one of British sport’s greatest showpiece events and I am optimistic that one day I’ll see the Huddersfield Giants enjoy a bit of overdue glory.
David Brown’s – I grew up watching the swashbuckling David Brown’s amateur team back in the 80s on the grounds of Moor End High School where their supporters were more fearsome than the players who were so good, several of them went on to make a living from the game as professionals.
Excitement – End-to-end, non-stop thrills and spills are par for the course in rugby league games thanks to players who favour passing and running with the ball rather than hoofing it backwards and forwards, displaying dexterity that even basketball stars like LeBron James would envy.
Family event – it just takes a trip to a ground on a Friday evening to stadiums like Headingly in Leeds to see how rugby league fandom gets passed down the generations with the love of the game and the result is a family atmosphere that is second to none, as is the case with me and my sister (Heather) and my daughter (Stella), see here in this rugby league treasure trove in Huddersfield last summer.
Grand Final – Fitting finale to the grueling Super League season with special sentimental attachment for me – interviewing Leeds star Lee Smith in the Old Trafford dressing room after his match-winning exploits against St Helens is a career highlight.
Heritage – My hometown Huddersfield’s claim to sporting fame is its status as the cradle of rugby league thanks to a meeting at the town’s historic George Hotel on August 29, 1895, and it’s fitting that first-ever National Rugby League Museum will soon open there.
Icons – We all love a sporting legend and rugby league is full of players who have earned that status ranging from Leeds’s Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Jamie Peacock to Wigan greats like Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards and Martin Offiah to Hull heroes Clive Sullivan, Garry Schofield and Lee Crooks.
Jason Robinson. Rugby League is the gift that keeps on giving to Rugby Union, epitomised by former Leeds-born former Wigan star Robinson’s heroics in the World Cup final win over Australia and the likes of his Cherry & Whites colleagues Shaun Edwards and Liam Farrell’s dad, Andy.
Special K – Former Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield was truly inspirational on the field for the all-conquering Rhinos and his awesome marathon fundraising efforts for Neurone Disease Association in honour of brilliant ex-team-mate Rob Burrow prove he’s just as inspirational off it.
Loiners – You can’t beat a good nickname in my book and this one’s up there with the oddest. The Leeds rugby league team used to be known as Loiners and according to the Yorkshire Evening Post that is the nickname for people from the city, thought to derive from Loidis, an eighth century term for the area, which later became Ledes or Leedes and eventually Leeds.
The Magic Weekend – the sporting extravaganza shows the rugby league authorities’ willingness to try new things and it’s been a huge success. It returns to Newcastle’s St James’ Park stadium this year for a proper, all-singing, all-dancing festival of sport in a hotbed of football.
Next big thing – Newcastle Thunder, formally Gateshead Thunder, are a professional rugby league side who play their home games at Kingston Park after a takeover by the Newcastle Falcons rugby union club. They currently play in the 2021 Betfred Championship fixtures and they’re destined for big things under the ambitious ownership of local businesssman Semore Kurdi.
Openness – Super League referee James Child has just become one of the highest-profile names in rugby league to open up about being gay following in the footsteps of former player Keegan Hirst who was the first British professional in the code to openly say he is gay while carving out a career in one of the world’s most macho sports.
Progressive – It’s a sport that’s always looking for ways to reach new audiences and to innovate as shown by the emergence of the Bristol All Golds in rugby union heartland and new rules to make the sport more eye-catching a reward for its so-called 20/40 Kicks.
Quality – The quality of entertainment is almost always high in Super League games and the fans make a big contribution to the spectacle, especially when it’s a local derby like the ones I used to attend in Hull at The Boulevard.
Roy-al Assent – It takes a lot to impress former Manchester United skipper turned sharp-tongued TV pundit Roy Keane but the fact that – like former England star Stuart Pearce – he’s a huge fan of the Warrington Wolves says it all about the refreshing attraction of the game’s mixture of raw power, honesty and tactical acumen.
Clive Sullivan – A truly British sporting pioneer, Cardiff-born Sullivan not only achieved great things in Hull with the city’s two RK clubs – hence the city’s Clive Sullivan Way – but he has gone down in history as the first black captain of a British national sports team, which underlines the sport’s progressive nature.
TV stars – Thanks to Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s love of the game, Sky Sports have done rugby league proud by throwing the sport a vital lifeline, underpinned by brilliant coverage and the BBC always do a great job of covering the Challenge Cup and international rugby with Mark Chapman at the helm.
Up ‘n’ Under – With his famous ‘up n under’ catchphrase, legendary BBC commentator Eddie Waring was known as ‘The voice of rugby league’ bringing game to the masses for 30 years on Saturday afternoons and his legacy lives on in the theatre through the Hull Truck Company play Up ‘n’ Under by John Godber.
Vixens – The Delaware Vixens women’s team looks like it’s being set up in the USA which will just shows that women’s rugby league is going from strength to strength.
World in Action – World Cup rugby is coming to England in October and November, to give everyone a post-pandemic lift. While it’s unlikely the host nation will triumph, with more nations than ever competing, games at 17 stadia across England will ensure it’s a roaring success.
X Factor – Gary Barlow continues to provide the game with that illusive X-Factor with his support of the game which saw him join in the post-match celebrations with Warrington’s stars when his hometown club won the Challenge Cup.
Yorkshire – There’s nothing like a bit of Roses rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire on the M62 corridor that is rugby league’s heartlands and there’s nothing like rugby league and cricket to stoke up local passions.
Row Z – That’s where I always thought I’d boot the ball if I found myself ball-in-hand on a rugby league field with 13 opposition players moving in for the kill.
Photos courtesy of the Rugby Football League media team.
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