Former Saints duo can help awaken the sleeping Cumbrian giant - but it needs a leg up (From St Helens Star)
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Former Saints duo can help awaken the sleeping Cumbrian giant - but it needs a leg up
It is pleasing to see Phil Veivers back in the game, with the former Saints full back now charged with reviving the fortunes of Workington Town.
And this week we have seen another ex-Saint – Bobbie Goulding – head north to take the helm at Barrow; another club that has been out of the game’s elite for a long time.
It will be interesting to see what those two can do in helping those clubs make an impression in Cumbria – an often forgotten heartland of rugby league. Saints, of course, currently have a dual registration link up with the other of the county’s pro clubs – Whitehaven.
But the relationship between St Helens and the border county is a long and illustrious one – with Kyle Amor being the latest of a long line of Cumbrians who have made a big impression down here.
Amor has been a big hit at Saints – not just on the field where his up and at ’em approach has helped lay a good platform for the backs to shine. But off the field, too, we have seen how quickly his personality and big beard have made him something of a cult figure with the fans. You can tell that by the number of parents who sent their kids into school last Friday for Sport Relief wearing a curly mop and a big beard.
Amor, and Greg Richards for that matter, follow in the footsteps of Ade Gardner, Jonathan Neill, Peter Gorley, John Tembey and Dick Huddart – favourites from the 60s, 80s, 90s and noughties.
The county has produced some of the game’s greats and continues to drop players on the production line despite not having a presence in the top flight since Workington dropped out at the end of the inaugural Super League season.
There is obviously a deep seated love of the game across Cumbria – and those who rise to prominence in Super League are increasingly the best advocates for “doing something” with Cumbria.
The recent four figure attendance at an amateur game up there, coupled with the healthy gates attracted to Derwent Park for the World Cup fixtures adds fuel to that desire.
That is why this week’s announced RFL review into the future of rugby league in Cumbria is to be welcomed.
It will be interesting to see what comes up in the consultation – and whether clubs will advocate joint effort or simply feed off the rivalry between them.
The beauty of promotion and relegation is that if these clubs can get it right, they can rise.
But let’s not kid ourselves that this will be easy to climb to Super League – and – even if they did manage that, that they will be shutting the gates every week. Workington had a very good team in the 70s, the one that beat Wigan in the Lancashire Cup Final, but financial necessity meant that players, including the Gorley brothers, had to be sold.
Given we are talking quite small towns, the fans may be passionate but they are always going to struggle against the big clubs. But that is not an alibi for doing nothing.
In the short term, rather than wait for the individual clubs to rise, maybe the county team should be given more regular fixtures. People in Lancashire and Yorkshire may have tired of the county concept, but they never did in Cumbria.
It is not like they are short of opposition – a Cumbria team would be a fair match in a one off county of origin game against a team of southern and Welsh born players.
And that too would kill one of the other myths – often produced by those who only want to encourage Cumbria as a means of withdrawing from London, as if expansion can only take place in one direction at a time.
The south and Wales have produced as many top flight players in the last five years as Cumbria, it would be good to see them play each other.
Just imagine, Kyle Amor going head to head with Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Ben Harrison v Ben Flower.
And you never know, as a spin off, having pride in your county may even catch on down here again in one that has been carved up by the bureaucrats and administrators.