The Derek Beaumont Column – 8th June 2017

This column first appeared in the Match Day programme of the Leigh Centurions Vs Wigan Warriors Game on 8th June 2017.

Tonight is the biggest game of the season for me and I hope we get a good following and our biggest crowd of the season. To play Wigan Warriors, our local rivals, in a massive derby in Super League is the realisation of the years of hard work and investment. They come to us in difficult circumstances with poor form of the back of horrendous injuries but you can rest assured that Shaun Wane will have his troops fired up for this one.

I wrote last week about my support of Neil Jukes in response to people calling for his head. Well, I was amazed to hear some Wigan fans suggesting Shaun should get the bullet! I actually laughed out loud when one fan said this to me and replied: ‘Mate Shaun is a rugby coach not a surgeon!’ It is remarkable how quickly you can become a failure in some people’s eyes.

Wigan are the current Super League Champions and the World Club Champions and Shaun Wane is arguably one of the best coaches in the world of Rugby League. He is a man who, if you cut him in half, he says Wigan all the way through and is hugely passionate about the club. I genuinely could not think of anyone better for the job. I have no doubt Shaun feels under pressure but that will be his own pressure of the success he demands of himself and those around him. I am also pretty certain that Ian Lenagan is smart enough to know what the issue is and put his full weight of support behind Shaun. Needless to say, however, I will be hoping that we can add to Shaun’s and Wigan’s problems tonight but people should keep the faith as a fully fit Wigan side is a Grand Final side; there is no doubt about that.

We also know about injuries and having played three games in seven days against top four sides, two of which were away really tested our mettle. We travelled to Leeds with only 18 available players and some of them were carrying niggles and needing injections to get them on the field. I wouldn’t complain about this as we knew what was ahead of us and it is the same for everyone, but then that wasn’t actually the case as Huddersfield were allowed to postpone their fixture with Saints which I found absurd. This clearly provides a distinct advantage not having to play two games in four days and would have suited us to have played next weekend instead as after playing three games in seven days we got a six-day turnaround for this one then have no games for fourteen days.

If you take into account the Easter period where we played four games in 16 days we have played seven games, almost a quarter of the season in 24 days and that is not good for player welfare. Despite having seven players missing at Leeds the lads put in a good performance losing out to one try which further reinforces to me that we are not a million miles off, especially given we played 20 minutes of the game with 12 men. We only sold 450 tickets for this game compared to over 2,000 for the dead rubber in the 8s at the end of last year and the dwindling numbers are starting to take their toll on the budgets we set which rather alarmingly saw me have to reach for my cheque book to prop the May payroll up by £75k.

I have said all along I will support the club financially but ultimately it needs to operate where it can wash its own face. I didn’t expect to have to put money in this season and certainly not so soon. I had always thought I may need to do so if we needed to change any personnel, paying severances and new salaries. Had I not already committed to two contracts to boost the squad for this year I have to confess I may have had a second thought.

However, I am committed and want to keep pushing the standards up to get to winning ways so that the 1,200 that have dropped off can return and even build more on top of that and to do that I am going to have to endure more financial pain as the alternative is to set a playing budget based on this year’s actual income for next year and that would then see us down the wrong end of the table year in, year out.

I have absolutely no appetite for Championship rugby and have made that clear to everyone at the Club. My investment was to get the club into Super League and then build on it from there so I will commit my money in Super League to stay in Super League rather than be left footing a big bill in the Championship to get back up. People need to support the Club more when it is losing and enjoy the ride of Super League with the maintaining of our status by whatever means being the bench mark of success, but it seems that not everyone is prepared to do that.

Who knows a win tonight then a decent rest before a trip to Widnes may just turn our fortunes and if we were to win at Widnes we could get a roll going into the Catalan fixture, which will be boosted by the arrival of our first new signing. There is still a lot to play for, with a trip to Huddersfield and Warrington who are also doing it tough so whilst we are currently sat at the foot of the table I still believe we can get the 9th and 10th spot that we need.

In some respects knowing that you are going to be in the middle 8s early is a positive as we can prepare for that battle and as you have seen we have sent a couple of boys in for operations that we could have just managed through the season and we can give our captain a longer recovery to ensure he is in top shape. Whilst all these injuries have been hurting us at the minute they may well pay dividends for us in the middle 8s as those bodies will be fresh with lots of energy and mileage in them which is what we will need.

When you consider against Leeds we were missing Higson, Tonga, Higham, Hock, Hansen, Stewart and Crooks, four of whom are born leaders we weren’t far off and that’s taking nothing away from the boys that played and dug in. Add to that a couple of quality players and I am confident we have a side that can dominate the middle 8s. Let’s put it this way: last year we finished joint top with Leeds, losing only to them and we are in a far better position now than we were then so let’s enjoy what’s left to come, let’s enjoy tonight and sing loud and proud and if you’re back here tonight because it’s Wigan then please come again for Salford and the middle 8s games as ultimately the success of the Club is down to each and every one of you that comes through the turnstiles as the Club will ultimately only ever be as big as its following.

After the Castleford game, I went into the press conference and had what some have called a rant about the referees. It has been widely discussed on social media along with the various media channels largely supported with very little criticism. I believe John Kear gave me a bit of a bashing on the radio during our game against Leeds, urging the RFL to punish me, referring to my interview as sour grapes!

I like John and have a lot of respect for what he has achieved in the game as a coach and the fact he also played the game. I get on well with him so I was surprised by his comments, especially when as far as I could tell when I last spoke to him he could hear quite well. If he has listened to the interview he would have heard that I stated I didn’t expect us to win the game and that Castleford were awesome and I didn’t want to take anything away from them. He will also have heard me say that I thought the referee had a better second half and that I thought we got a good performance from the ref against Hull FC. To therefore suggest it was sour grapes is a little naïve of John, although given some of the good fortune he has had, namely away at Saints, home to Salford and that game against us you can probably understand why he is supporting the refs and the RFL.

To be clear I went into the press conference to shield Neil Jukes from fielding the same questions about being beaten and potentially get involved in discussing the performance of the referee. I stand by what I said as I think the performance was very poor although we wouldn’t have beaten Cas in any event it ruined what would have been a decent game. Ironically when going through my texts with Ralph Rimmer from after the Wakefield spectacle I came across the following text from Saturday 25th March which is perhaps quite pertinent: “OK Ralph no problem on a positive note I thought Chris Kendall went very well last night at Widnes/Salford good young lad him. Enjoy your weekend.”

This sums up that it is possible for everyone to have a bad day at the office and my further statement elaborating on my comments explains how the referees have far too much to deal with and are able to influence the game far too easily. Let me put it into perspective. Straight from kick-off in the first 30 seconds of a game here is potentially what a referee must deal with in only the first play-the-ball of hundreds in the game:

  • The ball is kicked-off – are the players behind the kick?
  • The ball is caught and passed to the runner. Is it forward?
  • A tackle is made. Is it high?
  • Is the third man in legal with his chop?
  • Is the ball retained? If not, is it stolen or a loose carry? Can he see with four bodies involved?
  • Is the ruck clean? Is it quick enough or is there a second effort?
  • Then is the player on his feet playing the ball? Does he play it correctly? Does he move forward off the mark? Are the markers square? Are the defence back the required 10? Do they move too soon?

Indeed has the referee managed to gain the ten with the speed of play?

The issue is that a lot of those decisions are open to interpretation and there is no consistency within the 80 minutes of a game, let alone across the whole game.

This makes it a lottery and there is too much emphasis placed on the referee’s interpretation.

Whilst mistakes invariably even themselves out in a game and the KPI’s (Key Performance Indicator) of referees seems to be the closeness of the penalty count, this doesn’t reflect evenness across the game and two wrongs don’t make a right.

You see if a penalty is given on play five in good ball, it kills a team defending it and saps energy. If that is levelled with a penalty on play one in good ball it doesn’t have the same affect. Likewise in yardage, so it is about when the penalty is given and in my opinion you could argue or try to justify a penalty in nearly every play-the-ball of the game with offside markers not square, incorrect play-the-ball, moving off the mark, high tackle, second effort or lying on and that’s what, in my opinion, is killing the game.

Rugby League was designed as a brutal spectacle whereby 13 men had six attempts to cross their opponents’ line who ganged up to stop them with the prime rule being you had to pass it backwards.

Hundreds of thousands of people watched the game then that is hardly watched now.

I understand that there has to be change and that health and safety and protocols now rule the world but there is still a brand of rugby close to that original concept! Yes, State of Origin Rugby League, where largely the refs leave the warriors to battle it out and only get involved when it gets really out of hand rather than at every minor detail. In the recent Origin game there wasn’t a single penalty given in the first 40 minutes, it was a great spectacle. I watched Salford against Wakefield on Sunday in a hard fought close game and I thought Robert Hicks had a good game and was able to congratulate him on that as he was leaving the stadium. Ultimately this won’t get fixed up over night but it needs to be discussed and looked at, as there are a large number of referees that have left or stepped down from being full-time. It is a difficult job under pressure and they will always be unpopular with one side in every game. We all want to grow the game and the best way to do that is let it flow and bring back a bit of biff!

I received my Bob Barker painting “where there’s a will” this week which I successfully bid for in an auction to raise money for Will’s Way, a charity for a young boy who plays rugby and is battling cancer. I have a number of Bob Barker prints as I really like his work it reminds me of my childhood. I even have a piece that is to do with Leeds United football club even though I am a Man United fan but I had never seen any of his work feature rugby. That was until my 45th birthday when my wife unveiled a piece that she had commissioned Bob to do that she titled ‘Living the Dream.’ It is of me and Rocky walking down Chadwick Street to the old Hilton Park with the red gates at the bottom and the rugby sticks protruding above and the words ‘Living the Dream’ on the wall, although these were really on the wall near to Leigh East. The piece is very special to me, as it is unique and the original painting and there are no prints of it.

I also have the sketch of me and Rocky that Bob gave me as a present that was done from a picture Laura gave him which was me and Rocky actually walking to a game at Dewsbury. ‘Where there’s a Will’ is an awesome painting which I share here and is also very special to me and features all the players that have come through Stanningley amateur club to play in Super League including our very own Liam Hood. There are a small number of prints of the painting available exclusively from Castle Art Galleries and there is a branch in Deansgate in Manchester where other Bob Barker pieces can also be viewed.

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