RL Weekly: Joyful Cornwall, Woeful Wakefield And Unravelling Rovers

Betfred League 1 side Cornwall recorded a historic first-ever win this weekend
16:05, 27 Jun 2022

Just as the knives were being sharpened to kill Cornwall off as rugby league’s latest expansion failure, behold a historic first ever victory.

Neil Kelly’s side were convincing winners on Saturday at a West Wales Raiders team who were as shambolic as Cornwall were encouraging. But what stuck in the mind was the passion in both the performance and celebration of the moment. 

It is a team and club spirit that has blossomed as critics of their project have lined up to write them off.

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I’ve spoken at length in the last fortnight to two wise rugby brains on expansion, the Wales and Widnes head coach John Kear and Keighley’s Director of Rugby, the former Scotland and Castleford captain Andrew Henderson. Both agree that the approach of parachuting a new team into a non-rugby league area is most likely doomed to failure. And that remains Cornwall’s fight.

“Why does Catalans work?” Henderson asked on the recent Love Rugby League podcast.

“Because there is semi-professional rugby league already played in the area, there is amateur rugby league, kids playing, a constant flow of players, staff who know the game and a fan base off the back of that. That is the challenge for Cornwall.”

Henderson spent time as head coach of London so knows the battle for growth outside of the heartlands.

The current challenge still goes way beyond that for Cornwall. Borrowing local staff for some away games, not having enough kit for the whole squad, and convincing enough new players to trek down to the south west to play - all elements to illustrate Henderson’s point.

But in amongst the relentless heavy defeats there has been noticeable improvement, players learning the basics like defending a scrum, an addition of proven talent like Aaron Jones-Bishop alongside the local rugby union amateurs still getting to grips with a new game. 

So for one joyful weekend, it was beautiful to see those Cornwall smiles and hear that victory song for the first time, a reminder that hard work is always worthwhile even through the longest and darkest of tunnels.

Who knows when the second win will come, but that new ingredient of belief can now be thrown into their fight to establish something that may not disappear as many had predicted.

Away from Cornwall’s afternoon of history, Wakefield hit a new low, Featherstone’s reality check hinted at becoming something more serious and we were treated to a blockbusting Pacific Islands international weekend that will have done little to encourage England fans ahead of this autumn’s World Cup. 

Papua New Guinea’s impressive victory over Fiji and New Zealand’s ominous dismantling of Tonga whetted the appetite for the forthcoming tournament across England, the speed and power of the performances underlined the size of the task ahead for Shaun Wane’s side.

England may have escaped Australia and New Zealand’s side of the draw but their first group game against Samoa in Newcastle on October 23rd is already feeling absolutely huge. 

It’s not often a professional coach starts a post-match press conference by apologising to supporters before answering questions from the media. But shell-shocked Wakefield coach Willie Poching had nowhere else to turn after a horrible 74-10 defeat at a Salford side who had only been able to name 19 of a 21-man squad because of injuries. 

The Red Devils also missed their team breakfast after training the day before the game because the chef at their AJ Bell Stadium didn’t show up for work. Maybe they should play hungry more often! 

If only rock-bottom Toulouse could find a way to win then Wakefield could find themselves in a spot of relegation bother.

And a word on the sides looking upwards from the top of the Betfred Championship hoping to replace Toulouse or Wakefield in Super League next season.

Leigh have not only reeled in the pacesetters from the first half of the season Featherstone, but they have powered past and prompted an untimely wobble at Post Office Road. Rovers lost for the first time at home on Sunday to fall further off the pace, with Batley Bulldogs better in every area of the field. 

Critics of Brian McDermott’s big-spending promotion chasers have already gleefully concluded that the wheels have come off. But this is exactly the kind of backs-against-the-wall siege mentality situation that McDermott created and thrived from in his run of unrivalled Grand Final success at Leeds. 

This is an altogether different proposition, but you can guarantee he, and Rovers are absolutely not done yet.

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Picture credit: swpix.com

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