Saturday’s Super League Grand Final was a quality clash between two fine sides. Leeds Rhinos eventually emerged victorious, avenging their recent Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of the pre-match favourites Warrington Wolves.
Cricket will always be my first sporting love, but for live action, there’s very little that can match the sheer excitement, skill and strength on display in a game of professional rugby league. I suppose the figures don’t lie... and football (the round ball variety) remains the nation’s favourite sport, but there are two reasons why I would always choose rugby league...
Although any player at the top of his profession will possess great skill, few sports demand the incredible strength (physical and mental) and bravery like rugby league. I’ve heard it said that the forwards will experience the equivalent of a 40mph car crash several times in a game; such is the impact in the tackle. And if you want examples of sheer courage and team ethic, look no further than Old Trafford at the weekend. Kevin Sinfield was knocked out by what was effectively a flying head butt (albeit accidental – or so it looked)... but he came round, got back up and simply got on with the game.
But what about Warrington prop Paul Wood (above left)? He suffered a ruptured testicle courtesy of a stray knee, yet stayed on the field for a further twenty minutes despite later admitting that the injury “smarted a bit”. In fact, it was serious enough for the testicle to be removed when Wood finally made it to hospital...
Compare the antics of some (in fact plenty) of very highly paid football “stars”... diving... feigning injury... arguing with officials... etc etc and I’m sorry, football and rugby league are at completely opposite ends of the tough spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure “gamesmanship” in many forms exists in every sport and football can certainly be exciting and incite passion, but there’s a fine line between gamesmanship and cheating... and for me football has a bad habit of crossing that line too often.
The second reason that sets rugby league apart from many other professional sports is the accessibility and approachability of the players. I’ve lucky enough to meet some great people through watching rugby league... and quite a lot I am proud to be able to call mates. I’ve come across footballers playing at non-league level who thought they were superstars (they were wrong...) and whilst I realise that generalisation is not always fair and there are exceptions to prove every rule, I would have a beer and a chat with a rugby league player rather than a Premiership footballer every time... unless of course it was my round.
So this blog is a salute to Kevin Sinfield, Paul Wood and all those who are talented and courageous enough to play the thirteen-a-side rugby code... you have my total respect.
All my own work... almost.