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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Christmas in Copeland - RL style

DON’T know whether ‘The Don’ knows it yet but Christmas in Copeland for Haven’s new Australian head coach will be a bit special, more blood and thunder than academic I’ll wager.

Boxing Day’s annual Ike Southward Memorial match may be a friendly in name but hardly so on the field. And Don Gailer will hope to get off to a better start in the job than his ‘marra’ predecessor, David Seeds.

For last season Haven not only lost to the old enemy in the corresponding match but soon afterwards in the Northern Rail Cup – both on The Recre, too. In fact, Haven failed to beat Town at all last season – so there’s something to improve on right away.

But what a different story it would have been if Haven hadn’t squandered a 16-0 lead at Derwent Park on Good Friday.

It was the most exhilarating derby for years ending in a 30-30 draw. And then Haven got out of jail through a hotly disputed try in the dying moments after the ref, unfortunately or other-wise, stumbled and failed to spot a forward pass.

Prop Paul Cullnean was initially credited with the try but actually it was Chris Smith who, along with fullback Craig Benson, played a blinder.

It’s good that both these young guns have signed on for another campaign but it’s fair to say that, apart from The Don, it’s been a time for introductions down at The Recre there have been so many new captures.

I’m sure fans can’t wait to see Dave Houghton, Richard Varkulis and Sam Cunningham all from Widnes and due to line up together alongside another ex-Viking – Lee Doran. Lee made a big enough impact last season and now that he’s taken on extra coaching duties his influence will be even greater this time around.

The Don clearly likes what he’s seen so far in a short time. “A good mix of youth and experience and more importantly a lot of enthusiasm. I want to make sure the players and the team improves,” he says.

Mr Gailer says the scoreboard will look after itself – effort and enthusiasm are paramount but you don’t have to tell him or any Aussie sportsman that it’s all about winning. It’s a results driven business and promotion is even more paramount.

Whitehaven must set out to win every game and sometimes it won’t matter if it’s not pretty so long as the efforts there – and it’s right on the scoreboard!

My guess is that having established such a high reputation down Brisbane way, Haven’s personable head honcho will want his new charges doing the talking for him on the field!

And he won’t be slow to spot and develop talent in the Recre ranks – after all this is a guy who coached Darren Lockyer who captained his Queensland under-17 side.

Boxing Day will be the first chance to observe the Gailer way of playing but I’m sure something akin to tribal rivalry will be ringing in his ears already – beat the old enemy first up and you’ll be forgiven a few other things as the saying goes.

From the present to a proud period of Whitehaven RLFC’s history and a man who played a notable part in it.

It’s sad to report the death of Geoff Robinson, who I regard as the best loose forward to wear the chocolate, blue and gold.

A veteran of the magnificent ‘57 Challenge Cup semi-final, also a member of the team which humbled Australia at The Recre the year before, Geoff commanded a world record fee for a forward on his transfer from Haven to Oldham in 1959. Big Robbo was a sight to behold in full cry – all the more fearsome with the fledgling Dick Huddart alongside him in the back row.

On the triumph over the Kangaroos – Haven were coached by former Wallaby Nev Emery – Geoff once told me: “Some of us Whitehaven lads were very young. I remember distinctly two enormous Aussie second row forwards, Kel O’Shea and Norman Provan, all time greats but at the same time mean buxxers. I stiff-armed Provan, put him down but he caught me back and my front teeth came out through my bottom lip. We still went out with the Aussie boys for a few drinks in the Whitehaven pubs before the civic reception.”

I reckon The Don will like that little tale from a true Haven legend.

See page four for Geoff’s obituary.

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