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Wigan's quest crosses codes

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George Riley George Riley | 10:59 UK time, Friday, 25 February 2011

Wigan will have a new set of fans watching on when they bid to land a record fourth World Club Challenge by beating St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday.

The day after former Wigan full-back Chris Ashton carries the hopes of 80,000 at Twickenham as England attempt to overcome France in the Six Nations, Ashton and his union mates will be glued to their televisions, watching the Warriors take their own shot at world glory.

Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan received a request from England manager Martin Johnson before the Super League season began to bring his players north in order to witness the Warriors and the Australian champions doing battle.

A logistical headache will stop the union boys travelling but they will still be watching from afar.

Wigan celebrate a try last week against Bradford

Wigan have started their Super League season with a draw against St Helens and a win over Bradford. Pic: Press Association

"There's no higher praise for our game than the England team wanting to come and watch Wigan play St George," said Lenagan.

"I support England rugby union so why shouldn't they support us here in rugby league against Australia? Everyone wants to beat the Aussies, don't they? There is good respect between the two codes."

Lenagan's comments were ringing in my ears in the pub the other night when a local in my west London alehouse suggested to me that no-one would care whether Wigan won or not as people are too caught up in the Six Nations.

I think that's rubbish.

Likewise, the suggestion that league fans - and Wiganers in particular - resent the fame and fortune Ashton is earning as an international rugby union try machine.

On the contrary, Ashton's stellar rise is a massive pat on the back for the 13-man game. In fact, the juxtaposition of Ashton's England and Lenagan's Wigan, hours apart on the biggest sporting stage this weekend, is a source of massive pride for the small rugby town in the north-west of England.

"We are delighted and proud to watch Ashton doing what he is doing for English rugby," said Lenagan. "This is a kid born and brought up in Wigan and now he's showing everyone in the country how to play rugby. It's just a pity we lost him before I came to Wigan."

Not that Lenagan is licking his wounds. The club has unearthed another future superstar in Sam Tomkins.

"Sam is probably the most exciting young rugby player of either code that I've seen in a long time," said Lenagan. "He has signed a new long-term deal - as has his brother Joel - so we have no problem holding on to our best players."

Lenagan's insistence that the union/league divide is fading is based on more than just the interest shown in his club by the England rugby union manager.

Michael Maguire's first acquisition as Wigan coach was Mark Bitcon, a strength and conditioning coach from Gloucester RUFC. Lenagan told me that Bitcon, who worked with Wigan legend Denis Betts at Gloucester, has made a massive difference, not only to the fitness of the players but their entire professional approach.

"We are proud of that crossover with union," Lenagan said.

The bottom line is that Wigan want to create another dynasty. Last October's deserved Super League Grand Final success over St Helens at Old Trafford ended a 13-year wait for the top honour. Now the challenge is to prove it is the start of a new period of Cherry and White dominance after the successes of the 1980s and 1990s. Victory over the Australian champion Dragons is the next big step towards that goal.

"I want us to be world champions as well as Super League champions," said Lenagan.
"Our last title was in 1998 and for Wigan to be strong is good for rugby league and certainly good for fans of Wigan.

"It has been a hard grind over the last three years. We have got a great coach in Michael Maguire and a squad full of Wiganers. In that respect, we are mirroring old Wigan teams. We have a strong squad with international players as well as home-grown players, so it should do well."

In St George, Wigan meet a side founded on the same philosophy. Their NRL Grand Final-winning side boasted nine home-grown players as they continue their commitment to bringing young talent through. The Dragons promise they are treating the trip seriously rather than a holiday. Still, they cannot resist the traditional dig at the bitter English winter.

"Most of boys are a bit shocked by weather," said centre Matt Cooper. "It has been hard to explain to them what two degrees is going be like."

The Dragons, who spent a couple of days acclimatising and sight-seeing on arrival in England, will have to win the title without Wayne Bennett. A legendary coach and a man described by his club chairman as the most powerful man in world rugby at the moment, he has returned to Australia for family reasons.

Still, I expect a thrilling contest in front of a sell-out crowd.

The gentleman in my local pub may not bother watching the game after he is done with England-France on Saturday but Johnson and his players will be. Maybe the England coach will tell him what he is missing.


  • Comment number 1.

    "the small rugby town in the north-west of England". I can only assume it is some time since you visited Wigan Mr Riley. Plenty more football shirts than rugby shirts on view in the town. Just a shame that so many of them are in Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton or Manchester City colours. Although amongst under-16s, the proportion of Wigan Athletic shirts is increasing steadily.

  • Comment number 2.

    In response to the post of damiansixsixsix...

    You have validated George's point that you so quickly tried to dismiss. Wigan Athletics attendances are shockingly bad for a premier league team, as most people in Wigan who like football support the big teams that are in close proximity. The rugby league side however offer something different and an average attendance of over 16000 shows they are doing something right and this will surely be bettered this season on the back of last seasons Grand Final win.

  • Comment number 3.

    Damiansixsixsix - we would have loved to have you along to make that point at our live audience radio 5live Super League preview show, hosted from the DW Stadium a fortnight ago. I do know Wigan fairly well, my producer hadn't been before and on the night was taken by how "rugby league" the town still is

  • Comment number 4.

    I shall be cheering England on against France and will be cheering Wigan against St George too (and I'm not from anywhere near Wigan). No question in my mind that the WCC is an important game. The Aussies might think it a pre-season warm up but no on here does.

  • Comment number 5.

    Incorrect to say anybody other than Wigan and rugby league fans could care less about the World Club Challenge, but why does that have to be an issue? It never ceases to amaze me how rugby league fans have an enormous chip on their shoulder about how there is little mass interest in the sport. Enjoy it if you like it, pay no attention if you don't. Simple.

  • Comment number 6.

    My eldest was a Latics mascot & cant stomach RL, no matter how much he hears about how great it is.
    He just moans the RL side ruin the pitch for the Latics!
    Wigan to beat St George for me, as should EVERY english RL fan, no matter who your team is.

  • Comment number 7.

    Wigan also has a proud RU heritage in Orrell RUFC. People in the town are sports fans, and not, for the most part RL, RU or football

  • Comment number 8.

    QUOTE '....a local in my west London alehouse suggested to me that no-one would care whether Wigan won or not as people are too caught up in the Six Nations. I think that's rubbish...'

    Really ? This is a very naive and blinkered view.

    That someone doesn't care two hoots about Rugby League?
    Or two hoots about a weird one off game between a small town in the north and a team they have never heard of?

    How on earth can that be described as 'rubbish'.
    It's the norm, no-one does really care, unless they live in the m62 corridor.

    And it's not a two way street at all between League and Union. Just because league happens to like Union and enjoy Chris Ashton's exploits does not mean at all that the reverse is true or has to be true.
    Fair play to the Wigan chairman for his comments, but he doesn't speak for Union watchers. And just because he likes watching the 15 man game and his old player (whom he failed to hang onto of course) doesn't mean the reverse is true at all.

    That student of physicality that is Martin Johnson will of course be interested, but as much as he is in the conditioning of the San Francisco 49'ers and other impact sports. I didn't see him beating a path to Rugby League even when he was an impoverished 'amateur' player. Does he attend League games now ? Maybe in disguise.

    But let me suggest, if the man in the pub is talking 'rubbish', why not straw poll some of the 80,000 at Twickenham tomorrow as they leave the stadium and ascertain as to whether they will be watching the league game, or care, or could name the teams. I imagine you will get very few.

    When Rugby league can build a world class 80,000 seater stadium on it's own out of amateur profits, and fill it with regularity, then perhaps the codes MAY be judged as equal in popularity or with some parity. Until then, best not to term 'rubbish' the views that most of people (outside the northwest) agree with wholeheartedly.

    Bottom line - in comparison to England France, hardly anyone cares.

  • Comment number 9.

    "no-one would care whether Wigan won or not as people are too caught up in the Six Nations.

    I think that's rubbish."

    Well, to give a personal example, until opening this blog I was completely unaware that Wigan were even going to play a World Club Cup final. But then, I would have been hard pressed to name Wigan as the current English RL champions (they are, I take it?).

    I'm not actually opposed to Rugby League, mind. It's a perfectly decent and watchable sport. I just, despite you dismissing such a response as rubbish that anyone could react like this, don't care. I won't watch the match, and I doubt I'll even know the result as unless it seeks me out, as I am not going to make the slightest effort to discover it for myself. This differs markedly from my attitude to the Six Nations (though the Union club championships are somewhat under my radar as well). Call it the Sky TV effect if you will. I used to pay more attention to RL. But sports that are almost exclusively on Sky cease to really exist.

  • Comment number 10.

    Typical and predictable comments from some Union fans - so what if some of the flag waving, jerusalem chanting, wannabee upper class, champagne swilling, I support jolly old England Rugger, ra ra ra etc dont have an interest in the WCC - they are just pathetically blinkered and worried if they admit to liking something that isn't Rugger may that it may affect they social climbing and someone may choke on their pims if they admitted it at the old boys club. Those of us without an agenda will happily enjoy both spectacles.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a fan of both codes it can only be a good thing that the ties between the two continue to get stronger. I read somewhere on the BBC website previously a suggestion of a unified academy system to teach the skills of both codes. with players then going on to one code or the other based on aptitude or preference. This sounds like a good idea to me.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think just because the majority of people dont pay attention to something doesnt automatically make that thing theyre ignoring worthless. Most people pay no attention to the soaring food prices but it doesnt make that topic any less pressing does it? My feeling after reading some posts are that some people wont care about a sport unless its rammed down their throats by the media or that it has a massive stadium it can call its own. Unlike them though I am fully aware RL starts on an uneven footing. no olympic body is going to help out London RL but are fine to transfer a stadium we taxpayers paid for to some second rate football team, I am also aware how good a sport is is not determined like some popularity contest its based on the skill of the players, and if we are comparing RL to union League wins handsdown, without Jason Robinson there would have been no world cup, without Phil Larder, Sean Edwards and all the other coaches imported from out sport youd be still playing kick tennis and lets remember the drubbing Wigan gave Bath as well as all those league teams that won in the 9's competition.
    Articles like this are only there to build a kinship between rugby fans of both codes however what as RL fans we get is a load of negative remarks, if your not bothered go watch your borefest and leave us up in the 'M62 Corridor,' the place that bosses the entire country in football, RL and kick tennis, to get on with watching something worthwhile

  • Comment number 15.

    When Rugby league can build a world class 80,000 seater stadium on it's own out of amateur profits, and fill it with regularity, then perhaps the codes MAY be judged as equal in popularity or with some parity

    Bottom line - in comparison to England France, hardly anyone cares.
    Its pompous statements like these that are the reason many in the RL community are happy that people like you don't care. I definitely prefer to watch rugby with non-stop action rather than a game with about 15 minutes of scrums.

    And as a Wigan fan I think its great that Chris Ashton is ripping Union defences to shreds, because it highlights the gulf in attacking skill between players brought up playing different codes.

    I'm hoping for an England win (Ashton scoring all the tries) and a big win for Wigan at the weekend

  • Comment number 16.

    What is this Rugby Union you speak of ?

    I've never come across this sport in the North West of England (AKA the sporting powerhouse of England), so it can't be any good.

  • Comment number 17.

    i will say that although mark bitcon worked in rugby union he is from wigan so its not as if we brought a full time rugby union lover on board. i watch both codes and appreciate both for what they give me and if people don't care about the WCC i couldn't care less. just like somebody who loves aussie rules or gaelic football or field hockey wouldn't care about me not being interested in that. i do find it funny though that people write a comment to say how not bothered they are...

  • Comment number 18.

    Lloyd - typical rah rah - know nowt about out, but still has an opinion. I think you need to learn some Rugby history.

    You talk about RU as if its superior to RL and that the reason we don't have a 'Twickers' is because RL fans are in some way inferior. RL was banned in the forces (services and armed) - thats the reason RU spread and RL didn't - well not until now - over 30 nations played it last year - now 'you' can't ban it.

    Fancy banning a sport from being played in the Army - how really truly pathetic. How many people have NOT played sport (RL) because of 'YOU'.

    Great example the Met ARL were banned from their own Police sports facilities as it was for 'amatuer sports' - though (obviously) football, cricket...even darts were not banned.

    Even better example: in 1940 the French RU colluded with the Vichy government(shameful) and got RL banned. It stole its money (£500k in 1940 big bucks), and it wasn't until 1945 that RL was 'legal' again (no insurance = no game). If RU is sooooooooo great a sport played why don't the French RU return the money they stole....reason.....its run by people like you Lloyd. Actually we'd take an apology...but its run by people like you Lloyd - still you know best !!

    No sport can thrive in that enviroment, sections of the press (e.g. Stephen Jones) have maintained a long term campaign against RL. How VERY ironic you copy our EVERY move. The fact RL survived is a credit to how good the sport actually is.

    No we don't have a 'Twickers', few sports do. We have real fans who turn up to real games - Halifax nor Wigan are not paved with gold - we don't have 30,000 seats filled by 'corporate entertaining' - such mugs - who'd pay Twickers prices to watch them play Scotland ????!!

    You don't control you're game any more (same as RL), the codes might well merge - but on a TV executives terms - not yours - as your game is too often too boring e.g touch engage fart re set touch engage PENALTY (what for???).

    Enjoy your sport, I do - and I'm like most RL fans...I carry no chips....I coach my sons U7 RU team, I simply have a brain that thinks for itself - not what I 've been told to think, after all with all the rule changes RU is well on the road to being RL...ITS JUST NYOU'VE NOT NOTICED !!

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    Sorry but is there a point to this blog?

    Wigan have done nothing to cross codes and neither has Martin Johnson. The request for tickets as at best a likely team building outing and at worst a stupid publicity stunt that they knew they would never fulfil due to the 6-nations matches already being scheduled, it was not and never will be any kind of scouting or coaching mission.

    As for Ashton, he's a decent player, but so far all I've seen is that he can sniff out an oppertunity and finish, he was largely anonymous against Wales outside of the try. As for this nonsense about him bringing the league style to Union, no sorry he is just playing the same way that any full back would be playing if they were told they could ignore defensive positioning completely. It's working for England and is a good tactic but is nothign to do with League.

  • Comment number 21.

    why would there be a poll at twickenham? thats a stupid idea as mostly people are either or when it comes to union and league. I for one will be watching what will probably be a thrilling game on sunday rather than a union game where the first twent minutes will be more like tennis when they constantly boot the ball up the pitch and the game will probaly be won on who can kick the ball from a dead ball position better.
    and league likes union? i certainly dont think thats the case.
    who care if wigan is a "small town" how many good football and ru teams are from small towns? for all those people who say they didnt know that wigan were the champions and they dont care about RL, how many of you are from the south?

  • Comment number 22.

    oh and an RL game can fill old trafford, thats 75,000, not far off 80,000!

  • Comment number 23.

    Dont know about anyone else but as someone who used to play both codes, regulary attends matches of both codes, has a ticket to the Scotland game next week and will watch the Wigan game on the big screen at my Union clubhouse with a beer glass in my hand I am going to have a fantastic weekend watching men play with funny shaped balls.

  • Comment number 24.

    I don't really understand the point George is trying to make in this blog. By quoting the Wigan chairman making the point that the Union / League divide is fading is he suggesting that standards have been significantly higher in Union over the last few years??? If so, this is obviously untrue.

    When Union became professional, the teams looked to players and coaches from League to improve their standards. We are now just at the stage where both sports are at a comparable standard of professionalism, so, if anything, Union has caught up with League. As the basic skills and conditioning required are the same, it is logical that there will now be players and coaches crossing over between the codes.

    Effectively this blog reads as an attempt to wind up the old League v Union debate, which will never reach a conclusion and serves no purpose. Where I live (in England), Rugby Union is the main sport (even when compared to football) and therefore my preferred code. As I type this I am watching and enjoying Saints v Warrington. We all love rugby for the same fundamental reasons, and we can do without the BBC stoking up this pointless argument again. Lets just all enjoy a good weekend of French / Aussie bashing!!


  • Comment number 25.

    I have a great idea - there's too many players in Union and not enough room. What about this; drop a couple of players (flankers?) so opening up the pitch and give each side a bit of room in which to play; say, about ten yards? You'll have a pretty decent spectacle then......

  • Comment number 26.

    @22 dont forget that wembley holds 90,000 and is sold out every year for the challenge cup final

    The RU international game is superior even the most stalwart league fan would admit that, But RL at league level is of a higher quality and intensity. As an outsider of RU it seems that the RU championship league is merely a means to build up for international honours, whereas in league the main draw is the domestic game. As an example Orrell RU (a suburb of wigan) managed to reach the RU elite league, with a fan base of less than 3,000.

  • Comment number 27.

    I've tried over the years to watch rugby league and find something interesting/enjoyable/exciting about it but I can't. It's just such a boring game to watch. That being said, the nonsense that goes on with scrums in rugby union at the moment doesn't really add to the joy of watching the game.

    What's clear is that some players switch codes from league to union and do bring something to the game which makes them a success, eg Jason Robinson and Chris Ashton, whilst a lot of those who've made the switch fade into oblivion, eg Andy Farell, Lesley Vainikolo and Henry Paul, despite them gaining caps for their country. Being a top player in rugby league is by no means a guarantee of success in the proper version of rugby despite the alleged increasing similarity between the two codes.

    There's probably a very good reason why not many union players have switched to league and I would suggest it's because league is simply not a good enough or exciting enough game to attract decent players from union.

  • Comment number 28.

    Funny you should mention Andy Farrell, when he left league he played the majority of the season at prop in RL, in union he started for England at centre....

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    For those of you who keep insulting eachother, please stop. I am a Wigan girl, have been all my life, and i do indeed follow Rugby League but i do not want to compare them in such a way as they have already been compared. I only want to make us have a reality check, Rugby League is evidentally not as popular as Rugby Union but that does not mean they are equally interesting to watch for everyone. Rugby League is not just for the North West of England, as we have teams in the Super League from all over. We have them from the North, and the south have a team in the form of Harlequins and there is even a team from Wales and France in our league. Also, Rugby League is also popular and well played by Australia and New Zealand, so we too have a world wide stage just as Rugby Union have. So i do not think that Union fans should be insulting League in that League is not as popular as them as we are quite similar in many ways, equally, i do not think League fans should stick their noses up at Union fans if they do not know some League teams etc. I think we should all agree to disagree and just leave it at that, please.

  • Comment number 31.

    "the proper game?" oh dear. "Not many" Union players made the switch - I'll wager what is left of my reputation that more union players made the crossover than leaguies over the years..far more. Most could not handle the physicality and fitness demands of the greatest game. Lots have tried - very few succeeded - in the words Graham Lowe "I'm 49, I've had a brain haemorrhage and a triple bypass and I could still go out and play a reasonable game of rugby union. But I wouldn't last 30 seconds in rugby league"

  • Comment number 32.

    Jonathan Davies, Jonathan Griffiths, Mark Jones, Rowland Phillips, David Young, Scott Quinnell, Allan Bateman, John Devereaux, Richie Webster, Terry Holmes, Adrian Hadley, Stuart Evans, Paul Moriarty, Dai Bishop, Scott Gibbs all needed to make a living and feed their families and I am sure all appreciated both codes. Ottomaddox you need to grow up suggest you read number 18 to realise you are an idiot

  • Comment number 33.

    Farrell was the best rugby player; the code makes no difference really; in Britain for a few years, then the regular beatings he took on the field finally caught up with him and he left Wigan to play Union, is it any wonder he was average at best in this code?

    Sean Edwards was said to be the best schoolboy rugby player; he captained his country in BOTH codes; England had produced in a generation, yet he never got the chance to dazzle the RU world as he was too busy leading Wigan RL.

    If only the League haters got the chance to see these 2 (and numerous others) at their peak, they might realise where the real talent in rugby is from, but I've no doubt they've used plenty of excuses not to watch any RL and won't start now. for the comments above whinging about the quote,
    "no-one would care whether Wigan won or not as people are too caught up in the Six Nations.
    I think that's rubbish."
    Can you read?
    George is clearly saying that some, not all, do care and his alehouse "buddy" was wrong to say that no-one does and whether you like it or not, the only people who are wrong are those who don't understand what the word 'no-one' means.

  • Comment number 34.

    Most RU fans don't care about RL at all which is fair enough. It's vice versa for RL fans. I don't watch Union because to me it's a second rate game compared to League & always will be. The idea that I care, because I'm an Englishman, if England the 6 (or is it 7?) nations is a joke. I care as much about Union as I do about symchronised swimming. So why continue the age old argument that RL fans watch both codes but prefer RL. SOME RL fans watch both codes as SOME RU fans watch both codes but it's a very small minority. And I'm not one of them thankfully.

  • Comment number 35.

    Alot of opinions that seem to have little to do with sport, and more to do with birth place/residence. Why can't it be possible to like one sport more than another without displaying hatred towards the fans of your less favoured game.
    It would be better if people used their brains to choose their preference, rather than their location.
    I'm from the south (which should be of no importance really) and prefer League, but I still like to watch international Union.

  • Comment number 36.

    Until I read this thread I personally didn't know that England were playing in the Six Nations or who against. Its not because I have a problem with Union like the bitterness that seems to be endemic on both sides of the code divide, just that I don't have an interest in the sport. I accept that there are Unionites that feel exactly the same about League. Thats fine - but there is nothing wrong with a growing respect between the players, coaches and administrators of the codes. Time to move on from the historical differences between the codes - both would benefit from people keeping an open mind that some people choose to like just one, whilst others might want to watch both and are welcome to do so in the interest of the health of both sports.

    Notwithstanding the above, the main event of the weekend from my personal perspective will be when I take my seat at the DW stadium on Sunday evening. Come on Wigan!!!

  • Comment number 37.

    Refreshing to see fastmongrel's comment at #23. Exactly the right attitude. Play what you enjoy, watch what you enjoy, but please stop berating others. Most on here would do well to follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter.

    "If we want to help humanity in a practical way, we must begin by setting an example of mutual respect, harmony and cooperation."

  • Comment number 38.

    Couldn't care less about Union results, why is it even mentioned on a Rugby League blog?
    I resent Ashton's success, Rugby League made him and now hes on his way to being a national superstar for running on the shoulder, something which every player in rugby league does.
    Union is ridiculous, it banned Northerners from playing on their grounds because they asked to be paid as they couldn't afford to give up work to play Rugby way back and now they have the cheek to throw money at our best players.

    Disgusting game run by disgusting people.

    And after Eastmonds performances this year he can go to Bath, he'll be back he's to small so will be crushed by the 18 stone waste of space "athletes" in Union and too much talent for boring kick clap rah rah so will just be wasted there.
    Ashtons quick and a decent finisher, nothing special there are atleast 10 wingers better than him in Super League.

    No more Yawnion on a League blog thanks, good luck to Wigan need to watch Soward though or they'll be in big trouble.

  • Comment number 39.

    I'm from belfast, have watched ulster (union) to night and wire v st helens(league) Tomorrow i head to Wigan for the world club challange. I like both codes and enjoy the differences each brings. So the game does go past the m62 corridor, in fact when i attend Wigan games we always have irish (north and south), scottish and welsh fans. You don't have to put one sport down to better the other ,each to their own . Come on wigan & ireland give me a sunday double

  • Comment number 40.

    I know which one will be a better game.

    It'll be the one without the 10 minute scrums, without endless kicks to touch and not won by a penalty kicks.

  • Comment number 41.

    That Rugby league chip on the shoulder is alive and throbbing!

    They both might be called Rugby, but they are very different games. Lets not forget that.

    The stark truth is that if you have always watched Union, and have been used to the 'pauses...' (ahem), and the differing areas of combat (ruck,maul, lineout, scrum, backplay) you find League rather dull. It appears to be, to a Union fan, big blokes bashing into each other in repetitive moves. Just back play and nothing more. Not much variety at all. Being fast and powerful does not always mean attractive. This is a commonly held view. Not by me, as I like League, but by many.

    League friends of mine, having been brought up on 13 a side, find Union very tedious, slow and pointless.

    It's not to say that the two codes don't have their own merits but to compare the actual games is nonsensical, they are too different.

    As a Union watcher I know that League has led the way for years, in terms of athleticism,professionalism, handling, power, conditioning. It is also an innovator in terms of sin bins, blood bins, video refs, all of which have been copied by Union. Union is playing catch up, but is still light years ahead in popularity in Britain and globally.

    But no matter what the restrictions in the military ...( Like that matters !) on League from Vichy France, lets not forget that League was a pro game for decades. It never really broke out of it's heartland despite these heavy advantages. And many people from Land's End to John O Groats simply don't like it, think it's bland in it's action and don't care about Widnes or Wigan against St George whoever.

    It doesn't mean it's not a great game for those that love it.

    But it's also ridiculous, which was my original point, to dismiss the opinion those who don't care for tonights game as 'rubbish'.

  • Comment number 42.

    Rugby League is the greatest game in the world and Wigan IS and ALWAYS will be a Rugby League town. Well over 100 years of winning trophies and producing top international players won't go away just because some small time soccer team has a club shop in the centre of the town. Foolish argument that one.

  • Comment number 43.

    Well said George,
    did you know that Johnno's dad was a Wigan Rugby league fan as I read that in his autobiography

  • Comment number 44.

    Lloyd - what a weak response - I expected better. Still you can't defend the undefensible !! I'd love to hear your thoughts if RU was banned or even remotely treated the way RL has been. HOW CAN A SPORT GROW IF ITS BANNED - you don't need a degree to work that out.

    Re the Military, that was one of the main ways RU spread around the world, and because YOU banned RL in as many ways as possible (why ???????????) RL has simply not had the same chance.

    Obvious or what ?

    You dismiss the banning of RL in gloss over the 'glory' of your sport colluding with the Vichy government to get RL banned, stealing its money....and still you can't work out why RL didn't spread. Its not becasue RU is somehow better - its just a sport run by people with excellent connections !! Plus RU got significantly bigger development grants (now rectified) than RL.

    Perhaps you can talk us through why no black players played your wonderful sport until the late 70's ??? Billy Boston - greatest ever Wiganer, the tiger from tiger bay - not picked for Cardiff or Wales RU due to his colour...picked for the Lions within six months of joining RL. Thoughts please - perhaps an apology?

    You demonised RL for paying players (what a sham, people were paid for years in RU - the French RU were thrown out of the 5 nations in 1930 as they paid players back then !!!), then the next day its ok to pay players !! What giant hippos !!

    A good game of both sports is a great game - If you can't see that then your either biased or very dense, probably both. There is now so little no between the games now its laughable....still you remind us why we're better - thanks !!!!

  • Comment number 45.

    @Fuzzy Duck: You do know there is a 16 league ( system which happens in the North West in Rugby Union every week at an amature level?

    Just because RU have one fully professional side in the North West, this doesn't mean that the game doesn't exist in the North West. At Semi-proffesional levels and amature levels the sport is pretty big and apart from the major teams in the SL, the only two clubs which I know of off the top of my head are Bury Broncos and Swinton Lions.

    Both sports can learn off each other, but until RL take international rugby seriously then it will continue to be played just in its heartlands.

  • Comment number 46.

    Rugby League is and always has been the main sport in Wigan, however @oneleggedgoldfish - you've hit the nail on the head, Wigan is a sporting town and it's punching well above its weight in most sports - Super League Champions, Premier League Football, Great Britain 2010 Indoor Athletics Captain in Jenny Meadows, the list goes on.

    So it's no great surprise that the top sportsmen in the Country, regardless of sport will be tuning in on Sunday night. If some old school bigotted rah rahs aren't that bothered, then who's missing out?

    Incidentally I think martin Johnson's Dad came from around Wigan somewhere. there must be something in the water!

  • Comment number 47.

    I am an exiled brummie who now lives in Wigan.I grew up playing union and still do ,and love the game,but i have also come to enjoy and respect league and especially Wigan RL.They are a passionate breed who adore the cherry and whites and i can assure everyone that Wigan is still a rugby league town. You only have to look at the amount of professional rugby league players in the super league that are from Wigan to see how much the town loves League,or go to the rugby pitches on a saturday or sunday and see how many youth and adults teams the Wigan and surrounding area produces.
    I am a Rugby union man and very happy to see the game do well,but i am also English.So I for one will be supporting the cherry and whites against St George and the England RL team whenever they play aswell....

  • Comment number 48.


    Nice try but rather weak and might I say, a little testy. But of course it's always a sign of weakness in an argument when someone gets a bit personal or gets his jockstrap in a twist. Too many pies ?

    You seem to think I am against you or your sport. Not in the slightest, I just find it a little repetitive. Only a personal view but obviously shared by many.
    But it has many merits and has lead the way in many areas which I mentioned before. Anyone who loves sport has to be a fool if they don't respect the likes of Ellery Hanley, Gary Schofield, Martin Offiah and many more. There is even more respect for those who have crossed codes and been talented enough to be a success in both games. David Watkins, Jonathan Davies, and in recent years Gary Connolly, Jason Robinson, Chris Ashton and Shontayne Hape. Especially those coming to Union. There have been many failures but noone is held more dear to the game and respected, than Jason Robinson.

    If you'd read before ranting you would have seen that I wrote this.

    'League has led the way for years, in terms of athleticism, professionalism, handling, power, conditioning. It is also an innovator in terms of sin bins, blood bins, video refs, all of which have been copied by Union. '

    Neither did I 'demonise' League for paying players. What on earth is wrong with that ?

    No idea why Billy Boston wasn't picked for Cardiff in 1940. I wasn't actually part of the 1940's selection panel in Wales, so apologies apology forthcoming there. Maybe they had better players ?

    I'm no sociologist but perhaps the fact that Britain was essentially a mono cultural country until the immigration waves of the 50's and 60's, may account for players of colour not emerging till later. But no real idea and likewise, no idea what it has to do with the argument which was all about George calling someone’s views ‘rubbish’.

    To say that league would have spread if it hadn't been banned by the military, or by the Vichy government, is really quite desperate. Rugby Union was encouraged by the military and yet I haven't actually seen much evidence of it's popularity over the last 50 years in the main location the Army has been parked overseas, Germany.

    It also wasn't 'banned' it just wasn't funded. There was nothing and has been nothing to stop military personal playing Rugby League, many did and many still do.
    (It's growing in Beirut by the way. No kidding, saw a good game last weekend and there is a useful Palestinian team)

    France have had 60 years to recover from Vichy, and yet at times a few years ago could barely raise a test team.

    But cling onto these ideas if it makes you feel better, that if it wasn't for the military and the Vichy French, league would be massive.

    Perhaps the stark truth for many people in the world is that - when it comes to Rugby they prefer a more rounded game, namely Union. And neither league nor Union is a patch on football!

  • Comment number 49.

    The problem is, as fans, looking at players like Chris Ashton, (and others such as Stephen Myler, Shontayne Hape, Lesley Vainikolo) who have switched codes and you can think that it is good that their playing in the England setup after coming through rugby league. But the fact is that they have switched codes, leaving rugby league behind and this does nothing really to promote Rugby League to a wider audience, apart from the odd commentator mentioning that they used to play league. Also rugby union fans probably don't really care where their players come from either, and are not interested in looking in to their history, as they have a top international game as well as good domestic club competitions to watch, so don't have to look elsewhere for sport.
    Like a commenter said above until league takes the international game seriously they will find it hard to expand, but like anything money is the big problem and is normally spent trying to keep the best players in league instead of funding lesser nations to improve coaching and internal organisation.
    On a similar not I hope that Craig Eastmond doesn't switch codes as he is a fantastic talent but money and the possibility to play international rugby in front of huge crowds is a big draw, and I wouldn't blame him if he did switch as you need to secure your future and a sporting career could end any day.

    If you have time check out my blog at

  • Comment number 50.

    Interesting piece as usual George, can't help but feel you're comparing apples to pears though. Big problem we have with RL is that whilst our club competition is a fantastic product, the international structure is sadly lacking. As such, RL will always struggle to capture the wider nation's attention in the way that RU does during the 6 Nations and RU World Cup. The World Club Championship is a poor substitute for a serious, meaningful international showdown involving England or any of the other home nations and I'm surprised to hear you label it "England vs Australia" - it's really no more that than Man U Vs Inter Milan, say, is England vs Italy (ie not very) given the dual nationalities on display.
    Let's call this what it is: it's essentially a one-off friendly, played over here and during the NRL off-season in a less-than-subtle admission that we're not quite as good as them. Who cares, really?
    I think we have to pick our battles better as RL fans. I say hats off to RU for doing better than us in an international sense but we should be shouting louder to get Super League on our TVs and over the airwaves ahead of the inferior RU Premiership, which seems to me to take precedent, particularly on FiveLive. (So RL trails twice in the publicity stakes, unjustly.) And maybe this impetus would help us develop the RL World Cup to an acceptable, credible level. The crowd I saw cheering England vs France down the pub here in Manchester yesterday I don't think are avid RU fans by any stretch of the imagination - they just get caught up in a well-publicised, well-presented whirlwind and would just as happily cheer on England RL if there were some international RL structure of equivalent value, which there sadly currently isn't. But in the meantime, I don't blame your non-RL fan Cockney mate for showing no interest in Wigan vs St George. This huge RL fan couldn't give a monkeys either, if I'm honest.

  • Comment number 51.


    Some good points but I think it is clear that RU travelled to the colonies via our elite Empire set in a way that the Northern RL never could. It's foolish to overlook this massive advantage when considering why RU has spread better internationally. But like I say, as RL fans we have to accept that we are where we are and that RU has its credible 12 or so team world tournament, whereas we can't even decide on which 4 (!)countries should compete in our best international arm-wrestle. Lots of sports survive (and even thrive) without a solid international structure but in that situation you need to sell your club game better than RL currently manages or else there's a danger of losing more Ashtons, Hapes etc. to the lure of 6 Nations and - to a lesser extent - the Euro club RU tournaments.

    In short, George shouldn't be selling his mate Wigan vs St George, he should be selling him Super League and NRL. Few (of rugby stock or not) can watch those leagues and not be hugely impressed.

  • Comment number 52.

    Surely if the argument "which is better" is settled by "which is more popular" then football (soccer) is better than both codes since attendances for League One sides rival the top club sides in either code and it is played in far more countries.

    I watch both codes and can enjoy both games. Union is more set piece dominated so it's a more technical game. I would advise people to watch more Southern Hemisphere rugby union though as it's generally played at a faster pace than the club rugby here.

    League is a more total-rugby game because all players have to be able to tackle and carry the ball forward. Again I would say the NRL has more intensity and the skill levels are higher so is also probably better to watch than the game here.

    Internationally Union has more teams (and a bigger following) but State of Origin League matches are the most incredible rugby matches of either code just in terms of intensity and scale of the hits.

  • Comment number 53.

    @ RoyaltyinTheChampionship and Dead_Shot_Keen

    Couldn't agree more apart from the opinion on the Empire that ended decades ago. In that time Rugby League was professional, had muscle and financial movement unlike Union generally.

    If it was going to establish itself as the dominant code, it was during that period. I can't fathom why to be honest, and think it boils down to (a) the product and (b) which code you were raised watching.

    Union, talking of Britain only, appears to be played North, South, East and West.

    I have a theory that the same people who find League rather repetitive, have the issues with the NFL. Incredible colour, passion and history, great athletes, but very stop-start and rather repetitive. Each to their own.

  • Comment number 54.

    >>Couldn't agree more apart from the opinion on the Empire that ended >>decades ago. In that time Rugby League was professional, had muscle >>and financial movement unlike Union generally.

    Well in that period UNion players were moving to League eg Jonathan Davies etc. Did that make it a better game in the 1980s? Or is moving for more money only to be applied in the past when players went from Union to League. It wasn't until Super League (mid 1990s) started that all teams were professional (though of course there were professional players). At the end of the day League thought players should be paid, Union was amateur. Now Union has copied League in becoming professional (for good or bad) and is actually played a lot more like League than it was 20 years ago. Whilst Union is a more widespread sport League is the dominant code in New South Wales and Queensland and the second most popular code behind Aussie Rules in Australia as a whole with Union third.

    >>If it was going to establish itself as the dominant code, it was >>during that period. I can't fathom why to be honest, and think it >>boils down to (a) the product and (b) which code you were raised >>watching.

    I think your second argument is closer to the truth to be honest. Many people in the south dismiss league as boring and yet won't have even watched a match.

    >>Union, talking of Britain only, appears to be played North, South, >>East and West.

    True but it isn't as widespread as football (soccer). Every town and village has a football team, some (particularly in the Southwest) have a rugby team. That's the difference. League is growing steadily though and whilst attendances would suggest that Catalan is the only expansion area that has worked it is worth noting that League is played in many London schools now as part of the work done by the Quins RL team. A different way of looking at it would be Union is played in many places and League isn't, but where League is played it is generally the more popular code of the two. Doesn't that suggest that if people have a choice between the two they opt for League?

    >>I have a theory that the same people who find League rather >>repetitive, have the issues with the NFL. Incredible colour, passion ?>>and history, great athletes, but very stop-start and rather >>repetitive. Each to their own.

    It's an interesting theory particularly with the stop start nature of Union. People will watch a union drive consisting of 18phases where maybe they drive the ball forward a yard at a time in and around the ruck each with a 10 second gap while the scrum half waits for the ball to clear the ruck, and then criticise League for people running into each other and the slow play the ball! I think if you watch either game wanting to be entertained then more often or not you can be entertained by both. But if you go in not wanting to like it then you will find plenty in both codes to bore you (and no doubt ignore it when it happens in the code you like). At the end of the day I watch both codes and can appreciate the skills in both. I would say though that Southern Hemishphere rugby (union and league) is far more entertaining than either code here.

  • Comment number 55.

    Come on guys, Union can pay no greater respect to League, than to use it in pre-season training for fitness and tackling work as well as for warming up prior to training sessions during the season.The union club I play for here on the South Coast( Soft Southerner?) regularly does this, as does others I know and I have always enjoyed these sessions. The only reason I will not have watched the WCC, my adopted team St Helens or very much else RL lately is the SKY tv thing! If you want to get some people watching things like the WCC or super league etc, you have to make sure it gets terrestial cover. T - R - Y

  • Comment number 56.

    The merit's of both codes are many and it's up to the individual to the preference. There is no doubt in my mind that the higher skill and intensity of league make it a more spectator friendly game.
    I watched the Scotland/Ireland union game earlier today..nearly 5 mins was spent on getting 1 scrum to the ref's liking. When you multiply that with other scrums and line out's,it's fair to say that between 20-30% of the game is at a stand still.
    In contrast league is played for virtually the entire 80mins,with the clock stopped on many occasions,which enables maximum time of play.
    If you want hype,go and watch union..if you want rugby,go and watch league.

  • Comment number 57.

    Pretty academic though, cos in the half of rugby I've just watched, Wigan couldn't score a single point against the Dragons, on their own turf.

    The Aussies simply outclassed them: and I suspect we'll be seeing more of the north/south divide in the other code, when the southern hemisphere nations dominate the World Cup.

    And when you consider that the lowest-priced NH team for that tournament is actually England(!) - (at odds of 11.0) - well, the gulf in quality is embarrassingly apparent.

  • Comment number 58.


    Well, my point being that the Empire (and its legacy) gave RU a huge head start on RL in places such as South Africa and New Zealand in particular, also the wider British Isles (and particularly Wales, a powerful pawn that RL should have fought harder to keep onside, given that the Welsh were really more in tune with the then Northern Union). RL was really breaking away from the administrative base when the split occurred and as such had all on just to develop in what became its own back yard. By this time, the better-resourced and more mobile RU had already spread (via our public schools' foreign connections, in particular) and it's then very hard for one brand of the same sport to oust another in an area that only knows one form.
    This might sound like bitterness on my part but I don't think you can really overlook the significance of the geographical and sociological disadvantage that RL had from the outset, regardless of how long ago the British Empire ended.

  • Comment number 59.

    Rugby League is a great sport was gutted to miss the game because I don't have sky.

    The lack of mass popularity doesn't really bother me - The X factor is popular but it doesn't make it good! Admittedly I missed the Union game because I can't get into it. The constant ping pong between full backs and the lack of athleticism in the forwards really puts me off. Each to their own eh?!

    Top man Bennent wins another trophy the comment in the article about him being the most powerful man in rugby couldn't be more accurate!

  • Comment number 60.


    With regards my NFL point and your response. I think it's agreed that it depends what you were brought up with.
    I have seen incredibly tense and exciting phases of Union, where there has been a pounding on the tryline and a fierce rearguard action. Phases that have taken ten minutes, and you don't see the ball!

    Trying to explain what is great about that to a League fan, is simply ridiculous. And in theory it sounds as dull as ditchwater. But if you have grown up watching and playing the game, and see great skill in a rolling maul that rumbles 20 yards, or a cheeky lineout steal, a strike against the head in the scrum, the dominance of one set of loose forwards over another, or the turnover, you likewise find the concept of big blokes bashing into each other repetitively, very dull.

    Whatever gets you through the night.


    I'm no expert on RL history but I'm not really buying the argument domestically. For decades and decades there was money in RL, there were pros and they had space to expand. I don't think they had a massive competitor in Union given that the 15 man code was primarily propagated through, as you say, the public schools, the grammar schools. It was not exactly the game of the people. Did RL in Britain really suffer from a 'geographical and sociological disadvantage'. I think they had advantages.

  • Comment number 61.

    >> 60. At 08:24am on 28 Feb 2011, Lloyd wrote:

    >>With regards my NFL point and your response. I think it's agreed that >>it depends what you were brought up with.

    I think that is a very important point, but I was born and live in the South and grew up playing Union.

    >>I have seen incredibly tense and exciting phases of Union, where there has been a pounding on the tryline and a fierce rearguard action. Phases that have taken ten minutes, and you don't see the ball!
    >>Trying to explain what is great about that to a League fan, is simply ridiculous. And in theory it sounds as dull as ditchwater. But if you have grown up watching and playing the game, and see great skill in a rolling maul that rumbles 20 yards, or a cheeky lineout steal, a >>strike against the head in the scrum, the dominance of one set of loose forwards over another, or the turnover, you likewise find the concept of big blokes bashing into each other repetitively, very dull.

    My point was you think forwards picking and driving in Union which involves them picking up the ball and running into other forwards exciting but you don’t like League players picking up the ball and running into each other. The two are the same thing but it’s not appreciated as such because you are aware of why you pick and drive but probably not why you hitup in League. Again whether this is because you understand Union better because you have grown up with it. You see great skill in a rolling maul but not in a League gang tackle that forces a player back 10 yards, or a League offload when being tackled by two players, or a hitup that literally rumbles on and on with players falling off. I come back to my point that if you watch either game to be entertained then you can be entertained by both, but if you dislike one then you will find plenty to bore you (even though it probably happens in the code you like). Like I said earlier I appreciate both games so enjoy watching either, though as a former Union back I do appreciate more backline moves and support running.

  • Comment number 62.


    The argument that RL had money during the pre-war/Empire etc. phase because it was professional is totally cart before horse. The only reason it went pro in the first place was because its protagonists were dirt poor blue collar blokes who mostly worked 6 days a week (the reason RL is traditionally played on Sun, whereas RU is Sat) and wanted a few bob to compensate them for their time and efforts. Conversely, the main reason RU wanted to stay amateur was that it was played by white collar types already well-compensated in their professional lives who played the game in their more ample spare time and saw professionalism as a diminishing of their art. So out of those 2 groups it's clear where the money and mobility lies.
    For sure, after a few years RL had money coming through the turnstiles but this alone doesn't bring with it the social mobility nor the powerful networks that RU took for granted and exploited from the outset.
    I'm not saying this alone explains why RL has struggled to get out of the heartlands but it's a vital factor that can't be discounted.

  • Comment number 63.

    'My point was you think forwards picking and driving in Union which involves them picking up the ball and running into other forwards exciting but you don’t like League players picking up the ball and running into each other. The two are the same thing but it’s not appreciated as such because you are aware of why you pick and drive but probably not why you hitup in League. Again whether this is because you understand Union better because you have grown up with it. You see great skill in a rolling maul but not in a League gang tackle that forces a player back 10 yards, or a League offload when being tackled by two players, or a hitup that literally rumbles on and on with players falling'

    This is a really good point. I can't really argue with it at all and agree in the main. I do see great skill in league in all areas you mention, and less so when it looks samey. That too me is the rub of the issue. Too much of the same.
    Yet when there is a level playing field,i.e. sevens, we know who will win hands down, due to sheer handling skills. I was there in 96 at the Middlesex Sevens when a Wigan containing if I recall Shaun Edwards, Martin Offiah, Scott Quinnell, Jason Robinson, Vai'iga Tuigamala, Andy Farrell, Kris Radklinski, Gary Connolly, ran the opposition ragged whilst playing Union rules. An amazing day, and has there been a better team? The same would probably happen today.
    (All but Radlinski a success in both codes by the way, and I'm not sure if Radlinski ever tried).

    But, if you like variety, and I mean a variety of areas to compete for the ball, then in Union you do often get the strange rumbling, rolling maul, mixed with backplay, perhaps a ruck or three, an up and under, and if the game is ever stopped for a restart, it's another area of competition in a scrum and lineout.
    I never really know whether a player will offload, run, kick or get tackled in Union. In League, I believe I know what will occur.

    Lets play 13 aside but get rucks and mauls and real scrums into a league/Union hybrid!

  • Comment number 64.

    I totally agree that Wigan side were possibly the greatest "English" rugby team in either code. As a former Union back (though not at any great level) I love watching the backline moves in league which tend to be better executed than Union (or probably just seem more effective because theres less players and more space). Having the ball in hand and running with it to me is what pure rugby is all about. Union I think doesn't encourage players to beat their man because they can be isolated too easily and turned over. Your first instinct as a League player is to make ground by running, as a Union player it is about not outrunning your support. If I was a former Union forward I would probably enjoy the rucks and mauls more but for me we don't play Union in the right way in this country which is a shame because if we did I'm sure we would compete with the SOuthern Hemisphere teams on a level playing field.

  • Comment number 65.

    Lloyd - RUs your sport - stay there matey. If you don't know what your talking about don't comment - or do some research. You can't cope with reasoned arguement.

    FACT - RL was not allowed to be played in the Army, Navy or Air force. They were 'not insured' - go games were played - FACT - go and find a record of one if you think otherwise. RL was not allowed to be played on Services pitches, or even in the police. WHY ????

    Your ignorance just shows that you don't know what your talking about.

    Thats not a rant - its a fact.

    Re Billy Boston - and ALL black players in England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Aus, NZ and...of course South Africa WERE NOT PICKED BECASUE OF THEIR COLOUR. This was tacit approval to racisim, sorry but its as simple as that.

    You don't need to have been on selection panel to question why NO BLACK PLAYERS played RU. Were they ALL not good enough ?

    This outrageous discrimiation was rife from RU, which RL suffered from. No RL would not have been anywhere near as popular as RU, it paid its players - but a was a poor sport until SKY arrived.

    This isn't the point though - though you can't see it.

    Get back to RU, you don't know what your talking about.

  • Comment number 66.


    Not really sure what you are arguing for or against. Are you agreeing or disagreeing?

    I'd be interested to know how many Rugby players of international standard and of colour there were in the 1940s? Perhaps you can tell me. My mother who was born in Preston didn't see a person of colour until she was ten, and he was an American soldier. So I'm not convinced there were too many Billy Bostons running about, but perhaps you can enlighten me?

    But there was no denying that the RFU were somewhat hypocritical and discriminatory against League players. I believe you could be banned for life for even having a trial game in League. Is that discrimination or protectionism?

    Good to see that we are now all happy, and players can choose to play where they like.
    Who's next, Kyle Eastmond ?

    PS. Did you play in the front row? I think you took a few against the head? (Obviously I'm talking about a real scrum here....)

  • Comment number 67.

    I attended both games this weekend and enjoyed them both for the spectacle that they were,

    England RU at Twickenham - Watching my country play a crunch 6 nations match against the French hopefully on the way to a Grand Slam.

    Wigan RL at DW Stadium - My home town team playing In a World Club Challenge to show who is the best Rugby League team in the world for this year.

    People get defensive about both sports because they are passionate about these sports. This passion is what drives the support in both codes and is driving this debate.
    I believe that if you enjoy rugby then you can enjoy both codes looking at the tackles, skill of individual players, great passes, great kicks the same in both games.

    All I would say is that if both sets of fans watch a game of the other code with no preconceptions and appreciate the above you can watch rugby all year around winter RU and summer RL.

  • Comment number 68.

    There are few places where one sport has such a hold locally than rugby league does in Wigan and drive off the M61 on Sunday takes me past Westhoughton (with its club) and very quickly you travel past Hindley, Ince Rose Bridge and Wigan St. Pats - you've barely travelled any difference and the quality of these clubs and the players given the population avialable is remarkable. Get to Leigh and you see how close Miners and East's amazing really.

  • Comment number 69.


    I'm from Australia with New Zealand heritage. Your claims of racism in union is not fact but an outrages lie.

    The All blacks have always had a great tradition of respecting moiré culture, the Hakka? There have been many players of moiré and islander heritage who have represented the all blacks.

    In Australia, the Ella brothers? Lloyd McDermott? Wendell Sailor? Lote Tiquri and not to mention players with Islander background?

    South Africa, while the springbok jersey was a symbol of oppression as it was linked to the Africana, ultimately it was state run racism not rugby union led.

    France's current captain is a man of colour.

    Honestly, it's all subjective and I like both codes, I just prefer Union a little more.
    I thought I got away from this stuff from back at home, league in oz is obviously more popular but the NRL still sees that it has to attack other codes constantly. I find it quite funny how people think Union is over hyped over here and League is a victim, it’s the complete opposite in NSW and QLD. League is constantly rammed down our throats in Sydney it puts you off and if you dare to like another code you are somehow weird.
    The NRL thinks it’s going to get a one billion dollar TV deal……. Ha ha. It’s a shame because I grew up watching league and still follow the bulldogs but the hype really puts me off.
    Anyway, go the Waratahs, Wallabies and the Canterbury Bulldogs and Kangaroos!

  • Comment number 70.

    I think the racism thing is a bit misplaced. Union was certainly "classist" in the 19th century and it is certainly true that the Victorian middle classes saw it as their game and didn't like the fact that the "working class" teams from the North were beating them (probably because the back breaking manual labour these guys did gave them physical advantages over non-manual workers). England RU gave their first cap to a Black player in 1906 so it's certainly not true to say it was racist though it's elitism and treatment of players who played League is certainly not something it should be proud of.

    Where I think Pientries is coming from is how teams like the All Blacks removed polynesian and island players from their touring sides to South Africa in order to comply with that countries laws on racial segregation. It's up to you whether you think that was right or wrong. At the time it was felt right in order to make sure the games went ahead against one of the powerhouses of the game (ironically Afrikaaners were introduced to rugby in the notorious Concentration camps of the Boer War). Nowdays of course it is seen that accepting such restrictions was tantamount to accepting the segretation laws were right (and thus racist) and contrasted visibly to the Great Britain Rugby League team winning the World Cup in 1974 with a Black Captain.

    As for the hype surrounding League in Australia, I'm afraid that comes with being popular and one only has to look at the way football (soccer) is over hyped here with Sky marketing terms such "most exciting league". The tv companies on pay-per-view need to hype it up so people part with their money to watch it. Having said that the NRL is a fantastic competition just because every team seems to be competitive, but in the UK we don't get the hype just the matches (on an Irish sports channel) so I'm not best placed to judge.

  • Comment number 71.

    Fair argument royalty, see were your coming from. I just think it’s a bit strong to say that Union is inherently racist, it’s bit over the top.
    While I understand your argument with the All Blacks not selecting Polynesian players when playing the Springboks,you have to understand New Zealand’s society, especially in the 60/70s when beating the Springboks defined the nations self worth. To say it was a decision was solely the NZRFU’s is not completely true. Attitudes changed through the 80’s as seen when the Springboks toured Australia and New Zealand. I think this reflected a greater understanding of racism in society, maybe we were a little behind the rest of the world. Who knows, wasn’t there at the time. Sort of agreeing with you but there are other factors.
    League in OZ is so much more hyped than the football here. Remember news limited own the game and own the newspapers in a small population with a sporting market that has 5 very strong sports in AFL, League, Union, Football and Cricket. Why would they promote Aussie rules over a game that they own? They have to guard their investment. I try to follow the NRL via the papers but there is nothing about the game, just all the hype surrounding one play by some ‘superstar’
    The class thing is interesting, while the game spread through the upper classes, to say that Union is an elitist sport is not correct in today’s age and vice versa.
    In fact, a little off the subject, the fact someone like Gareth Thomas can come out and be accepted for who he is a great testament to both games, imagine the crowds at the football???

  • Comment number 72.

    Yes I agree today both sports are far more inclusive and can't be defined as working class or middle class now. To say Union is inherently racist is as innaccurate as saying League was never racist. At the end of the day if the society in which they are played is racist it is almost inevitable sport won't escape it.

    Did New Zealand beat South Africa in the 1960s??? ;-) Just joking yeah as I said they made the decision at the time that playing the game was more important than the politics of the issue and last year both the NZRU and SARU have both apologised to the Maori players who were excluded because they weren't the right race.

    I do agree with you that Channel 9 (and the Sydney Morning Herald) overhype the NRL and State of Origin (and with a definite NSW bias: Phil Gould last year claimed the NRL Grand Final was the best for years because it contained two NSW teams and you can tell his praise for the Queensland dominance at the moment is made through gritted teeth) but I love Ray Warren's commentary who really gets into the game in a way that the commentators seem to shy away from over here. I disagree with you that the football (soccer) coverage over here is different. Sky overhype it and the press (inlucing the BBC) will focus on the "superstars" more than the actual game.

    Yeah Gareth Thomas is a great player and lets hope the film they are making about him does justice to both sports.

  • Comment number 73.

    If you like Rugby......and you want to be entertained for 80 mins, from the first minute to the last, and you dont have the blinkers of your North or South prejudice on, then its quite simple......Rugby League is the winner, absolutely no contest !, however, if you want to be cerebrally stimulated between kicks, with deep analysis of the ruck and maul while you make a cuppa, then Union is the winner, no pays your money, you takes your choice !

  • Comment number 74.

    @TonyTownend 'you pays your money, you takes your choice'

    Quite right. Which is why most people in Britain and the world at large far prefer Union.

    85,000 people who pack Twickenham and the other Six nations stadiums are not fools. They may be conditioned to watching Union, but anyone who found England V France last weekend, boring, is most definitely 'blinkered'.

    I'm not sure Union's numerical supremacy and popularity is simply down to the alleged racism of Welsh selectors in the 1940's, lack of play in the Armed forces, the media or any other arguments posted on this page.

    With regards the racism issue. Lets not forget that English sport was as much in cahoots with the apartheid regime as the NZRFU. Culminating in the Basil D'Olivera cricket scenario. That may have been 68, but it was barely 26 years ago that the English RU team was still touring apartheid South Africa, somewhat endorsed by the government of the day who of course refused to impose sanctions on the South African government.

    Many countries and not just NZ bowed to the apartheid will. Arguably it was only when sport (primarily Rugby and Cricket) got it's collective act together and refused to tour or play the South Africans, (e.g Lions in 85) did the point get rammed home.

  • Comment number 75.

    @74 Lloyd

    Just ask yourself why do you think football (soccer) is so much more popular than Rugby Union? Is it a better game or are there other reasons? Is the Zurich Premierships failure to match third-tier football crowds symbolic of football being more entertaining?

    The reasons you come up for why football is more popular will more than certainly apply to why Union is more popular than League in Union strongholds (and why League is more popular than Union in the North and Australia).

  • Comment number 76.

    I cant speak for anyone else, but for me RLs biggest problem is that it is exclusive to SKY. I love the game. I think it is far more entertaining as a spectator sport than RU. Im a southerner and I live in the south, so not much opportunity to see live top flight action around me, so SKY is the only real option. But I cant justify at financially strained times like these £50/month for the priviledge of watching 1 game a week, maybe 2 if I am lucky. I will be cancelling my sky subscription soon and when I do, rugby league will die for me. :(
    Get it back on terrestrial tv and viewer numbers will increase.

  • Comment number 77.

    I agree with doof369. Rugby League needs to be on terrestrial tv and not simply Sky. Most commoners like Motihur Rahman do not have the money to subscribe to sky each year so we have to go to pubs to watch games, even though most of the time the football dominates.

    Thanks, Motihur Rahman

  • Comment number 78.

    I was raised a Hunslet RLFC fan back in the 60s and 70s. I am more of an association football man today. The universal appeal of "soccer" has a lot to do with the thrill of continuous play. League has much more of this dimension to it than Union -- League is more about possession than territory. The appeal of Union is the territory element, not entirely unlike gridiron. Union fans who have not had a good look at League should do so this coming weekend. League and Union were divorced over one hundred years ago citing "irreconcileable differences". I think it's time to refan the flame of romance.

  • Comment number 79.


    'Just ask yourself why do you think football (soccer) is so much more popular than Rugby Union? Is it a better game or are there other reasons?'

    I think it's a better game. Pure and simple.

    And to be honest, give the exclusivity of Union for decades, the lack of money on offer to players, the fact that it was only played in the more expensive schools, I'm not entirely sure why it has such a toehold and is so popular across the world. Unless most people prefer the variety on offer.

    And Doof369 is spot on. League would be far better served and much more popular if it stopped taking the Murdoch shilling, and came off satellite Tv.

  • Comment number 80.

    If you look at Rugby you can see that Union hasnt moved forwrd in 110 years. Where as League dropped all the dull bits from "Rugby".

    If you want to see a game where the ball is in play for 35 mins. See last years 6 nations match England v Wales. Then you pay your money.

    I would be asking for my money back.

    If you want to see props who carry no FAT, Hard hits, fast play and TRIES then you League is for you.

    I have seen Stephen Jones of the Times noted on here. Now there is a guy with a chip on his shoulder but deep down we all know that he see's League as a threat otherwise he wouldnt spend every weekend watching and then moaning about it the following week.

    I have played both codes over the years. One I was knacked with each week the other I could have played 2 games back to back could you guess which was which.

  • Comment number 81.

    @79 Lloyd

    If you think football is a better game than rugby then that's one issue, but it isn't more popular than rugby union in New Zealand nor Rugby League in Australia, so an idea of a "better" game is too subjective to be the whole story. Cricket for example is far more popular than other sport in the Indian subcontinent and the Grid Iron is the most popular in America (though Baseball is the most played).

    It is certainly true that the fact soccer can be played with jumpers as goal posts and played in limited space means it is more accessible to poorer people and thus is played by far more people than either rugby code. Whether that makes the game "better" is up to interpretation I guess.

    I think your earlier point that a sports popularity actually resides a lot with the history and culture of a place is more valid. The emerging sense of nationhood from the dominion countries success against the mother country and other dominion countries helped sports like cricket in Australia and Rugby Union in NEw Zealand (and of course Wales in Rugby and Scotland in football against the old enemy England).

    Of course sport can also be built on existing social divisions in a country such as Celtic Rangers in Glasgow and it's worth noting most of the big football rivalries are actually built on social rivalries which have been moved to the sporting field. Rugby is dominant in the South of France because in the early days the southern teams were more successfull and took great delight in being able to beat the Northern Parisian teams. The North of France has football as it's most popular sport probably because their teams were more successul.

    Guess what I'm saying in a very verbose way is an idea that a sports popularity or how widespread it is, is certainly no indication of which one is "better" since surely if it was a simple matter of that then there would only be one "best" sport. The history and a culture of a place is far more important. Probably the best example of this is the US which has main four sports (Grid Iron, Baseball, basketball and Ice Hockey) that have little media exposure over here (though we do have professional ice hockey and basketball leagues). Why do you think baseball is the biggest sport in Japan? Is it because it is a better game than the rugby codes or because US forces occupied Japan after the second world war and brought with them US cultural pursuits?

  • Comment number 82.

    "League would be far better served and much more popular if it stopped taking the Murdoch shilling, and came off satellite Tv."

    At this point, if rugby league stopped taking the Murdoch shilling, there would be no rugby league. The BBC takes little or no notice of rugby league, except around Challenge Cup time, and the sport does not feature in the national dailies to a sufficient degree for it to attract enough sponsorship from corporates with the required wealth to enable the sport to continue. The RFL must take some responsibility for this predicament because they have adopted a very amateurish attitude towards marketing our product for too long and so have missed many boats. Alas, for those of us who love League, there appear to be no signs of that changing and therefore it is likely we will have to continue 'taking the Murdoch shilling' for the foreseeable future.

  • Comment number 83.

    How long before the moaning RL chip on shoulder merchants come out with the 'broken neck couldn't use the phone' urban myth? Can't be far off, surely?

    And Pientries - using the Middlesex Sevens is a poor argument. A simplified, bastardised version of the game where being faster than the nearest opponent is all you need for success. Big deal. As a fan of both codes, with no time for the idiots on both sides, I find sevens unwatchable.

  • Comment number 84.


    '.....he see's League as a threat ....'


    Now what is it about league that actually 'threatens' Union?

    The lack of international teams?
    The lack of popularity across the world ?
    The lack of popularity within Britain as a whole?
    The absence of 80,000 crowds that will watch domestic club games as well as internationals? (Grand Final and Challenge Cup aside)
    The one way track from League to Union of the good players?

    In a forum that has made some great, and enlightening points, and has been an education to me, this is possibly the most ridiculous suggestion.

    It may be a great game for some, but a threat it is not.

  • Comment number 85.

    At the end of the day, these are two totally different sports. Yes, they are both called rugby but at the end of the day apart from the basics they are very different.

    I have watched club rugby league for years and allways found it more interesting then the guinnesses premiership, but i have allways played rugby union. I tried to make a switch to play league but it never felt the same without the scrums, rucks and mauls.

    I will probably allways watch rugby league but absoulty love playing union.

  • Comment number 86.

    You're right. There's nothing to threaten Unionies here. Nothing at all. And that's why those involved in Union are so pleasant about Rugby League and so loving to their Rugby League brothers and sisters. And that's why there are so many sympathetic Unionies on the Rugby League blogs and kind comments by them on RL websites. Yes, they are not threatened. There has always been much love shown throughout the centuries. And we can all sleep safe in our beds tonight having learnt lots of new things about the history of the game that spawned two codes. (Must go on that badminton site now and have a whinge about the new shuttlecocks they are introducing. Not that I'm a badminton fan mind - I just like to look, and comment, and have dig now and again. I don't get out much you see....)

  • Comment number 87.

    At last, a well balanced individual on this forum, with a chip on both shoulders....

    So if League is praised, then some league-ites get rather upset for being patronised. And if League is criticised for being dull, then some get very upset and bang on about the past.

    But what really seems to bug some people is when Rugby lovers appreciate both forms of the sport. Which is what the above poster I think is driving at. Although the meaning is tricky to ascertain.

    Perhaps there should a law on this forum that says 'if you have ever played or liked Rugby Union you are not qualified to talk about league....'

    I must mention that to Jason Robinson, Shaun Edwards, Scott Quinnell and Jonathan Davies.

  • Comment number 88.

    That's alright - they've invited me for a game of badminton later, so I'll tell 'em then.

    You can come too if you'd like.

    We can follow it up with some 'Nations and some SL.


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