A day in the life II

Following on from A Day in the Life… I was talking to someone about my commute to my latest game for Toronto Wolfpack. This one involved a 6858 mile round trip from Halifax to Toronto! I was flying out for our home game against York City Knights and I joined them on their flight both to, and home from, Toronto. It was a good way to find out exactly how the flight affected visiting teams and what the time difference did to my body clock.


3429 miles From Halifax to the Allan A. Lamport Stadium a.k.a. The Den

I was to join York on their flight to Toronto on Friday morning, probably the quickest turnaround of any team so far this season (with teams normally flying out on Thursday). So, as I left home at 5.45am to catch a train from Huddersfield to Manchester Airport, I skipped down the driveway to my waiting taxi.


It always puzzles me when people that say that they couldn’t be bothered flying somewhere long haul because it’s “too long” or that “it’s too far to go for a weekend”. I love travelling. Well, I should probably re-phrase that. I do like travelling, but I like the fact I get some time to myself for a few hours! Anyone who says that it’s too far to travel doesn’t have 4 kids, a house, 2 jobs and a wife to keep happy. Those 12 hours travelling were bliss…

I’d seen some of the York lads, their coaching staff and match officials on the way through to the flight and I’d had a chat with some of them on the plane. We arrived at mid-day Canadian time and it was in the mid 20’s and bright sunshiiiiiiine. On landing, I found out that due to hosting participants for an international boating event, the team had recently had to move to different accommodation which was 40 minutes North of Toronto – a massive problem for me – but not for super Freddie. Federico is our co-ordinator over in Toronto and does a superb job of arranging loads for both us and the opposition. He was there to meet York Knights and the match officials and I told him I have no idea where we were staying. 10 Minutes later, he’s got me in a taxi and sorted it out. Hero.


If you think the M62 is busy, don’t get on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway

It was a quick turnaround on arrival – the medical team were just leaving to go to training and to provide treatment to the players, so after dropping my bags I jumped in with them to make the 40 minute journey back to where I’d just come from. There aren’t really any amenities where we were at the new residences so after treatment we had to grab something to eat and went back to the apartments.

So this was the first night where the time had jumped back 5 hours. Effectively, when I went to bed at 10pm, it should have been 3am. I did have a tired spell at about 6pm (11pm UK time) but it wasn’t massive. The next morning I woke up at 7am fully refreshed after 9 hours sleep and felt that good that I went for a run! We returned to the original apartments, which are closer to the ground so the players can get their pre-match treatment and I set off to the ground for the usual pre-match set up. So far, no body clock malfunctions.


Pre-match treatment for the players

Today was a bit special. It’s ‘Canada Day’ and the country is celebrating 150 years of Canadian Confederation. The Wolfpack are wearing a specially produced red, white and black kit and it’s looking like a hit with the fans – most of the merchandise sold out in under an hour!


We had an injury in training pre-game and had to make a squad amendment. Normally a run of the mill exercise with paperwork to complete. However, when I had our Director of Rugby, Brian Noble, sign the paperwork little did I know that a piece of history was also being made. Brian recently received an MBE for his services to sport. A fantastic reward for his 40+ years of dedication. But on signing the documentation, he told me that this was the first time he had signed anything as an MBE – so we captured the moment for him to cherish forever…


The game goes according to plan and we won 64 – 22. The Canada Day celebrations went on well into the night but the late 7pm kick off meant we were trying to get back to our apartments right in the middle of all the celebrations. We were actually stuck on the expressway, next to the CN Tower when all the fireworks went off – could have been a worse place to be stuck in traffic!!

We were flying home the next day – Sunday – and as luck would have it, the team had been invited to Woodbine Race Course for a special Queen’s Plate meeting, which just happens to be right next to the airport. Two birds, one stone. The down side been that I didn’t get to stay and see the Goo Goo Dolls who were playing after the meet (think Iris)! I did, however, get a lift to the airport from a great young Canadian prospect currently making his way up the Wolfpack ladder. Quinn Ngawati is an 18 year old Canadian resident who made his debut for the Wolfpack against the University of Gloucestershire All Golds and what a debut it was. Whilst speaking to him at length at the races, he is a very unassuming and modest person who belies his physical presence on the park. I was genuinely surprised after meeting him at his aggressive and hard hitting debut.

The flight home was later that evening and once back in Blighty, it was probably the strangest journey home from a match I’ve had. Air Transat flight’s from Toronto on Sundays only return to Glasgow, Scotland. They fly to Manchester on Mondays. As we were flying on Sunday, we were to land in Glasgow. We had been in constant touch with the York Knights staff and they had agreed that I could jump on their coach from Glasgow down to West Yorkshire!! I would like to thank John Flatman (the club chairman) James Ford, Chris Spurr, Mark Helme and the whole squad for making what could have been a very awkward journey, an easy one! All great blokes for allowing me on their coach when they could easily have said no.

All back home for 4pm Monday afternoon. Had I enjoyed it? Definitely.  Was I tired? Yeah, a little (the races probably didn’t help!). Is the trip do-able as a visiting team? I would say that if it’s well managed, it’s a very feasible trip to make with little detriment to the away team’s players. The journey there is fine and the jump backwards in time didn’t seem to have any affect on me at all the next day, as we took off at 10am and landed about mid-day. It was harder on the way back having 5 hours taken off you on an overnight flight but the celebrations definitely made that worse! I think that without ‘celebrations’ it wouldn’t have had much affect at all. As a player I could see that the travel could affect re-hab but if you spend Sunday on re-hab before flying I would imagine this would massively reduce the effects.

So roll on the Kingstone Press Championship and let’s see how both Toronto and the visiting teams cope with each other…..

The Academy Process

I can’t help but question things. It’s part of my nature. I’m not sure whether that’s being inquisitive or whether I have an issue with authority (thanks Kurt Haggerty and Mrs O’Connor, both who have questioned this!). I’d like to think I’m inquisitive. That’s why when I was recently offered a position to help launch Calderdale College’s new rugby academy, I was intrigued.

The college runs Halifax RLFC’s Category 3 Rugby League Academy (category 3 being an academy in an educational establishment). However, with the split of Rugby League and Rugby Union in Calderdale being around the 50/50 mark, it seemed only prudent to open the programme up to the 50% that were being overlooked.

As I’ve previously mentioned in another post (The joining of the codes…), I believe that there are massive gains to be made by those that embrace both codes. There is a lot to be learned from each other and I see no reason why players can’t play both (as some regularly do). So why split an academy into separate League and Union ventures?

Hence, the joint academy idea was born. The skill sets are same – we both tackle and pass. We both kick and step, we both attack and defend. Kill the space in defence, exploit the space in attack. Catch, run, talk, visualise. It’s the same game with different rules.

So why not have an academy where players can flourish playing both codes? And then throw into that a 7’s programme at the end of the season and you all of a sudden have an all-rounded player! So here’s the basic plan – train and play both codes during the winter season (September to March / April), some league games, some friendlies – but looking at developing players through a mixture of strength and conditioning, skills and fitness training, analysis and psychology. And then enter a series of 7’s competitions at the end of the season. These will mostly be Union 7’s but I think this is ideal for Rugby League players as the minimal rucking and speed of the game would help the League players adjust. In this period, it’s just skills, skills, skills. Develop handling, develop awareness, develop precision under pressure, develop kicking (even though the voice in your head says never kick in sevens!).

Add into this an educational programme – where players can achieve a BTEC in Sport – and I can’t think of anything I would have enjoyed more when I was 16 or 17. Training and playing in an environment where, when you are not studying, you are involved in the rugby academy process.

The great thing about the academy at Calderdale College is that it gives players a professional training regime in an outstanding facility that also provides them with vocational skills during their 2 year residency. The players get to ‘train’ everyday (which encompasses recovery sessions, analysis, field work, classroom work, gym etc etc) alongside their studies whilst also completing courses such as level 1 / level 2 coaching, gym instruction, sports first aid and other external courses that the college run.


By using the partnerships that they have with Halifax RLFC and Huddersfield RUFC, the players get professional coaching and development whilst opening up real player pathways into professional and semi-professional rugby. It really is a win-win all round!

So what’s the down-side? There’s always a down-side isn’t there? Well, no, not that I can see. When we discussed the requirements of the academy, the college were adamant that at the end of the two years, the players should have a vocational qualification with practical experience of the industry that they are studying in. I wanted to make sure that a player who enters the academy is a better all-round player who understands all aspects and is a student of the game itself! I think by having players such as this, it breaks down the stigma between codes, it produces players who know why certain skills and tactics work and not just players who do things because they have been drilled into doing things. I also genuinely hope that I can coach players who are intelligent enough to start using skills learned from one code in the other.

I’ll expand on this a bit because it’s a bit of a passion (or infatuation? I’m not sure….). Anyway, I used to sit and discuss this at great length during games when things happened with the Halifax RLFC assistant coach and all-round rugby guru Chris Rose. Rosie is very much in the same vein as me, in that he coaches, watches and is an aficionado of both codes!! We would watch as, in the last quarter of a game, a team who are chasing the game would produce a short kick off which inevitably they would win back. We would look at each and shake our heads. Now, I’ve looked into this in a very unscientific way of watching some short kick offs and I reckon from the 30 or so that I’ve seen, it’s about 50/50 as to whether they come off. There are two aspects to this that I feel are genuine points. Defensively – if you are receiving the catch, practice receiving short kick offs!! It happens a lot in Union so it’s well practiced but what about if you improvise a bit…..

Have players stand a little closer together on the front line and then if there’s a short kick off get a bit of a lift. The chasing players can’t touch you in the air and you’ll be a foot above everyone else. Safe catch and either offload or take the tackle. Short kick off diffused and I wouldn’t think you see the opposing team use it again.

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 14.11.37

And use it when kicking off! When Toronto played Keighley in League 1 earlier this year, Keighley kicked 9 out 10 kick offs short. They won 5 back. That’s 55%. The result from the 4 they didn’t get? Well, a knock back from Toronto which led to a scrambling attack, which led to the first tackle on or around the 20 to 30m mark. Not much different than if they had kicked long and allowed Fui Fui Moi Moi to run at them. And it stopped the wide shift attack. So is it a good strategy? definitely in my eyes.

Pushing in the scrum in League? The long drop out in Union? League have started using scrum plays and Union have started using lead runners and ‘out the back’ plays. It’s all getting closer and closer.

Who knows, the split back in 1895 could even be reversed…shock