Four Nations 2016: Cumbria keeps up rugby league tradition with Scotland-New Zealand

Scotland rugby league celebrate

Ladbrokes Four Nations 2016
Scotland v New Zealand
Venue: Zebra Claims Stadium, Workington Dates: 11 November
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online

Amidst the expansion plans made for the Four Nations, with games staged in Coventry and London, there is one heartland area – Cumbria – whose commitment to the sport of rugby league has been rewarded.

Workington Town’s Derwent Park joins other illustrious host venues such as Liverpool’s Anfield and the London Stadium, now home to West Ham.

BBC Sport explains how this west Cumbrian town came to be included, and why league is so prevalent in that part of the world.

League’s Cumbrian legacy

Workington Town v Barrow in the Challenge Cup final<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>

The origins of rugby league are key to its popularity in West Cumbria.

In the late part of the 1800s teams in the north drawn from Cumbrian shipbuilders, Lancastrian textile workers and the pitmen of Yorkshire could literally not afford to adhere to the Rugby Football Union’s ‘amateur’ ethos, which outlawed any payments to players.

Players injured during matches, who could not work, would not be paid, nor would those who had to miss work to play, and as such the great schism came with the birth of the Northern Union and a new code of rugby in 1895.

That breakaway, the early incarnation of league, allowed clubs to reimburse players for their services, and as such those towns and cities along the ‘industrial belt’ of England came to embrace the game, giving league its unique geographical spread.

Some of rugby league’s most famous characters, such as Douglas Clark and Dick Huddart, hailed from the old Cumberland and there are traces of Cumbria’s lineage throughout the current Super League, in Kyle Amor, Brad Singleton and Ben Harrison.

Workington Town and Barrow both lifted Challenge Cups in the 1950s featuring stars such as Gus Risman, Ike Southward and Willie Horne and before the move to the summer game, Cumbrian clubs produced players to represent Great Britain at the highest level.

Backdrop

While the history is rich, the current fortunes of Cumbrian club rugby league are not quite so fruitful.

All three teams – Workington, Whitehaven and Barrow – will play in the bottom tier, after relegation for Town and Haven.

Town’s drop has coincided with a reshuffle behind the scenes with a new chairman, in former player Garry Mounsey, and a new head coach in Dave Clark.

“There’s no doubt that relegation in isolation is a massive disappointment for the club and the fans,” Workington director Malcolm Allison said.

“However, what it has done is allow us to reassess things, bring together a wider board of directors and review the structure of the club both on and off the field.

“The fact that we can look forward to an international match between Scotland and New Zealand is a real tonic for the fans of the local area.”

Scotland’s ‘spiritual home’

Steve McCormack<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>

Initially there were plans to create a new purpose-built stadium for the 2013 World Cup, but when that fell through Workington was handed host status, developing a bond between Scotland and Cumbria that has since been reinforced.

Head coach Steve McCormack has his own links to the area with his successful spell in charge at Whitehaven, while players such as Brett Carter, Brett Phillips and Callum Phillips have worn the Bravehearts colours as Town players.

“It’s been good to us, west Cumbria has been really good for Scotland,” Scotland boss Steve McCormack told BBC Sport.

“We played our pool games there in the 2013 World Cup, got a great victory against Tonga and a good performance against Italy.

“Then we played Wales in the European Cup the following year and won then, so we’re undefeated there and it would be nice to do that again against the Kiwis.”

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