WITH no senior rugby league matches played in the area at the weekend and some clubs struggling to put teams out on a regular basis, PADDY McATEER asks local stalwarts what needs to be done to help the amateur game thrive

SATURDAY went down as a blank day for rugby league followers in South Cumbria.

There was nowhere to go and see a local game and, to make matters worse, there was no Barrow RL game at Craven Park on Sunday.

The only option was to go up the coast, where Walney Central – without several top-liners – beat Ellenborough in the only Cumbria League fixture of the day.

Why was it a blank day for local rugby league fans?

The answer: in the Conference Millom and Askam were away, while the Roose Pioneers v Glasson, Barrow Island v Maryport and Ulverston v Distington games were all called off due to lack of players from Ulverston, Glasson and Maryport.

The reasons: injuries, work commitments, stag parties, birthday celebrations abroad, and the T in the Park festival in Scotland.

Walney managed to raise enough players, but even that had a knock-on effect with their A-team numbers suffering for their Friday night game against Askam.

So, for those who love to go and watch a game of live rugby, what did they do?

By a stroke of luck, the only thing in people’s favour was that it was a wet day so they didn’t have to get the wet gear out.

Has summer rugby been a bigger obstacle than many anticipated? Was it right to move away from winter rugby?

The jury is still out for many involved at club level.

Originally, I believed it was a good move. No more standing on the touchline in bitterly cold weather trying to write notes with cold hands, and especially on rainy days when I would go home and try to read what I had written as the rain had left marks on my pad.

Yes, I enjoy the better weather, but it is on the field where the problems arise.

Not only has this week been affected, but week after week teams are going on the field under-strength due to players not being available through the problems highlighted above. This has been exacerbated since BAE Systems introduced the four-on, four-off shift pattern.

Many players can miss two or three games on the bounce, and this could get worse if games are then called off when they are available.

The danger here is that players can then lose interest and clubs do not the luxury of having massive squads, so they can ill-afford this to happen.

Although I am not in favour of going back to winter rugby – and I would think most clubs are of the same opinion – what is the answer?

The plus for winter rugby was is that it is not as badly affected by stag weekends, birthdays abroad and music festivals.

We are bang in the middle of the music festival season and the younger lads like their away days and weekends. And, yes, they are only amateur players and will do what is best suited for them.

Would it work starting the season mid-February then breaking off in late June until end of August and then rounding things off in late October before the bad weather kicks in?

Barrow and District League vice-chairman Jos Kenley said. “The problem with going to summer rugby is that it clashes with other sports, with some lads divided.

“I don’t think the game has got any stronger with the switch and there are others side-effects like family commitments.

“I wouldn’t think clubs would go back to the winter season – they are used to summer rugby now.

“Friday nights for A-teams seem to be working all right, but there are problems for first teams on Saturdays.

“No teams are ever at full strength for whatever reason, home or away. I think there is too much going on off the field.

“Crowds-wise it has been a good move, which attracts more into the clubhouse.”

Barrow Island stalwart John Jefferson said: ”It’s a hard one – summer or winter – but I go for summer.

“The only snag is getting dates arranged with so much going on at this time of year.

“Going back to winter also has its problems. Look at the last couple of years with the atrocious weather. How many games would have been called off?

“Just look at how it affected Barrow’s pre-season this year in January and February.

“At the start of the Cumbria League four years ago we could ask for three weekends off and these were granted. But then other clubs would ask the same so you could go at least two or three weeks without a fixture.

“I’m not sure taking a mid-season break would work. Up the coast they trialled it and after the break many players didn’t return.

“I don’t know that if we all came back into a Barrow League it would work, but it would be cost-effective as going up the coast costs anything between £360 and £430.”

Another amateur stalwart with more that 50 years’ service, Jim Perry, of Roose Pioneers, said: “Going to summer has not improved matters at playing leve.

“There aren’t the same number of lads playing the game. Numbers are dropping off. I think with lads playing from the age of six and seven by the time they are 17/18 they have had enough.

“Summer rugby has its benefits. Warmer days for training and playing and better support. No more playing on sloppy muddy pitches, but I think summer rugby is set in stone now.”

Barrow and District League secretary and Cumbria League official Terry Barker said: “I don’t think there is any going back to winter. It is ingrained now.

“It has worked for the Barrow League by playing games on a Friday night with not many games being called off.”

Walney Cents coach Shaun Morrow said: ”I don’t think there is any chance of going back to winter rugby.

“When it was first mooted four years ago we had 39 clubs in favour of summer and two against and I was one of them.

“It is here to stay. We (Cents) are more fortunate than most other clubs by having a lot more players.

“But last Saturday we had 10 unavailable due to work and six on holiday but we played and the weather wasn’t good at Ellenborough so I don’t think there is any hope of players wanting to revert back.

“I would like to see all our clubs including Askam, Millom and Hindpool join a strong Cumbria League with first and A-teams and we could play more games on a Friday against our local clubs to free up Saturdays, which seem to be the problem.”