Saints cock-a-hoop

in Sport Insight

BUT SYDNEY ALL SET TO RULE THE ROOST

Super League champions St Helen’s welcome NRL victors Sydney Roosters to their wonderfully named Totally Wicked Stadium for the 2020 World Club Challenge, the third time these two teams have met in the tournament, both previous games ending in triumph for the Aussies, 25-2 in the inaugural Challenge in 1976 and a bruising 38-0 pasting for the Saints in 2003. Reigning world champs Roosters, who boast a 100 percent record in the competition, will be attempting to do the double over Lancashire opposition, having walloped Wigan 20-8 in the Warriors’ own back yard at the DW Stadium last year.

Saints were awesome in Super League in 2019 going through the entire season without losing a single home game, summarily putting deadly foes Wigan Warriors to the sword in the semi-final before outclassing Salford Red Devils in the Grand Final. Now, current holders and unbeaten World Club representatives, the cocky Sydney Roosters come crowing, anxious to heap more humiliation on the best that Britain can offer – it’s an unpalatable fact and one that needs urgent redress that the Aussies have won six of the last seven WCC finals, despite all of the losses being played at gravy-slurping northern venues.

Stung by criticism from my friends up North that I never write about rugby league and that I’m obsessed solely with the union version practised south of Watford Gap, I respond immediately, ‘Rugby league, you mean the illegal variety of doubtful parentage played in Wigan, Widnes, Bradford and other such far flung arctic  places? The Ringaringarosie type, the gimme the ball and chase me, catch me six times and I’ll give you the ball back and we’ll do it all over again, game? Are you unhinged, surely you are not confusing this girls’ game of tag with the noble pursuit of Rugby Union – Rugby, the public school that gave birth to the great game and Union, the athletic mix of chess-inspired strategy combined with violent but iron-disciplined hand-to-hand combat.

For pity’s sake man, just look at the respective scrums, Union – a colossal collision of such ferocity that on occasion reverberation registers on the Richter scale, two packs weighing a combined total approaching 2000kgs locking horns to go at each other, no quarter asked, not an inch conceded, deep craters gouged on the pitch, clouds of steam streaming skywards, no doubt contributing to global warming, while the powder-puff League version resembles more a Morris dance round-the-maypole routine, though possibly less energetic, than gladiators engaged in epic endeavour.

And as for handing over the ball to the opposition after six failed attempts to score… pardon? Possession is ten-tenths of the rugby union law, protect the ball at all costs, even if it means sticking it up your jersey and trundling over the line as sometimes happened in the good old decades pre-VAR days when I played, and referees tended to be a bit ancient and short-sighted!

Yes Wazza, Dazza, Andy and Martin, you’re right, I hold my hands up and admit to a slight preference for the union game, but this World Club Challenge is about much more than that, it’s about recapturing pride in your sport – Dame Edna Everage’s ‘Roos are making a habit of jetting over to the Pennines and kicking ass, with impunity it seems to me and it’s way past time the Northern boys called a halt to this ignominy. How to do it? Take a tip from this rugby union fan – once upon a time the Wallabies whipped the Home Nations sides, but no more, the worm has turned and after regular routs by the English, Welsh, Irish and even the Jocks, the wild colonial boys are often sent back to the Penal Isle, chastened, deflated and defeated.

So new coach Kristian Woolf, go the union route, banish the fear, loose the chains, unleash the dogs of war – Coote, Makinson, Naiqama, Lomax are all capable of some overdue Rooster neck-wringing – it’s time to put the record straight! This is one dyed-in-the-wool rugby union fanatic who will be watching with interest!

World Club Challenge – St Helen’s vs Sydney Roosters (Sat 22nd Feb, KO 8.45pm CET)

TV Coverage – Sky Sports.

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