Gavin Willacy

Author's posts

Nov 30

England aim to end 45 years of hurt in Rugby League World Cup final

England may have lost 12 straight matches against Australia but they have enough quality to upset the Kangaroos in Brisbane on SaturdayBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkThe Kangaroos have won all their prelimin…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/nov/30/england-aim-to-end-45-years-of-hurt-in-rugby-league-world-cup-final

Nov 22

England go looking for their first World Cup final since 1995 – and a head coach

Wayne Bennett’s contract runs out after the World Cup. If he wants to bow out at the top, Leeds Rhinos and USA head coach Brian McDermott is ready for the jobBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkA couple of days b…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/nov/22/england-rugby-league-world-cup-coach

Nov 15

What next for the Celtic nations after early exits at Rugby League World Cup?

Five of the six European countries at the World Cup have been knocked out at the group stage. They need to develop more players in new territories to competeBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkThere are some simp…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/nov/15/rugby-league-world-cup-australia-england-scotland-wales-ireland

Nov 07

Rugby League World Cup mismatches look bad but don’t belittle weaker teams

Wales and USA could be in line to join the big time; Scotland’s drunk players treated their coach and country with contempt; and Tonga v Fiji could be tastyBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkWhen 25 players pile…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/nov/07/rugby-league-world-cup-scotland-wales-fiji-australia

Nov 04

Wales face Fiji desperate for their first Rugby League World Cup win in 17 years

‘We let ourselves down badly last time but are looking to make up for it with our first World Cup win for a very long time,’ says Wales captain Craig KopczakBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkEvery World Cup has…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/nov/04/wales-rugby-league-world-cup-after-previous-failures

Oct 31

Rugby League World Cup: Fiji’s Jarryd Hayne back at home in black and white | Gavin Willacy

The code and country hopping star talks growing the game internationally, and crossovers between NFL and rugby leagueWhen the few members of the press who attended the low-profile Fiji v United States game in Townsville last Saturday night heard singin…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/nov/01/rugby-league-world-cup-fijis-jarryd-hayne-back-at-home-in-black-and-white

Oct 31

Rugby League World Cup: what we learned from the first round of games

Ireland were impressive in their win over Italy; Lebanon rose to the challenge against France; and Scotland will be targeting their match against Samoa By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkIt is usually difficult …

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/oct/31/rugby-league-world-cup-fixtures-france-ireland-scotland

Oct 27

Australia is soaking in the World Cup but don’t expect to see many travelling fans

Why Tonga will be confident of reaching the semi-finals; England winger Jermaine McGillvary is one to watch; and where you can catch the games on TVBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkFour years ago I also set up…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/27/australia-england-rugby-league-world-cup-mood-fans

Oct 17

Meet the USA Rugby League World Cup captain … and organic food entrepreneur

Mark Offerdahl grew up in Australia, played club rugby in France and Wales, became an entrepreneur in London, and is about to captain USA at a World CupBy Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkMark Offerdahl will skip…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/oct/17/mark-offerdahl-rugby-league-usa-world-cup-captain-food

Sep 27

Toronto, Toulouse and Perpignan? How the Championship went cosmopolitan

The part-time players in the Championship will need to keep their passports handy next year – and that’s before more clubs arrive from across the Atlantic

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

On Saturday evening we will know whether Catalans Dragons or Leigh Centurions will be playing in the Championship next season. The losers of the Million Pound Game (that name – eurgh!) will go down and the odds are on a spineless Dragons team failing to play to their potential at a hostile Leigh Sports Village. That will be a great shame for Catalans and French rugby as a whole, but there are positives amid the gloom. It would mean two derbies with Toulouse Olympique and both clubs would be expected to challenge Toronto Wolfpack and London Broncos for promotion.

And that, in a nutshell, is the other problem. Part-time clubs in the Championship will have to travel to all four of those exciting destinations, flung far from the M62. Throw in either Barrow or Whitehaven – who meet in the League 1 play-off final on Sunday – and the financial impact on clubs such as Swinton, Batley, Sheffield, Featherstone is considerable. But they better get used to it, as there could soon be away trips to the USA and Ireland on the schedule, too.

Related: Damp squib in Philadelphia exposes distance of American rugby dream

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/sep/27/rugby-league-million-pound-game-catalans-leigh-toronto

Sep 19

Super League is tighter than ever – which shows the salary cap is working

With one round of Super 8s fixtures remaining, four clubs – Hull FC, St Helens, Wigan and Wakefield – are fighting for two spots in the play-offs

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Anyone still think the Super 8s are a dumb idea? As we enter the 30th and final week of the irregular season, it could hardly be any tighter. Third-placed Hull FC are just two points clear of Wigan in fifth, with Wakefield another point behind. St Helens should do their bit by winning at Salford on Thursday and their handsome points difference would secure them a play-off place regardless of whether Hull win at Castleford on Friday or Wigan win at Wakefield on Saturday.

If Saints slip up, Wakefield are suddenly back in the picture, making Saturday afternoon’s clash a win-or-bust for both them and Wigan. If Salford, Cas and Wakefield all win, third to seventh would be separated by three points after 30 games. That is astonishing. It would also mean Wakefield snatching the fourth semi-final berth and Saints and Wigan both wondering what on earth just happened.

Related: Castleford hold off Wigan after Jake Trueman hat-trick puts them on course

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/sep/19/super-league-super-8s-hull-st-helens-wigan-wakefield

Sep 06

Who will join Castleford and Leeds in the Super League play-offs?

With three rounds of games left, even eighth-place Huddersfield Giants can reach the play-offs – although prop Shannon Wakeman says it’s ‘extremely unlikely’

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Having watched Wigan and Leeds winning tricky fixtures on TV last week, you would be forgiven for assuming they will join League Leaders Castleford and Challenge Cup winners Hull FC in the play-off semi-finals at the end of the month. But Wakefield’s astonishing season, only overshadowed – much to their chagrin – by the sublime weekly exploits of their deadly rivals Cas, goes on. Beat St Helens on Thursday and they will end the Old Trafford dreams of not only Saints but Salford and Huddersfield, too. Wakefield will then be crossing everything that Hull see off Wigan again on Friday night. They would put Wakey three points clear with two games to go. Wins for Saints or Wigan and it becomes any two from four to join Cas and Leeds.

Before the last round, Huddersfield looked dark horses for the semis. If results had gone their way, they could have been just a point off fourth right now. Instead, they lost at home to Castleford and returned to the dressing room to hear that Wakefield had hammered Salford. That double whammy leaves Rick Stone’s Fartown almost certainly out of the play-off equation, five points adrift with only three games to play. However, imagine this: St Helens win at Wakey on Thursday, Hull beat Wigan on Friday and Huddersfield win at Salford on Saturday. It could happen – and the gap would be down to three points with two rounds left!

Related: St Helens’ Ben Barba overshadowed by Wigan’s superb Sean O’Loughlin

Related: Ryan Brierley on playing for Toronto Wolfpack: ‘It’s a crazy way of living’

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/sep/06/super-league-playoffs-castleford-wakefield-huddersfield

Aug 29

Mahe Fonua makes the difference as Hull FC retain the Challenge Cup

Lee Radford considered dropping Mahe Fonua for the Challenge Cup final but his ferocity – and his two tries – gave Hull FC the upper hand against Wigan

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Before the Challenge Cup final kicked off on Saturday, hoping for a final as good as last year’s was dismissed as wishful thinking. Given we had waited nine years for a great game at the new Wembley, it was unlikely to be another cracker. Whether it was better or not is debatable but we certainly got another tremendous encounter, befitting of the stage, with dominant Hull coming perilously close to losing their grip on the Cup.

After a first half that had everything – ferocious defence, exhilarating breaks, a feisty fracas – the quality dropped off in the second half before a tumultuous ending, including a last-minute dice with defeat for Hull, a la last year against Warrington. It was deja vu in the victors’ media conference too, with Lance Todd Trophy winner Marc Sneyd joining cup-lifting captain Gareth Ellis and their triumphant coach Lee Radford.

Related: Hull beat Wigan to retain Challenge Cup thanks to Marc Sneyd masterclass

Related: Hull beat Wigan to retain Challenge Cup thanks to Marc Sneyd masterclass

Related: Ryan Brierley on playing for Toronto Wolfpack: ‘It’s a crazy way of living’

Related: Hull FC hoping to follow Challenge Cup win with Super League success

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/aug/29/mahe-fonua-hull-fc-challenge-cup-final-wigan

Jul 27

Kris Welham: ‘Salford are a better team than Wigan if we play to our potential’

It’s Challenge Cup semi-finals weekend – with Hull FC v Leeds on Saturday and Wigan v Salford on Sunday – and Salford centre Welham is feeling positive

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

This must be a very strange time to be a Salford fan. Last year was carnage on and off the field, culminating in their extraordinary Houdini act in the last seconds of the Million Pound Game. This year, with almost the same team, the Red Devils are fourth in Super League going into the final stretch and are one win from their first Challenge Cup final since 1969. Beat seventh-placed Wigan on Sunday at Warrington and they will be at Wembley.

The turnaround is as bizarre for centre Kris Welham as it is for fans and neutrals alike, all of whom seem to want Ian Watson’s team to make it to the giant arch. Salford have been superior to injury-ravaged Wigan for most of the season but that quality gap has been rapidly closing of late as the Warriors have returned towards full strength.

Related: Ryan Brierley on playing for Toronto Wolfpack: ‘It’s a crazy way of living’

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/jul/27/challenge-cup-semi-finals-kris-welham-hull-leeds-wigan-salford

Jul 18

Ryan Brierley on playing for Toronto Wolfpack: ‘It’s a crazy way of living’

Ryan Brierley left a Super League club and dropped two divisions to play in Canada but he is loving the ‘surreal, bizarre, thoroughly enjoyable adventure’

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

This time last year Ryan Brierley was adjusting to Super League, having moved to Huddersfield Giants after being a star with second-tier Leigh Centurions. Now he is a leading light at expansion club Toronto Wolfpack, the first transatlantic franchise in British sport. He sat down in his hometown of Preston to consider what went so wrong at the Giants and what is now going so right in Ontario.

How’s your Toronto Wolfpack adventure been, so far?

It’s everything I could have imagined and more. It’s a crazy way of living, especially when you’re in Canada. Going into the city and fans stopping you in the streets, people offering you free donuts… it’s surreal! It’s a bizarre situation, a crazy adventure, but one that we’re thoroughly enjoying. And who is to say being normal is being right? Everything the club said they would do they have delivered. There have been no false promises and it’s only going to get better with time. There’ll be some road bumps along the way but we will iron those out.

Yes, it’s boring over here. We don’t really like coming home now! It’s a dose of reality and I don’t think that’s a bad thing with what’s going on over there. When we come to England it’s a little bit different. We have to put our egos to one side and do the jobs we are supposed to do. When you go to places like south Wales and Newcastle, who don’t have many fans, the challenge is a mental one. You have to create your own atmosphere. That’s probably the most difficult thing but it’s all worth it when you go back to Canada.

Related: Luke Gale on Castleford’s title battle: ‘I’ve not been in big games but I back myself’

We train at Lamport Stadium, where we play, and have a college residency about 15 minutes away. We’re living in pairs but there are two private rooms to each apartment so, although we like doing stuff together, you still need time to yourself, like when your Facetiming your family. It’s great. The gym is five minutes away and we all got given cars so we can go out and explore. A few of the boys have been to Niagara Falls, which is unbelievable. We just roll with it!

It’s a challenge. A few players were missing their kids and family back home. It’s tough for those without a big support network back home. Given time, some of the younger players might get girlfriends over in Toronto and that might become home for some. It’s certainly a place I could live. It feels normal. I wouldn’t rule out living there in the future, certainly when my contract is up or when I finish playing – and I know a few of the boys feel like that. There’s scope for Toronto to become somewhere you stay after rugby and that can only be good for the city.

If I was talking to any player who has the opportunity to come over here I’d encourage them to do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’d say “go for it”. Anyone who wants to be involved – players, coaches, support staff – I’d strongly recommend it. It’s a different way of life. Sometimes you’ve got to make that jump to experience something different and something better. It’s the best experience I’ve had in my rugby league career.

“We’ve been to a few schools and tried getting among the people. The big push we want is to get more kids involved in rugby league over there. It’s very new and it’s very fresh. It has to start at school level. You can’t start after that or you’re too raw. This month of home games gives a lot of time to get into schools and deliver the message. They just love any type of sport.”

The 80 minutes on the rugby field at the end of the week is a challenge mentally to keep your standards high and keep motivated. When there’s 7,000 crazy fans in Toronto wanting to give you everything – scarves, hats, they just want to love you and get any piece of you they can – that’s brilliant. It’s when you come back home, getting off the plane and going to play when everyone is fatigued, that’s the challenge. But if the only negative issue is I’m a bit tired after a flight and I’ve got to go and play, we’re on to a winner. That’s not a big deal. It could be worse.

Maybe it’s my fault for thinking things would be different. I’ve always wanted to know what this Super League bubble was, blinded by the bright lights. The easiest way to describe it is this: we travelled from Huddersfield on a Friday night to play at Wigan on Sky TV, we won and I scored three tries. We went home, I got into bed and woke up the next day and nobody cares. It’s totally forgotten about. It’s a weird feeling. You score three tries and you think you’re some sort of superhero, untouchable, but the next day you wake up in the same house, get in the same car. You don’t all of a sudden wake up in Las Vegas or Hollywood. Maybe I thought I’d be mobbed by fans and the media, but it wasn’t like that. It was just day-to-day work and it shocked me a little bit.

Related: Jamie Peacock interview: on England, Hull KR and the wisdom of Rocky III

It didn’t help that we were in a losing team and the environment was never going to be great anyway, but it felt like every day I was going into work, and to me playing rugby league has never been a job: it’s always been something I absolutely love. I just couldn’t feel the love for Huddersfield or Super League. That was probably my fault and I have to look at myself. But I don’t think I could be any more professional. Off the field I do the right things: I look after my body. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do anything bad, don’t eat rubbish. So I give myself every opportunity to develop in Super League. But once I’d ticked that box, I just didn’t feel fulfilled.

100%. We weren’t a successful team, especially last season, but the club did everything right by me. I was speaking to Huddersfield players, trying to get a feel for the club and the town, but I just didn’t feel emotionally connected to the club. I really tried, getting to know the fans and doing promos. Living out of the area didn’t help as you’re not really connected as much. Going to Huddersfield’s stadium felt a little bit cold to me and I can’t hide my feelings. I couldn’t shake that off. What rattled me was I had three coaches in the short time I was there. And I started at full-back then I went to half-back, then I got dropped, then I was on the bench, then back to half-back, then full-back. I probably didn’t do enough to tie a regular starting spot down. That plays with your emotions as well. When you’re playing every week at Leigh and everyone loves you, to not getting a game, it rocks your ego a little bit. It’s not great for the mindset. I’m thinking I should be some sort of hero in Super League and it never really worked out that way.”

I’ve ticked that Super League box. I should have been better when I played but did I get a fair crack? Probably not. I’m thankful for the opportunity though. In Super League we get blinded by this big dream. This is going to sound daft, because I’ve not won the league or the Challenge Cup and people are going to think I’ve got above myself, but it just didn’t fulfil my needs. The decision was made to feel the love again, to feel appreciated and to go back to a comfort zone where I knew I’d be appreciated for my talent and really develop my skills as an attacking half and really control a team. Going into a team and just getting through training and getting through games and then going home to go out with my mates, isn’t what I play rugby for.

Me and Paul have been really good friends for many a year and he’s always joked saying I’m not good enough for Toronto! So I never got the feeling he wanted me there. He’s so professional he would never put me in a situation. He kept it secret from me. I actually got a phone call from Richard Thewlis [Giants CEO] who said they’d accepted an offer from Toronto Wolfpack for me. That shows I’m not needed there and there’s no point them paying a guy to sit on the sidelines. Danny Brough was doing the job I’d been asked to do. Rick Stone was trying to make me more an all-round game-manager, which I don’t deny I need, but my natural ability had been put to one side. He didn’t want me to leave but when an offer has been accepted to sell you, I don’t think you belong there anymore. Rowls said: “I want you to come back and lead this team into Super League.”

That was a big pull. I know the lads there and they’re really big friends of mine. I was watching a Cooper Cronk video – I’m a little bit obsessed with Cooper Cronk – talking about Melbourne Storm. He said the common denominator in successful organisations is they’re good people. And top to bottom at Toronto Wolfpack they’re good people. I really missed the love of going to training and high-fiving everybody and just being myself, being with close friends who love me for who I am. As much as that sounds soft, as men we’re probably afraid to admit we need a bit of love now and then, and that’s what I was missing.

Yeah, it makes a massive difference. I could guarantee I’d be happy with Paul Rowley. As much as I’ve come down two divisions, my happiness level has gone through the roof. I’ve got a really supportive family who are only happy when I’m happy. I’ve always made decisions based on me wanting to be a superstar, a global superhero – I’ve been blinded by that and needed to take a step back and realise what’s most important in my life, and that’s family. I’m a much happier person now which makes me a very, very dangerous player for the Toronto Wolfpack. Hopefully we can both benefit from that.”

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/jul/18/ryan-brierley-toronto-wolfpack-rugby-league-leigh-huddersfield-giants

Jul 10

Luke Gale on Castleford’s title battle: ‘I’ve not been in big games but I back myself’

How did Castleford Tigers mount an unlikely challenge for their first title in 91 years? By having a good coach and working hard, says their scrum-half Luke Gale

By Gavin Willacy for No Helmets Required, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Eight points clear at the top of Super League with nine games to go, unless they are struck down in a manner that would cause Devon Loch to raise an eyebrow, Castleford Tigers are sure to be hosting a semi-final down Wheldon Road one late September night. Then they will be just one more win from a first Grand Final appearance and two from their first championship title in their 91-year history. Few of their squad know what that feels like, but inspirational half-back Luke Gale is chomping at the bit to taste the glory.

“We’ve not been there, we’ve not worn the T-shirt, but I’m looking forward to doing that and leading this team to some silverware,” said the England scrum-half. “We don’t have many players who have been there and done it. I’ve not been in big games myself, but I know I’ll back myself when it comes to the end of the season, and these boys will back themselves, too. When it comes to big games we know what we’ve got to do. We’re footy players: it doesn’t matter if you’ve won 10 Grand Finals or you’ve won zero, we will know what to do when it comes to the end of it.”

Related: Zak Hardaker: ‘I am a better player than when I won Man of Steel’

Related: Luke Gale gets his kicks as relentless Castleford overcome Wakefield

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/no-helmets-required/2017/jul/10/luke-gale-castleford-tigers-title-super-rugby-league