England student rugby league

Keywords: rugby league,sport,castleford,nrl,australia sport,super league,england rugby league team,newcastle knights,australia rugby league
Description: England schoolboys are relegated to red; rugby league shines in sunny Florida; Castleford Tigers plan for the future; and what to watch over the festive season

Matty Smith, Sam Tomkins and James Graham sport the England rugby league team’s brilliant - and exclusive - white shirt. Photograph: Jason O'Brien/Action Images

Rejoice and shout from the roof-tops: England beat the Aussies! OK, it was only in the Academy internationals but, for once, England came out on top rather than being squeezed out. A 28-14 win over Australia Schoolboys on Friday night annulled last week’s painful 22-18 defeat to tie the series, Richard Marshall’s side coming out on top on points difference.

Brock Lamb is not a name you will easily forget. Not a jar of cooking sauce nor a Sunday roast recipe, but man of the match in Australia’s first test win. Newcastle Knights stand-off Lamb was sensational, by all accounts. Lamb’s opposite number was from that league hotbed of Enfield: London Broncos halfback Joe Keyes, born in Harlow, Essex; schooled in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire; son of the Broncos Under-19s manager John, an unsung hero of the game in the capital.

The second test’s man of the match honours went to Leeds full-back Ash Golding, a quirky figure with long bushy hair flowing beneath his scrum-cap. He looks more suited to a Kasabian gig or a walk-on part in the Mighty Boosh. Golding, who was in the Rhinos Under-19 side blown away by a younger shadow Australian team in the midweek game at Headingley before mounting a stirring comeback, made his Super League debut last season, aged 17. Most of the England backs had some Super League experience – 38 appearances between them – while, tellingly, almost none of the forwards had played men’s rugby yet.

England were not stirred by wearing the cross of St George on their crisp white shirts. Instead they were in all red. It seems a strange RFL policy of only allowing the full England team to wear white, meaning the junior teams end up looking like Wales. Surely the England rugby league shirt is nowhere near iconic enough for it to be held in such esteem. The RFL have already abandoned the St George design that was just starting to become synonymous with England RL. The Academy kit was also produced by BLK, not ISC.

As Australia head to Toulouse to play France, it seems a shame there were only two tests, not a full Ashes series, and that the RFL opted to play both at Leigh, a fine ground but at a town with no railway station. Surely there were available grounds in Yorkshire or the south east to enable more connoisseurs to see the future stars of the game. Less than 3,000 people attended in total, hardly vindicating the decision. An explanation of the venue choice and the red kit has not been forthcoming from the RFL media department.

If you want some warm sunshine and rugby league, get on a flight to Florida where USARL champions Jacksonville Axemen are hosting both Wigan Warriors this week and Leeds Rhinos in January. After a joint-training session, Wigan will head to EverBank Field to see Jacksonville Jaguars play Tennessee Titans in NFL’s Thursday Night Football.

Jacksonville has been hosting Super League training camps on and off since 2001, when Leeds, Huddersfield and Halifax joined the US Tomahawks for the Sunshine Challenge at the Jaguars. The connections do not end there: the Jaguars are owned Shahid Khan, who also owns Fulham. Last week, London Broncos launched their new kit – a replica of the original Fulham RLFC strip, to mark their 35th birthday.

Finally, the Jaguars are one of four NFL franchises being linked with a move to LA. The other three, all of whom used to play in the City of Angels, also have links to our game. In 1961, Oakland Raiders started life playing in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, two years after a Bay Area RL team were supposed to be kicking off the American Rugby League Football competition there (instead Kezar had to wait until USA v Russia in 1995 for its first league action).

The LA franchise in the ARLF was going to be provided by LA Rams, now based in St Louis. And San Diego Chargers were once the target of an audacious and insane buy-out bid from former American All Stars league players Mike Dimitro and Xavier Mena! Read the whole story in No Helmets Required .

Earlier this year I was criticised for suggesting that Castleford Tigers had been in financially disarray in 2013. Several very reliable people within the game, who deal with the club regularly, told me so. Not only has that situation been endorsed by Cas admitting they had to agree to sell Daryl Clark to Warrington a year ago to avoid a fiscal calamity, in an interesting Q&A in League Weekly last week CEO Steve Gill admitted “we haven’t had to ask [chairman] Jack Fulton for any money since July 2013” as they strived to avoid “the embarrassment of early 2013 again”.

Cas have already sold more season tickets than they did for last season but on the new stadium Gill is playing his cards far closer to his chest than previous management have. “Planning permission has gone in, and we are awaiting a decision,” is all he lets on. Wakefield Council have said the whole Five Towns Park plan – with a 10,000-capacity stadium, major retail outlets and a pleasant-looking country park - will be assessed in the New Year.

If you’re not in northern Florida, southern France, Hull or within reach of the Pennine League (itself in something of a pickle with some teams having played just three of the scheduled 10 rounds of games), you may be suffering a major rugby league drought. Five months between drinks for most professional clubs, is a wretchedly long break. We are midway through 11 barren weeks with no live league on TV, either. So how are you filling your oval ball fix?

You can watch some familiar faces (Burgess, Eastmond, Myler) playing union at some familiar places (Salford, The Stoop, Copthall). If you don’t mind helmets and forward passes, Sky and C4 are awash with NFL. But the demise of ESPN’s TV channel in the UK means neither of my preferred options - Canadian football, a closer relation to rugby league and another closely guarded secret surviving in the shadow of a neighbouring behemoth, nor the youthful exuberance and unpredictability of NCAA college football – are available.

Thankfully, Premier Sport must also be getting withdrawal symptoms as they’ve started showing NRL re-runs. Must be time to start plodding through those Super League Super Men programmes stockpiled on Sky Plus for these long winter nights.

Even student rugby league is on hold now until early January, with perennial champions Leeds Beckett - aka Carnegie – top of Premier North but with a serious contender to their crown in Northumbria, who have lost just one of their eight games and drew with unbeaten Beckett. Similarly, in Premier South, Loughborough are being challenged by Gloucestershire and St Marys. Hats off to Midlands division table-toppers Coventry, South-Eastern pace-setters Brunel and Western leaders Swansea (who have won all seven games), too.

It’s heartening to see some new names producing quality teams. It was in Premier North that something strange happened recently: a current international scored the winning drop goal in a student match. A year after playing for Scotland against Sonny Bill and Co in the World Cup quarter-final at Headingley, Doncaster full-back David Scott is playing for Hull University, where he is currently doing his masters and teaching in the sports department.

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