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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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You can’t beat a festive discussion!

WITH no Christmas local derby in the offing after all – Town can’t raise a team – it’s a chance to indulge in a little bit of RL nostalgia.

Haven’s new head coach Don Gailer has given me the opportunity. And if there’s one thing likely to cause debate it’s whether the all-time greats of the past would be a match for today’s superstars.

Having seen them all since the late 50s, I am convinced that they definitely would, perhaps even more of a match, with the proviso of course that they’d all have to be on the same level playing field in conditioning and fitness. But you can compare ability.

And, of course, all the rule changes have drastically changed the way in which the game is played over different eras.

Don Gailer, fresh from Down Under, sparked the arguments all over again, on Radio Cumbria’s Friday night sports show. The 56-year-old Australian believes professional RL has changed for the worse in some respects.

Don, an excellent studio guest, told listeners: “It has changed a lot, in my mind not always for the better. I thought in the mid-90s, when rugby league switched to a 10-metre defensive game (at the play-the-ball), a lot of character was taken out of it.

“Before then, and I’m sure it’s what a lot of long-time supporters appreciated, we had the big guys plying their craft up the middle, playing off-loading football, attractive whether in the middle or out wide but I think the 10-yard or metre defence has really taken those blokes out of the game.

“Now you have more mobile, athletic forwards, maybe with more basic skills but probably not more of the flair they used to have.

“From a commercial point of view, TV and the fans having a fast open game is probably more exciting but, for me, in the true sense of rugby league, I think the game changed for the worse when we took those big guys out.”

How did he think the great players of 30-40 years ago would have fared today? “I think the great backs would always be good footballers, the Tommy Bishops and Roger Millwards, and in Australia such as Bobby Fulton and Wally Lewis – they’d always be special in any type of football. It’s quite a different story with the forwards, the modern day ones vs the likes of Arthur Beetsons, Jim Mills and Vince Karalius.

“I know they were champions, I wouldn’t knock that but I think they’d struggle with the pace and fitness of today’s game, having to get back that 10 metres is a heck of a job every time there’s a play-the-ball.”

Wow there’s an argument!

I agree with Don that pushing the players back 10-metres has taken a lot of close quarter skill and flair out of an area where fans were able to marvel at the ball playing magic of maestros such as Brian McTigue, big Artie Beetson, our own Brian Edgar, Eddie Bowman and Billy Ivison.

There was a lot more variety back then, it took real craft to prise a gap but no one can say RL wasn’t attractive. The Bostons, Vollenhovens, Bevans and Southwards scored a lot more tries than the wingers of today, as did the likes of Ken Irvine Down Under.

Critics of today’s style say it’s too stereotyped and predictable, faster doesn’t necessarily make for better although it remains a terrific spectacle at its best. But we still can’t beat the Aussies.

So this is where I disagree with The Don.

If we were able to field some of the ‘big blokes’ who helped Great Britain win Ashes series’ Down Under in 1958, ‘62 and ‘70 then I reckon we could give the Kangaroos a series licking today.

Dick Huddart and Brian Edgar were mobile and athletic enough to walk into the present England side, Australia couldn’t match them; so too with the likes of Johnny Whiteley, Mal Reilly, Dennis Betts and Doug Laughton and, of course, Ellery Hanley. Down Under, dynamic forwards such as Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy and Wayne Pierce spring readily to mind.

And the front rowers weren’t ‘steam pigs’ either – Brian McTigue, Alan Prescott, Kevin Ward, Abe Terry, Norman Herbert, Rocky Turner, Lee Crooks and Kelvin Skerret could play any type of game and still be world class today. Likewise big Les Boyd, Steve Roach and Craig Young out in Australia.

Oh, the beauty of argument!

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