Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The biggest issue in the game

It's a familiar programme of events. New fixtures follow the international autumn, quickly to be followed by a raft of new rules. At some point, we may even find out what the national teams might be doing in 11 months time or whether there's a title sponsor the RFL's premier competition, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Every year, there are tweaks to the rules. Sometimes, there are new ones altogether or the withdrawal of others. That's fine. The game has constantly been nipping and tucking throughout it's history. Big things like the reduction in numbers on the field and limited tackle rules forged the identity of the game - minor things like the one-on-one ball steal and not allowing players to play the ball to themselves less so. We could pick holes in the current code. For instance, it is our contention that there are too many grey areas - like the one-on-one ball steal, obstruction, what constitutes a dominant tackle and offside rules - which make the interpretation of a given referee on a given day too much influence over the outcome. But that's by the by compared to the major issue which reared it's head in the Four Nations and will do again when the World Club Challenge comes around and that is the issue of consistency.

Who is in charge of the rules? In football, the responsibility lies with IFAB, the international game boars, the MCC in cricket, the IRB in the fifteen-a-side game. It is clear. In terms of international authority, we have the RLIF, possibly the most toothless and useless organisation in world sport. This is comprised of the heads of the domestic game around the world, but who leads it is unimportant seeing as it does nothing. The RFL make changes to the rules their competitions are played to. So do the NRL. (So do BARLA and the FFRXIII, but they do tend to reflect the RFL position as their member clubs also play in RFL competitions). There is never an attempt to align the two and this leads to a discord when clubs and nations come together under what are always termed 'international rules', but in reality are an ever-changing, flexible compromise between the two codes dependent on the whim of the man in the middle. This year, the NRL are wanting to scrap the differential penalty (sacrilege) having already done away with corner flags and added a second ref. The RFL are retaining corner flags, but they won't be deemed to form part of the perimeter of the field, which kind of makes them redundant anyway. And you'll be able to convert a try with a drop-kick, which we thought you could do if you wanted to anyway. The upshot is there'll be more diversion between the way the game is policed depending which hemisphere you play in.

Somebody, or indeed some body, has to have overall control of the laws of the game. Only then can we make progress on developing the rules to make the job of a referee easier and, consequently, take focus off them and onto the supreme athletes who play the game and whose endeavours take the heat off the administrators time and time again.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Arthur Beetson

News arrived today that the legend of the Australian game, Arthur Beetson, had suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 66. It is very sad news, of course, not least because the big feller managed to transcend the sport in Australia and as the first indigenous captain of the Kangaroos became a significant figure in changing social attitudes. It helped that he was a fabulous player.
This writer had the pleasure of meeting Beetson in 2003. It was the Princess Royal in Brentford where England were to play victim to Australia as they warmed up for an Ashes series. It looked like a glass pint pot - it really did - but it turned out to be plastic and as I lifted it from the bar with the requisite force for a glass pot, it very nearly went flying into the face of the person behind me. That person was Artie Beetson, an imposing figure then even though he was in his late 50s. "You nearly facking spilled that on me", he said with a smile as wide as christmas day on his face. I was 28 and reduced to the status of errant schoolboy.

Here's a clip made up from the Roosters back-to-back titles of 1974 and '75. Boy, the lad could play and boy, he'll be missed

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Harrigan, William

1. Litigious, arrogant ex-referee. Legend in his own opinion. World's first superstar referee, he says. Now makes his decisions from the safety of the video booth and continues to glory in the nickname 'Hollywood'

2. Descriptive term for a vain, narcissistic, arrogant individual. "I'm not surprised lots of people liked it when Naseem Hamed got beat up by Marco Antonio Barrera. He was too Harrigan by half".

Club Call

1. Super League innovation/gimmick (delete as applicable) whereby the highest ranked semi-finalist gets to pick their opponents from the previous week's qualifiers for the chance to go to the Grand Final and always results in the pickers picking the side they'd have ended up with anyway had the system not been introduced.

2. A complete and utter waste of time and energy. "I spent all day trying to nail some jelly to the wall. What a Club Call that was".

Vautin, Paul

Australian international back-row forward of the 1980s turned pundit and presenter of Channel 9's The Footy Show. Nicknamed 'Fatty' and 'the Fat Man', he's probably more known for taking 'that fucking catch' in an Allan Border testimonial cricket match than anything he did on the footy field:


The act of being hit in the head with the ball whilst not looking as demonstrated by Matt Utai in this clip:

See also Fenech, Mario

Fenech, Mario

The Maltese Falcon. Once famously hit in the head with the ball during play whilst not looking, a move forever to be known as a Falcon.


Nickname forever to be associated with ignominious failure. See also North Sydney and Oldham.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Sporadically successful club (relatively speaking) who managed to alienate most of their core support by abandoning their central location in exchange for an athletics field in the middle of a retail complex.


See also Boyd, Les


Home of Cougarmania and the town where the mayor was forced to resign after nicking money out of player's wage packets in late 2011.

Jackson, Peter

Hugely talented but deeply troubled Australian stand-off/centre. Capped nine times by his country and known as a happy-go-lucky 'Clown Prince of League', he died way, way too young in 1997, aged just 33.

Inglis, Greg

Freakishly large Australian powerhouse. Tends to run through rather than round people.

Zisti, Nicolas

Australian winger who had an unhappy and not-very-fondly remembered spell with Bradford in Super League before fecking off to pick up a pension courtesy of the Italian rugby union.


Subject of ridicule in the 1970s with the longest losing streak ever seen at the time. Went to the Dogs, literally, went to the house of pain before settling for a nice council house next to a lake.

Video referee

Late '90s innovation to provide the on-field referee some valuable help in making decisions regarding tries. Largely successfully deployed - to the point at which rugby union thought it was a good plan and claimed it as their own - but crucially not present at every game meaning that a maximum of three games in a Super League round have the facility and the others do not. So not only are games in Australia and Europe played to different rules, games within Europe's top league are played to different rules depending whether the host broadcaster decides to televise your game or not.

Grey areas

1. Items of which there are too many in the current set of rules which makes the role of the referee far too important in terms of deciding the outcome of a game. Still, as long as berating a referee makes fans blinder to the shortcomings and inadequacies of their own team and fosters feelings of bias against ones favoured side by particular officials eh?

2. The sides of Jamie Peacock's head.


Stadium in Bradford with it's own micro-climate. It's been known to have three-yard visibility due to fog there when locals just half a mile down the road are basking in their gardens in glorious sunshine and getting a barbecue going.


1. Rugby League International Federation. Organisation that ought to be in control of the game worldwide, but isn't. Nobody is clear as to it's actual purpose and, as it's made up of RFL and NRL officials, seems to be little more than a rubber-stamping exercise on whatever those two organisations decide will happen.

2. Anything that is utterly toothless. "Dave got smashed in the face by that big, ugly prop of theirs. Now he's RLIF and looking at a £400 denture bill".


Set of instructions on how to play the game for which you'd think one body/committee/organisation would have control of. Not so, hence we have the two major leagues in the world playing to different regulations and the international game played to an unhappy compromise between the two.

Under, Up and

1. Archaic term for a high kick in general play, superceded by 'bomb', much beloved of Eddie Waring.

2. John Godber play about the game that was turned into an execrable film notable only for featuring Samantha Janus in the nip.

October 3

Rangi Chase Day in the UK. The day in 2011 that he decided he was British and won the Man of Steel award.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Darren Lockyer - an appreciation

Last weekend, one of the true greats of the sport played his last game of club rugby. Pretty soon, he'll play his last few games for his country and the British public will have one more chance to fully appreciate their nemesis over the last decade and more. The gravel-voiced genius that is Darren Lockyer is retiring.

Like with many Australians in many sports who had been an absolute menace to English sides, at one stage it became fashionable to boo Lockyer. The turning point may have been the first Tri-Nations final at Elland Road where he orchestrated one of the most scintillating 80 minutes of rugby seen on these shores. Finally, the realisation came that we were in the presence of a very special talent. Gradually, the realisation grew that we might not see him so often any more and that this incredible player should have his artistry cherished.

He started as a full-back, of course, but was always so much more than that. It was basically a holding role in order to get him on the field until he assumed the mantle of the greatest modern-era stand-off. For Brisbane - his only professional club - Queensland and Australia, he's led by example. He's never in the papers for the wrong reasons - and we see on a regular basis the activities of other RL stars across the Aussie press - and nobody has a bad word to say about him. A marked man throughout his career, he took the knocks, he bounced up and came back for more.

Through his career, Wayne Bennett was a major influence, as highlighted here. It's easy to think that Lockyer will go into coaching and be every bit the nemesis of England off the field as he was on it. If his teams are built in his own idiom, future coaches of England had better stock up on the aspirin as he'll be causing plenty of headaches in future.

Chase, Rangi

British stand-off born in the beautiful Leicestershire market town of Tamaki-nui-a-Rua.

Elland Road

Wholly inadequate stadium in Leeds that once doubled as Hunslet's home after their Parkside home was demolished. The traditional way to address the bloke nearest you at Hunslet's games there was to shout "OOOIIIIIII!!!!" at the top of your voice.


Unlikely name for a rugby league player, yet when attached to the surname 'Pongia', produced one of the hardest, nastiest bastards ever to play the game.


System of attempting to keep the number of overseas players in British rugby down. Has more holes in it than your average block of Emmental.

Luck, Micheal

Australian back-row forward who plays for NZ Warriors in the NRL and whose parents can't spell.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Short-lived late-1990s experiment to try to draw crowds to Lawkholme Lane in Keighley by putting on non-rugby events; bouncy castles, face painting and the like. Spirit kept alive today by Bradford. Everyone else thinks it's naff.

Super League

Competition in Europe that comprises 27 weeks of regular league fixtures and a month of play-offs in order to decide that Leeds play St Helens in the final.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


Long demolished and redeveloped home of the original Oldham RLFC.

Despite being closed since 1997 it's still the coldest place known to the Rugby League World

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mbu, Joe

Zaire-born player turned coach. Only person in the sport whose name is an anagram of 'Joe Bum'*.

(* - that gag courtesy of Forty20 magazine editor-at-large, Tony Hannan)

Walk, Wigan

Exodus of home support five minutes before the end of Wigan game at the DW (formerly the Jamie Jones-Buchanan) Stadium whether the home side be 40 points to the good or 50 behind. Take the Little Grubbers team's advice: stay to the end and miss the rush.

New Zealand

1. Country full of terrific footballers who punch way above their not inconsiderable weight, though fight a constant battle to keep them from the clutches of the overbearing All Blacks.

2. Country derided by Roy Haggerty (apocryphally) after being unable to source bacon for his breakfast. "A country full of sheep and you've got no fucking bacon?"

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Paris St Germain

Attempt at planting a club in an area with no roots back in 1995 at the start of Super League. Inevitably, it foundered and ending up costing the RFL a big stack of cash. But they learned from the experience and vowed never to do it again, especially in Wrexham some fifteen years later.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Belle Vue

Ancient and dilapidated home of Wakefield Trinity. Complete misnomer as the Vue isn't Belle at all.


Playmaker. Usually pre-fixed by the word 'cheeky'.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Much the point of the game - to get the ball over the opposition's goal line and earn yourself a shot at goal. The one aspect of Rugby League that rugby union has yet to seize and claim as it's own.


Pre-requisite for joining Warrington is to have at least one arm completely sleeved with ink.

McGoldrick, Ryan

More tattoo than man. See also Delaney, Brett

Shaw Hall Bank Road

Home of Saddleworth Rangers and the most picturesque ground in the sport.


The default accent for a Super League coach.

Cullen, Paul

Former second-row firebrand turned master manipulator of our mother tongue.

French, Ray

Commentator, anachronism and walking compendium of player heights, weights and amateur clubs.


1. The direction in which you must not pass.

2. The mating call of St Helens residents.

3. A big, daft lad who plays up front .

Mount Pleasant

Home ground of Batley RLFC. A total misnomer as it's not that pleasant at all. Has a 1-in-4 gradient from tryline to tryline.


What all opposition players are when playing at Craven Park, Hull.

Matterson, Terry

Coach and former champion loose forward. There will forever be a piece of him in Perpignan.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Lewis "disappointed" with Lewis's decision

Chairman of the RFL Richard Lewis told reporters he was "disappointed" after long negotiations with Sport England chairman Richard Lewis resulted in a cut in funding of just short of a million pounds to the sport.

An ashen-faced Richard Lewis faced the press after intense negotiations with Richard Lewis ended without a satisfactory outcome. "We know all sports are under pressure and Richard Lewis was at pains to explain that before his final decision was handed down, but it's safe to say I'm disappointed".

Lewis's opposite number Richard Lewis also faced the press afterwards indicating that "while we were happy with Richard Lewis's presentation to Sport England, we're happy that due process has been applied". Lewis went on to say that Sport England simply has less money available to it that it is able to distribute among it's member organisations. "All sports will have to adjust and though Richard Lewis put forward a compelling case, we reached the best deal possible", added Lewis.

While clearly disappointed, Richard Lewis made clear that despite the cut, the RFL would continue to press forward. "We have significantly increased player participation", said Lewis, "and the switch of junior and amateur rugby league to summer continues this progress and the RFL will continue to support our member clubs. It's just a shame that I was unable to persuade Richard Lewis of this".

This article first appeared June 22 2011 on and is the sort of thing you can expect from Little Grubbers.