RL Weekly - Perfect Captains, Boardroom Boasts & Wheelchair Dreams

Sam Tomkins told The Sportsman that George Williams is the perfect man to become England's next captain
15:00, 20 Apr 2023

It’s rarely a dull week in rugby league, and as England set about shaping their own international future with the appointment of a new captain, the domestic game’s future has again been thrashed out behind a boardroom door.

Clubs have unsurprisingly opted to back IMG’s proposed new club grading scheme that effectively ends traditional promotion and relegation from 2025, with RFL chairman Simon Johnson labelling the 86% majority vote a “highly significant day for the sport”.

The headline news before this predictable club vote however (it takes a brave man to vote against the boss when they know it would be in vain anyway) was the appointment of George Williams as England’s new captain, succeeding the great Sam Tomkins ahead of this month’s clash with France - the first game for Shaun Wane’s side since they fell to a semi-final World Cup defeat last autumn.


Tomkins will retire at the end of this season and the international team have a worryingly sparse calendar before the boots are hung up, so 27-year old Williams - like Tomkins a trusted foot soldier of Wane from their Wigan days - is entrusted with the leadership immediately.

And speaking exclusively to The Sportsman from the south of France this week, Tomkins has backed his former team-mate as the standout choice to take the country forward. 

“He’s just the perfect man for the job,” Tomkins told The Sportsman.

“I’ve known George for a long time so I know as well as anyone what he’s about. He is top class and won’t let anyone down”.

Williams was one of England’s standout performers during the World Cup, repaying Wane’s faith for picking him despite an awful club season with Warrington Wolves that almost ended in relegation.

Many critics questioned whether he should have even been in the squad but Wane, like anyone with a basic understanding of rugby league, knew Williams would flourish behind a dominant pack, something of which he was being deprived at Warrington.

And Tomkins himself has seen Williams grow as a player and a leader through the adversity of recent years.

“He’s developed so much over the last few years as a leader, something that when he was 18 coming into the side at Wigan I wasn’t sure whether he had those qualities,”
Tomkins admits.

“But it is something that I’ve seen in the last few years. He’s matured as a leader and I think he’ll go really well in the role for England, I couldn’t think of a better pick as captain in the game right now.”

Speaking of World Cup legacy, it was brilliant to see the wheelchair game build on England’s historic World Cup win by breaking new ground at the weekend.
The Sportsman cameras were at Birmingham University at the weekend to broadcast the first Magic Round, three Betfred Wheelchair Super League games back-to-back at one venue.

Leeds Rhinos coach James Simpson - part of that winning England team -  was part of The Sportsman’s commentary team after overseeing Leeds’ win over London Roosters as head coach following his retirement.

And he believes the wheelchair game will continue to rise:

“I woke up after the World Cup and I remember ringing my partner and saying I had made the right choice to retire from playing. I felt so fulfilled that it was the right time to go,” Simpson told The Sportsman.

“Now it is the start of grabbing the hype of the World Cup. We had all six Super League teams at the weekend competing in Birmingham, taking it to a new city.

“Hopefully people looked at that and said why not have a team in Birmingham. This is the excitement of the World Cup that we are building on and I hope now we can triple and quadruple the crowds.”

The Magic Round was the first of three planned to build on the legacy of England’s World Cup win. Indeed the thrilling wheelchair World Cup win and the platform it has laid to propel the sport forward is something the event’s departing Chief Executive Jon Dutton should be very proud.

Dutton is taking over at British Cycling and his departure deprives the sport of a highly skilled and thoroughly decent human being.

He warmed up for his change of sports by running the Manchester Marathon at the weekend by the way, finishing in an impressive 4 hours and 27 minutes, shaving three minutes off his previous year’s time.

The live rugby league continues this weekend on The Sportsman as we head to Batley for their Betfred Challenge Cup tie with Keighley - the most vocal opponent to IMG’s reimagining of rugby league.

The Cougars were one of just seven clubs to vote against the proposals this week, describing the plan as “arrogant”, adding that clubs are being “blinded by big words from a company that understands nothing about rugby league and its communities” and calling the vote “the death of Championship, League One and other heartland clubs”.

The reshaping of the sport is a really tough one to call. A grading system like this has been done before - as a licensing system - and so the sport is effectively paying a management company an extraordinary amount of money on a 12-year contract to come up with an old idea. It was binned before, with promotion and relegation restored, and sporting theatre and romance thus safeguarded.

So why go back there and pretend this is an exciting, brave new world? It essentially makes Super League feel a more closed shop for those like Keighley, and Betfred Championship leaders Featherstone who are knocking at a door that will soon be closed. Indeed Fev face the very real prospect of finally making it after years of trying, only to be kicked out a year later.

But the sport has to do something. Rugby league has been in a mess for too long and the decision for Super League clubs to breakaway from the RFL in 2018 and govern themselves did a lot of unnecessary damage, not least the financial burden of splitting and then realigning with little or no benefit in the period in between. So a third-party does feel best placed to fix this, and they at least deserve a shot at doing just that.

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