Spending many of my formative years in Warrington, rugby league was part of my surrounds from an early age and despite moving to London many years ago I still try to see The Wire a few times each season, watch games on television and try and get along to as many games in the South, at London Skolars, Hemel Stags and occasionally London Broncos as possible (although their £20 admission is always a bit off putting in their current stadium in Ealing).
Last Sunday, a rainy afternoon when all the recent sunshine was a distant memory, I went along to Pennine Way for the third time this season as the bottom two clubs in Rugby League’s professional structure squared up. Hemel Stags and the West Wales Raiders. Both sides have suffered many heavy defeats this season, with West Wales in yet another new guise after their Scorpions and Ironmen days yet to register a point.
The game at this level is about as far removed from Super League as it gets, with the teams emerging into the rain in front of the stand holding a ground of around 50 people comfortably. The stand at Hemel is one of those structures that doesn’t seem to be designed to keep inclement weather out, in any way, shape or form!
The game saw West Wales give a whole hearted performance which just fell short, as Hemel emerged 30-22 victors. Though a couple of late disallowed ‘tries’ for the Welsh side could have seen a different result. It was the usual fare at this level, lots of endeavour, the odd moment of class and a few too many handling errors.
As a big supporter of Rugby League expanding outside the heartlands though, you have to wonder if the RFL and Super League really have any interest in truly developing the game at this level. Hemel now bring players down from Yorkshire for each game and it seems to driven local fans away compared to a few seasons ago when there was a more local feel to the team. And West Wales have gamely battled on under various names in recent years. There have been rumblings that new Super League chief executive Robert Elstone is making a power grab and certain Super League chairman want to cut back on central funding for the lower divisions but for me the game can ill afford to lose clubs at any level. Short term gains for a few larger clubs at the expense of the collective at all levels is wrong. Sadly however as the Premier League has proved over recent years the days of sport being focused on anything but money and greed seem fewer and fewer.