Forty-20managing editor PHIL CAPLAN takes a gander at the 2012 Super League fixtures
Here comes summer. In February.
It would test the ingenuity of the most creative mind at Saatchi & Saatchi to sell a supposed summer sport at the beginning of February.
Yet barely had England’s over-extended Four Nations players exited the airport departure lounge than a 2012 Super League schedule attempting to do just that was under discussion – though not much, so underwhelming was the sponsorless fixtures announcement.
Steve McNamara’s chosen few left for sunny climes and the prospect of another desperately short off-season insisting their workload was not onerous, but canvassing opinion from players on this issue is like asking a lawyer with a full caseload if he or she can fit in another murder trial.
‘Whatever-it-is’ Super League XVII will not quite have the earliest start; a ridiculous snowy night in Wrexham in January 2010 just beats it. But a stand-alone mid-June international weekend for one of probably two Exiles clashes means the 2011 kick-off is beaten by one week.
The season just gone went out like a lion, whereas the forthcoming one comes in like a lamb. No signature game opener; a Charity Shield repeat of the Grand Final, say, for league points, or maybe Wigan versus Warrington in the clash of the still seething. Instead, it’s welcome back Widnes against Wakefield; ideal Saturday night fare, if hardly a Friday night headline-grabber.
But, arguably, the most disappointing aspect of the dribbled grid is Manchester Magic at the Etihad (definition: uniting of organisations), now scheduled for May 26-27. If the extra round has to be incorporated then taking it to within travelling distance of most fans makes it no different to any other away game. Its raison d’ être - to make a weekend of it - is lost.
If it had to be an ‘M’ to follow Millennium,
Murrayfield and Millennium, why not Midlands? If the RFL are promoting that region as being the most fertile for new clubs in
Championship One come
2013 then it would make sense to build added impetus now by staging elite contests there
Damp squib start: Why not kick off with a 2011 Grand Final rematch?
rlphotos.com and linking in. After all, Wakefield are supposed to be Northampton’s new best pals.
Yes there will be mint stadiums to saviour at St Helens, opened by Salford, and for the City Reds themselves who host Castleford on Sky in round one. The London renaissance is as exciting as it is encouraging. The Broncos’ management, having asked for a big name reopening, were given Saints, the same opponents who launched and almost immediately undermined the Harlequins brand on the same ground in 2006. So good to see the lesson learned there.
Also persevered with are the eight-team play-offs, roundly lambasted until they came alive in the semis (that’s what winning from fifth does). Clubcall is retained too, presumably under the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ mantra. St Helens, whose Achilles seems to be Old Trafford rather than how to get there, were the only club to vote against, with Warrington abstaining.
SUPER LEAGUE XVII ROUND ONE: FridayFebruary3- Leeds v Hull KR, Widnes v Wakefield; Feb4- London Broncos v St Helens, Salford v Castleford; Feb5- Hull v Warrington, Wigan v Huddersfield, Bradford v Catalan.
EARLIEST BIG FIXTURES: Feb10- St Helens v Salford; 11- Wigan v Leeds; March3- Leeds v Warrington; 23- Wigan v Warrington; 24- St Helens v Leeds; 30- Warrington v St Helens; April5- Warrington v Widnes; London v Catalans; 6- Bradford v Leeds, Hull KR v Hull, St Helens v Wigan, Wakefield v Castleford, Huddersfield v Salford; 14- Challenge Cup fourth round
MAGIC WEEKEND LINE-UP: Bradford v Leeds, Castleford v Wakefield, Catalan v London Broncos, Huddersfield v Salford, Hull v Hull KR, St Helens v Wigan, Warrington v Widnes (KOs TBC)
Back to One
Australia, Queensland & Brisbane
1. Four Nationswinning rugby league legend Darren Lockyer got his highly distinctive gravel voice as a result of an elbow to the windpipe
2. Bury-based Mercury Prize winning rock band Elbow took their name from a line in Dennis Potter’s BBC TV drama, TheSingingDetective
4 Forty-20 December 2011
3. In 2009, singing Toyota Cup prop forward Lota Fiaalii became the first rugby league player ever to be accepted into the Australian Institute of Music
5. In 1988, Bennett, right, became the first ever coach of Brisbane Broncos. He spent 21 seasons at the club, winning a record six Grand Finals
4. Current Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett wrote a bestselling book, Don'tDiewiththeMusicinYou, in 2003
6. The Queensland State Government is to place a life-size statue of Brisbane’s long-serving captain Darren Lockyer outside the Broncos’ Suncorp Stadium Front row
Our Wile. E. Coyote ANDY WILSON profiles a once unlikely elder statesman
eah, belting.” Lee Briers had just completed his international career with a memorable cameo against Australia at the Racecourse Ground, and been congratulated by Darren Lockyer and Tim Sheens, among others. He nearly fell off his chair at the farewell press conference, with former half-back partner turned coach Iestyn Harris. Not because he was overwhelmed, or surprised. Just a bit clumsy.
After confirming how much he’d enjoyed those last 80 minutes, during which he rolled back the years to that unforgettable World Cup semi-final at Huddersfield 11 autumns earlier, he praised the efforts of the young Welsh forwards for “knocking the Aussies around a bit”, stressed the importance of maintaining momentum ahead of the 2013 World Cup - and then admitted he wasn’t too bothered what happened in the following weekend’s Four Nations final, which he would be watching, he told us, with a beer in his hand.
Briers, always so watchable on the field, has become increasingly good value off it, growing into a role as elder statesman at Warrington since the arrival of Tony Smith, who had been widely expected to usher him quickly towards the exit - but instead proved the catalyst for a glorious Indian summer.
He will be 34 next June, and although dry statistics could never capture his impact on British rugby league, and Warrington in particular over the last 15 years, they are pretty startling. He is 21 appearances short of becoming only the ninth player to reach 400 for the club. He already holds Warrington’s all-time pointscoring record, having passed Steve Hesford’s 2,416 last season. He will start 2012, I’ve been told by the Rugby Football League’s excellent statistician Daniel Spencer, on 2,466, two more than previously thought, having been awarded an extra goal that had previously been credited incorrectly to Chris Hicks.
He needs 30 more goals to reach 1,000 for his career, including dropgoals. He’s kicked 74 of those, 68 for Warrington - another club record and the five he kicked at Halifax in 2002 give him a share of the all-time rugby league record for one-pointers. His 16 goals in the Challenge Cup demolition of Swinton in May, during which he passed Hesford’s tally, also set a new record for Warrington in a match - beating the 14 he landed against York a decade earlier, a Wilderspool record that can never be beaten now.
He is eighth on Warrington’s alltime try-scoring chart with 144, remarkable for a scheming half-back who has set up so many for others although at least a couple of dozen of his own scores have been poached through the interceptions in which he has always specialised. He will undoubtedly be remembered as an all-time great of the club.
“Just you saying that gives me goose bumps,” he responds. “I’m just an ordinary bloke, and although the money’s been nice, I’ve done it for enjoyment really.”
All this for a St Helens lad who ended up in Cheshire by accident, snapped up for £65,000 by Darryl Van de Velde in April 1997 after helping his hometown club to their second consecutive Challenge Cup final at Wembley during the suspension of Bobbie Goulding only to lose his place as soon as Goulding had served his ban. Warrington needed a half-back and had a bit of cash to play with, after selling Harris to Leeds.
“I signed on the Friday and made my debut at St Helens on Sunday,” he reflects from an off-season break in Tenerife. The 60-16 defeat was a chastening taste of the punishment that Briers was to endure from Saints over the next 14 summers.
He opened his Warrington scoring account in a home win over Paris the following week - in which he kicked a first drop-goal. There was a narrower home defeat by Saints later in the season and that was how things stayed until 2011, barring one memorable night at Wilderspool the week before the 2001 Challenge Cup final.
“The better we got, the worse it got, because they kept doing us in the last minute,” Briers reflects. “For the first five or six years it was a no contest. But from 2005 or 2006, we started getting close - but never close enough. That was heartbreaking, and it did become a burden.”
Yet when he did finally taste victory against Saints, on neutral territory in Widnes this year, he had by then found fulfilment with two Wembley wins against Huddersfield and Leeds, with a Lance Todd Trophy in the second, and so consequently felt oddly underwhelmed. “In olden days it would have been ‘This is it, let’s go and celebrate’,” he adds. “But the way we’ve come on as a team and a squad, it was a bit sombre really. Just another two points. We’ve done that now, who’s next?”
The masterplan was for the Wolves to convert their cup success into Super League domination, and for most of the year they were on track. They finished top of the table, sealing the League Leaders Shield with a home win against Wigan in which Briers provided one of the highlights of the season with his long, slow walk to accept a ticking off from referee Richard Silverwood with comically exaggerated respect. “Oh yes, sir, of course, sir.”
I’ve always thought there’s something vaguely lupine about Briers, without ever quite working out exactly who he reminded me of. It finally twigged in thinking about this piece - Wile E. Coyote, with all manner of unlikely Acme devices failing to secure victory over Saints, before Super League’s Roadrunners finally copped it this year. But the sudden end to Warrington’s season in the play-offs against Leeds has left Old Trafford as an unachieved goal ahead of what could conceivably be Briers’ swansong season - although you wouldn’t put money on that. A trawl of the archives reveals that he was mooting retirement in 2009 some five or so years ago.
Still, there will be no more Wales appearances to enjoy, leaving him on a round 100 points from 23 caps.
Nor will he waste time thinking about all the Great Britain caps that never were. “What’s the point?” is his response, at least until the autobiography appears in the next few months. “I’ve not done bad.”
“There’s a real excitement in the team and in the town at the moment with our new stadium about to open and we can’t wait to be playing in it.” JonnyLomaxafter signinganewfouryeardealtostay withStHelens
“There is great potential here; the club is based on solid foundations,” - RFLchief operatingofficer RalphRimmertells BBCRadio Northamptonthat theCobblersare confirmedentry intoChampionship Onein2013
“The two main [types of rugby] today are rugby union and rugby sevens. There is also ‘touch rugby’, ‘rugby flag’, ‘rugby 10s’ and ‘beach rugby’.” Olympic.org, theofficialStalinesquewebsiteof theOlympic movement, attemptsto airbrushrugby leagueoutof history
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