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Monday, 28 July 2014

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Promotion in the bag – but let’s finish the season in grand style

JOB well done but business unfinished – that’s the message from the Recreation Ground following Whitehaven’s promotion triumph.

Don Gailer is charged with making sure Haven cut the mustard in next season’s higher arena of rugby league – the directors have said ‘well done, Don carry on for another year’ – but first things first: continue the winning streak till the end of the regular season and then sign off in a blaze of glory.

Yes, there is a genuine feeling in the camp that Haven’s late rich vein of form can see them flourish in the Championship One top-six play off but reach (and even win) the grand final with some decent financial pickings, to boot.

And with neighbours Town well in the running to claim a £50,000 prize for finishing division one champions – well done to them, no parochialism here! – wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate a West Cumbrian double, perhaps the old enemy playing each other in a play-off final.

For Don Gailer to get the directors’ vote of confidence was the icing on the promotion cake for the urbane Aussie; it’s fair to say there was speculation among the fans over his future right up to the special board meeting on Monday night.

But this is the man whose name Haven’s travelling “barmy army” were singing to celebrate the last home win at Rochdale. And following the even better home win over title-chasing Doncaster the tide turned spectacularly turned in The Don’s favour, culminating in Sunday’s Help for Heroes promotion clincher – a poignant as well as jubilant occasion.

In all modesty, having correctly predicted the exact score (65-10) against Gateshead and also the attendance (733) – the gate should have been better – I was willing to wager amid all the speculation that Don would get the nod for another year. This straight-talker may ruffle a few feathers, but maybe a few home truths are needed from time to time.

After all, it’s the coach who has to carry the can when things aren’t going well; when they are, he should also get the plaudits.

So it is with Mr Gailer. A new one-year contract is his rightful reward for promotion – and I’m told he has the board’s full backing to guide the team successfully in the Championship. That means staying there, not coming right back down because two teams will be relegated.

So the squad has to be strengthened significantly, whether that’s three, four or five new (above average) players remains to be seen – a fine balancing act between revenue and spending. A club just out of administration and back on its financial feet simply can’t risk slipping back into dire straits.

Just as importantly at the moment is retaining some of the best on Whitehaven’s present books.

Top of the list for me is the dynamic Jessie Joe Parker.

By all accounts the big man is keen to stay, and the club are equally keen to keep him but with family back in Papua New Guinea JJ will have to consider all the options. Hopefully the club will be able to put the right package in place to keep him here.

It’s easy to see now why Jessie Joe is a PNG Test centre: he’s been getting better especially since his pairing with wing flyer Craig Calvert – power and pace personified.

Calvert – official hat-trick man of the match against Gateshead (it could easily have gone to Jessie Joe or Carl Rudd) gave his three-quarter line partner a big wrap in front of the sponsors – “we’ve clicked really well and as long as I get the service I’ll keep scoring the tries”.

The former Hornet also reckons Haven have the best team (Town fans won’t agree with that) and in his words “have to try to win the play-offs”.

Club chairman Ralph Calvin (once proud wearer of the blue and white before switching to the chocolate blue and gold) says potential still has to be reached.

“We’ve done what we set out to do. Next season is a higher standard of rugby but let’s hope we can get back to where the club was four or five years ago.”

And here’s hoping, Mr Chairman, that fast forward the next five years Haven will have a much smarter stadium to play in – one way or the other.

Whitehaven RLFC will proceed with due diligence learning harsh lessons of the past but with the continued backing of Nuclear Management Partners – another fifty grand in the bag for next season – and all the current talk of a two-tier Super League system, who knows what the future might hold.

For now, however, it’s all about finishing life in Championship One (and never to return) in some rewarding style.


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