Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - S.W. Scorpions

This Sunday sees stoic ex-Hornet Mike Grady haul his nascent South Wales Scorpions side the length of the country - most likely for another defeat.

Mike Grady: subtitles available for those
who don't speak Widnes...
We appreciate that building from the bottom up in the Valleys is a long-game - and that the biggest investment the game can make in development on the fringes of the UK’s League map is patience - but you have to question the sanity of any game that drags students and part-timers 350 miles to get a flogging in front of 400 people, then dumps them back home at 1am.

Indeed, whilst the rest of Rugby League seems obsessed with splitting into eights, League one has done it organically, without outside interference - the top 8 ‘Heartland’ clubs effectively a separate tier from the bottom six development outfits. Yes, we understand all the arguments for compelling them to play clubs of a higher level in order to drive up standards, but it’s now been 56 weeks since a southern side beat one from the north in League 1. Long enough to draw a conclusion?

It’s counterproductive to the game as a whole - fans pay to watch a contest, but - increasingly it seems, in Top Eight v Bottom Six games, the result is pretty much a foregone conclusion. And it does little for morale or credibility for developing clubs to be offered up as cannon-fodder to more experienced sides who, in turn, are now under pressure to rack-up cricket scores and who are lambasted when the ‘Southern’ teams dare to put up any resistance.

And when final league placings - promotion, even - can be decided by who rams the most points through the development clubs; and when a basket-case club like York gets gifted an easier ride by playing more of the bottom six and fewer of the top eight, you have to think that the format doesn’t really treat anyone fairly.

Indeed it was York’s turn to take a free swing at Scorpions last week - bangng them 60-nil at Mountain Ash. What did anyone really learn from that: other than that getting thumped every week probably doesn’t make Grady’s job any easier?

Even with the experience of Paul Emanuelli and Jonny Leather on-board, Scorpions are averaging a 36 point losing margin this season - their only win in 16 coming against London Skolars last month (26 - 20, in London).

Meanwhile it was a week of deep introspection for Hornets fans who saw their side produce a heroic 12-man performance at Swinton, only to fall just short. Plenty’s alread been said about Gaz Langley’s 9th minute brain-fart, so we’ll not rake it over - instead we’ll once again marvel at the vacuum that is the top-eight (or is that becoming a top seven, with Newcastle seemingly unable to shake off their stasis?).

We think it’s interesting that - in order to make the rest of Rugby League ‘interesting’ - the sport as a whole has felt compelled to manufacture the pressure and jeopardy that exists at the top of League 1 .

After last week, everyone got stuck looking at positions in the league - but the really interesting stuff is at the opposite side of the table, where just two points separates third from seventh. One win - it really is that tight. Over the next few weeks the margins will become increasingly fine - and every week will see that leading pack churned relentlessy. Every Minute Matters? Too bloody right. By our fag-packet calculations, points difference could separate 4th, 5th and 6th.

All we have to do is keep winning and stay in the mix. However it pans out, six clubs who will have had realistic promotion expectations back in March will find themselves back here next season for more of the same.

Unless of course, the RFL has a plan for the game at our level. And what are the odds on that?