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Purdham interview leaves its mark

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George Riley George Riley | 15:17 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

The response to the death of Garry Purdham underlines why those involved in rugby league believe it to be a sport like no other.

Purdham, brother of Harlequins captain Rob, was murdered in last month's Cumbria shootings, one of 12 people shot dead by Derrick Bird on 2 June.

The way the rugby league community has rallied around the Purdham family at a time of grief has convinced Rob he made the right decision in resisting the urge to pack in his rugby career to take Garry's place on the family farm.

"Harlequins have been unbelievable, the players outstanding, from the very moment I rang Mac (coach Brian McDermott) to tell him what had happened. The camaraderie there has helped my grieving," he told me.

"I don't think there is another sport in the world that would have backed an amateur player like this. Right from the top of the Rugby League (RFL) down to the amateur guys who play for fun, I just can't believe the kind of support we have had.

"You bash each other up every week and still get players texting you to see if they can help. The messages I have received put a lump in my throat. Every player since has shaken my hand after the game and asked if there is anything they can do.

"I don't think if someone had died playing amateur football, the Premier League players would have been sending texts of support. What a sport this is."

I spoke to Rob last week for a piece for 5 live Sport. It was the hardest interview I have ever had to do and I think he probably handled it much better than I did. His vivid account of seeing his brother's dead body still lying under the hedge following a frantic six-hour drive north from London will be with me forever.

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Quins team-mate Luke Dorn joined us for some mutual support when we did the interview with Rob and also came into the studio for Tuesday's show.

"When Rob came back from Cumbria, it was emotional," said Dorn, who lives round the corner from Purdham in south-west London. "He left a big hole when he was away as he's such a big personality, so to have him back is great and I'm glad he decided not to retire.

"He's doing well. I think being back in London and having another focus is helping. This sport is so physical you have to be mentally right. That shows the toughness of the man to come back training and playing so soon."

Purdham is injured at the moment but Dorn and company produced a fine performance to dismiss Bradford at the Stoop last Friday.

It was a game that would prove to be the last as Bradford boss for Steve McNamara, who is now free to focus on England after parting company with the Bulls on Tuesday.

I had spoken to McNamara before the game against Quins and he had been full of beans. His mood had changed markedly come the post-match interview. He was hugely deflated after his side's 35-18 defeat, which a couple of Bradford journalists called "awful" and a "disgrace".

McDermott, a former Bradford player, was linked with a return to Odsal following McNamara's exit and had fended off questions about a move to the Bulls all week before Mick Potter was eventually confirmed as the new coach.

Dorn was always confident McDermott would be staying put. Speaking before Potter's unveiling, the Australian had told me: "The players have heard speculation about Mac but that's all it is. He's not said anything to us. He is on contract and is quite an honest guy so I'm sure he'd tell us if he was leaving."

Potter turned out to be the choice of the Bradford board, although Wakefield coach John Kear was keen on the vacancy too.

As for McNamara, he always insisted his appointment as England coach would not have a negative impact on his role at Bradford. However, I have no doubt that the Bradford players and McNamara himself have been thinking about what the future holds during a run of eight successive defeats.

Dorn agreed, insisting it is inevitable players start mulling over their options, especially if the team is performing badly. "Of course we talk," he said.

And now Potter has been picked to succeed McNamara, the Bulls players have something else to discuss.


  • Comment number 1.

    A moving article in stark contrast to the negativity surrounding the gay chanting/ Castleford saga. Like any community there are the bad elements but there still remains a common bond especailly from those who have played the game who have an automatic respect for those who have played and put there body on the line. Football can learn a lot from the humility and honesty of rugby league players. (but they wont)

  • Comment number 2.

    Good piece George. I was gutted to hear of Rob's loss. He's a class act who will hopefully grace Super League for many more years to come.

  • Comment number 3.

    All the best to you Rob Purdham. I've met many of the top players in League in both UK & Aus comp through my work. There is no comparision between soccer players & league players. League players are everday blokes, paid to play sport & have a mutual respect amongst each other.

    Soccer players on the other hand, roll around on the floor trying to convince the ref to send off a fellow pro. Just witness the recent world cup. Gave up on that sport a long time ago.

    They could learn from League. On & off the field, but they won't. Money is their only dictator.

  • Comment number 4.

    All credit to Rob for carrying on. Can't begin to imagine what it's like going through something like that, but the support he's clearly had, shows just how tightknit the Rugby League community is, and as well as all credit to Rob for carrying on, all credit to the Rugby League community for coming together and supporting him when he really needed their support.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good points SouthsNZ. I'm a big footie fan as well as RL but you're right that the player behaviour and the distance between the players and fans/communities etc. in football are to its huge detriment and it's one reason I generally prefer RL these days. The brave move to franchising that has freshened up the competition being another. The tight knit RL community is indeed something the sport can be truly proud of and I'm not surprised to hear Rob's comments.


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