When sport is mentioned in Liverpool it is often the case that rugby league is overlooked – this despite having the cream of the northern hemisphere resident on its doorstep. Wigan, Warrington and St Helens can all be seen at home within a 30-minute car trip of the city.
With the top flight of football becoming ever more distant to the regular fan through a combination of spiralling wage bills and exorbitant ticket prices, it is refreshing that competition in the oval ball sport is regulated through a salary cap and affordable entrance fees.
Similarly welcome is the opportunity to sit amongst fans of the opposition and drink beer in the stands as the atmosphere manages to be passionate but accessible to the curious visitor.
St Helens, the club followed most closely in Liverpool, left their famous Knowsley Road ground earlier this year as a new stadium is to be constructed in readiness for 2012. For this season they are tenants at the Stobart Stadium in Widnes which despite its temporary status is slowing beginning to feel like home.
Whilst the bulk of the support is from in and around the town there are significant numbers jumping on a train for ther short journey on Friday nights. Travel to the ground and entrance is comfortably within £30, with ‘bring a friend’ schemes commonplace throughout the season as the game seeks new audiences.
Only by watching at close quarters is it possible to appreciate how athletic and skilful these everyman superstars are. On 25 March it was the turn of Bradford Bulls to cross the Pennines and try their luck against a Saints side showing signs of returning to top form after beating Leeds the week before.
From our £25 seats just behind the visiting team dug-out we had the benefit of being able to follow the game closely and earwig on tactical changes issued to the interchange players pacing along the sidelines.
Aside from the game which had its share of skill, fumble and odd refereeing decisions it was an elderly lady who provided the most entertainment. Her near faultless knowledge of the two teams squads was impressive but nothing compared with the disgust she reserved for most of the rules of the game. Every tackle was illegal and the game just too slow – despite being played at breakneck speed.
As full time drew to a close St Helens were content to see time out with a 28-16 lead with full back Paul Wellens earning man of the match for his two tries and an impeccable reading of the game.
For those open to something different for the start to the weekend, the attraction of seeing some of the world’s top players battle it out over 80 minutes is an affordable alternative to the norm.
Saint Helens RFC
01744 455 050