Thursday, 11 February 2016

Now’s the time to put bums back on seats

WHEN the financial dust settles – the air may well have turned a bit blue at Wednesday night’s annual shareholders meeting with frank questions asked and hopefully answered with equal frankness – Whitehaven Rugby League Club will want to draw a line under it all and focus on matters on the pitch.

Getting over the “squeaky bum” financial factor, putting bums back on seats by winning matches and playing entertaining rugby is certainly the business in hand. Will one follow the other? One only hopes so.

Knowing full well they can ill afford to stretch the purse strings too wide, Gordon Grace & Co. are doing their level best to strengthen the squad despite stringent budgetary constraints.

Haven aren’t out of the financial woods by any means; it may not necessarily take a miracle but, as far as team strengthening is concerned, the Board would just love to wave a wand and bring in a top class half-back.

Lezignan’s No 7 was a name well in the frame this week but it fell through because he demanded too much money. Irons remain in the fire. Whitehaven have always been well blessed for good half-backs so here’s hoping for another Sam Obst – well almost!

I was quite impressed by Haven’s TV showing at Salford, although the defeat did pinpoint where the side does need strengthening.

One man (or boy) made all the difference – Richard Myler. Not so much the teenage prodigy’s hat-trick of tries but the way he supported his forwards and used his pace to capitalise.

Opposite number Leroy Joe, bravely plugging the gap left by John Duffy, retains all the footballing skills but speed to go through the gaps is no longer one of the Kiwi master’s assets in the twilight of a fine career.

There aren’t many young Mylers around but Haven need an experienced and speedy half-back who can make a difference through the middle of the field, and this does not detract from the promise of their own youngsters, Marc Bainbridge, who is still learning his trade.

Ged Stokes put more of the blame on his forwards at Salford. While Ged and his coaching team can take credit for the improvement, there has to be better co-ordination between backs and forwards.

When the ball goes wide, Haven don’t need a Dwain Chambers. Their own wingers, Calvert and Adebisi, have pace to burn with ability, to boot. Only a cat’s whisker denied both from scoring what might have been decisive tries in the opening quarter at The Willows.

And in the centre, the Tongan international Saia Makisi had another cracking game.

For physicality, strength and collision force, Whitehaven’s forwards showed the stuff that had ex-Great Britain packman Terry O’Connor drooling but it’s not enough.

No question about the weakest link: Ged Stokes, David Seeds and Co. know that a good half-back partnership is the key to cohesion, unleashing Haven’s undoubted power at the right times and in the right places.

New capture from Halifax, Andy Gorski, had a useful enough baptism at Salford. He won’t be costing the earth but at least it seems the lad can run like a back and his pace may enhance the midfield link.

Bank Holiday Monday’s home clash with rivals Leigh is an attractive proposition and is interesting in more ways than one. Successive Friday night gates of around 1,200 simply won’t be good enough for the club to pay its way. Losing two of the best players, John Duffy and Richard Fletcher, whatever the pros and cons, won’t have gone down well with most of the fans, and hundreds have drifted away.

It may have been partly the Friday night factor but, unless they come back soon, the alarm bells will be ringing again.

The following Monday sees Haven go to Wigan for that Challenge Cup tie – what a farce indeed, despite the fact that more money will go into the Recre coffers through compensation for switching from the Friday to Monday.

All because Sir Alex Ferguson and others reckon the rugger boys would churn up the JJB pitch to such an extend that Man United and Wigan Athletic wouldn’t be able to play proper football two days later.

But what about the state of the pitch for rugby league the day after, not to mention Haven fans supposedly having so much leisure time they are able to travel to Wigan on a Monday.

Oh, for dear old Central Park, in the days when RL was king and reaching Wembley meant a lot more to most than the Super League grand final – maybe it still does for many.


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