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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Not in my back yard!

IS NIMBY-ISM creeping into professional rugby league? As Red Hall gets set to fast track four new clubs into its lowest tier from far flung parts of the country there could already be whispers of Not in My (Our) Back Yard from some established clubs. Or it’s okay as long as we’re not part of it.

But like it or not this is a fait accompli.

Take your pick from four of around seven contenders – Bristol, Hemel, Coventry, Northampton, Chester, Oxford and the Medway Dragons – for a step up. These are described as development clubs and the aim apparently is to breathe some new life into the lower echelons, as well as aiding expansion.

The RFL admit that, while the shake-up is likely to result in a lower standard of rugby in Championship One initially, it’s worth taking a short term “hit” for longer term gain.

Tell that to Championship One’s existing incumbents, many of them already struggling to make a living.

Bet your life that some can’t wait to escape into a more prosperous and competitive life in the Championship proper. That includes White-haven, Workington and Barrow. Four clubs will be promoted to make way for the newcomers.

Town chairman Dave Bowden, pretty despondent at jut missing out on promotion this time round, makes no bones about it: “All clubs will be working hard to make sure they are one of the four teams who go up but it’s going to be tough.”

Bowden says it will be a dogfight to get out.

Going up will the 2012 Championship One winners, the play-off final winners and runners-up plus the next highest finishers but with a proviso: you must have a stadium for 3,000 spectators.

With any luck that would just about let Whitehaven in – with a couple of hundred places to spare, given that the new Pow Beck community stadium will be open for business.

We can see one almighty, if not undignified, scramble to get into the Championship.

Nothing’s a given so imagine how many would turn up say to watch Haven vs Hemel, or Town against Oxford in Championship One?

So Not in Our Back Yard - we can’t wait to get out. All supposed to be for the good of the game.

Steve Ferres, the RFL’s club support manager, admits: “You can be cynical having seen the experiences of clubs going in and out like Paris St Germain, Mansfield and Scarborough.”

But Ferres knows what it takes to play and star in a new club because I remember him as a very able stand-off in Carlisle’s evolution.

He says he has been ‘blown away’ already by the work of some of the development clubs but really you can’t help being a little bit sceptical and sorry for traditional clubs who might well be eventually cast by the wayside.

Another worry is profile. Premier Sports – that’s an Irish pay-to-view broadcaster – will take over (from Sky Sports) TV coverage of both Championship divisions from next season, screening up to 34 games for 40 pence a game based on a 12-month ‘season tele-ticket.’

There’s one glimmer of hope: Premier Sports has Australia’s NRL in its portfolio. I’m not sure how many tune in at the moment to the world’s best rugby league but at least the NRL could be a sprat to catch the proverbial mackerel.

Fewer than expected turned out to see Cumbria v England Knights “in the flesh” at The Recre on a bleak Saturday afternoon but at least the 1,100 or so who did were able to admire another battling performance from the county side against a team of would-be future internationals.

While not a game for rugby purists, the likes of Chris Riley, Josh Charnley, Zak Hardaker, Richie Myler, Lee Mossop, Scott Moore, Joe Westerman, Liam Farrell and James Donaldson were held in check for the most part and, but for two out of the blue breakaway Knights tries, the outcome would have been a lot closer.

Cumbria skipper Kyle Amor, best forward on the field, led a true grit Cumbrian display which put another feather in the county cap.

For me the only grey area was that pink and greyish drab strip – a legacy I believe from the recent RL Nines tournament – let’s get back to the traditional black and white worn with honour by so many great Cumbrian sides of the past.

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