Rugby League: Platt hoping to work a miracle

Dave Hadfield looks forward to the new rugby league season
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IT WAS symptomatic of West Cumbria's status as rugby league's forgotten frontier that the new sponsors of what is now the Northern Ford Premiership were unsure last week about whether there is a club there.

For the record, the competition which begins today and absorbs the old First and Second Divisions, includes those two proud old names, Whitehaven and Workington Town, and both are determined that this season will be the start of something better.

To bring this about, they have both looked south and brought in a former Test prop as coach. Workington, at home to Hull KR this afternoon, have the ex-Wigan and Great Britain front-rower, Andy Platt; while from New Zealand, via Widnes, Warrington, Salford and Chorley, Kevin Tamati takes charge of Whitehaven for the first time as they go down the coast to Barrow.

Of the two, Platt's task is the more problematic. Workington, a Super League club in the first season of that competition, were separated from last place in the whole of the professional game last year only by those perennial strugglers from Doncaster.

"They've been their own worst enemies with the mismanagement at the club. They've wasted money by bringing in the wrong players and not investing in the future," Platt says. Considering the battering the club has taken, Platt has been surprised by the level of interest in the town, with 400 season tickets sold this week.

But the familiar feeling of disillusionment will soon creep in if Town are not competitive. To that end, Platt will play himself during the early weeks of the season. "It's a way of assessing what I've got to work with," he says. "I'm not kidding myself that I can play the whole season. Those days are over."

Tamati, sacked as manager of the Lancashire Lynx last season, has also had an agreeable surprise, considering Whitehaven's position in the bottom half of the First Division last year. "There's tremendous talent here," he says. "It's just a matter of bringing it out."

Whitehaven were coached by another New Zealander, Stan Martin, last season, but there the similarities end, because Tamati has spent his early weeks at the club undoing just about everything that Martin taught them. "He coached a structured game; I believe in more freedom. If the game plan says they go to the right then, even if a gap appeared on the left, they'd carry on going right. That's what I've got to change."

Both Platt and Tamati look around Cumbria and see any amount of talent in the amateurs - something that has not translated into strength at professional level for decades now. "Relations with the amateurs have been bad," says Platt. "But that has to be the long-term future."

In the short-term, both clubs need to show that they mean business, although it would be a major achievement for either of them to make the top five and the play-offs.

Among the teams to watch for that are Featherstone, at home to Rochdale today, and Widnes, a great power of the recent past who have strengthened considerably in order to make a determined bid for Super League this time, starting at home to Dewsbury today.