Opinion: controversy over Golden Boot suggests there should be a new award

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When St Helens’ Tommy Makinson won rugby league’s Golden Boot award this week, opinion was certainly very split. Some were delighted for the England winger while some – mostly Australian – weren’t exactly congratulatory of Makinson receiving the accolade.

New South Wales legend and head coach Brad Fittler mocked the choice of the 27-year-old as the winner of the award, saying that “I can’t believe the best player in the world is a person I’ve never seen play.” Indeed, news sources Down Under have described Makinson as “a little known Englishman”, which seems remarkably unfair for a player who has impressed in Super League in recent years. Perhaps Fittler should pay attention to rugby league globally to ensure he is aware of the best talent in the northern hemisphere and, while he is entitled to his opinion that the choice belittles the integrity of the award, the figurehead of such an iconic team – the New South Wales blues – shouldn’t be so dismissive of the choice or other players.

Indeed, Fittler himself won the award in 2000 – but that was when the award was presented under different criteria.

Prior to the Rugby League International Federation purchasing the award ahead of 2017, the accolade – the only dual-hemisphere award in the sport – was presented to the player viewed as the best in the world, encompassing all performances throughout the year – both at club and international level. Johnathan Thurston, Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer are just three iconic legends to have been presented the award under those criteria.

This year’s award, however, is the first to have been issued under the new standards and, with those being to take solely international performances into account, Makinson is certainly worthy of the award. After making his international debut for Wayne Bennett’s England team in the June test in Denver against the Kiwis – a debut which was long overdue in the opinion of many – he has proceeded to score a match-winning hat-trick to seal England’s series triumph over New Zealand.

While Makinson has fairly won the award after beating competition from James Tedesco – who, despite starring for both New South Wales and Sydney Roosters after winning State of Origin and the NRL, only made his international debut last month – Elliott Whitehead and New Zealand’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, the views of icons like Fittler suggest a new award should be issued.

Instead of creating a new award, the RLIF purchased the Golden Boot from Rugby League World and changed the criteria – something many, perhaps including those in the game – were unaware of until this week. So, why not have two awards? Surely it would make sense for there to be an award for the best international player of the year but also having an award for the best player in the world is vital for the sport.

Recognising the qualities and impact of players like Makinson and his England showings in 2018 is huge. After all, Tedesco has barely played international rugby before last month – regardless of how good a player he is – and Watene-Zelezniak couldn’t really compete with Makinson in terms of impact, especially this autumn. Nevertheless, a sport like rugby league – like in union and in football – really must have an accolade which celebrates the best player in the world over a given year, one which encompasses every single match of rugby league.


Third test set for a bumper crowd

After sealing the series victory over New Zealand by winning the first two tests in Hull and Liverpool, many would have been forgiven for thinking that the attendance for this Sunday’s final encounter between England and the Kiwis at Elland Road would suffer due to nothing riding on the game – but no.

Instead, the official England Rugby League twitter feed confirmed that further tickets have been put on sale in the East Stand Upper section of the Leeds United stadium, a move which could see the third test draw a record attendance. Last weekend’s 20-14 victory over the Kiwis drew a crowd of 26,234 to Anfield, the second best number for a test outside of London against New Zealand since 1951. Indeed, with the highest figure being 27,884 in 1998 in Bolton, this Sunday’s clash at Elland Road has already sold enough advance tickets to confirm that the match will replace that date in Bolton as the best attended international against the Kiwis outside of the capital.

This comes at a time when international rugby league is at something of a crossroads and, in the opinion of RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer, this test series has showed that there is serious interest in the game at this level. “The first two Tests have been a reminder of the value and appeal of international rugby league,” he told the media following the announcement of the opening of the East Stand Upper. “Millions of people have seen our England team earn two wins against the Kiwis and now we’re delighted that more people want to see the third Test in the flesh,” he added.

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On top of the world: Makinson wins Golden Boot

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St Helens’ winger Tommy Makinson has beaten competition from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, James Tedesco and England teammate Elliott Whitehead to win the rugby league Golden Boot award, cementing his place as one of the best try scorers in the game.

Approaching two hundred career matches for the Saints, 27-year-old Makinson scored eleven tries in 2018 and, in June, made his England debut in Denver, crossing for a try as Wayne Bennett’s team beat New Zealand. His international head coach admitted that he wasn’t aware of Makinson’s talents until this season and, when Ryan Hall was ruled out of the post-season test series with injury, he was given the chance to stake his claim for the vacant left wing berth – an opportunity he has taken with both hands.

After being a key part of the England team who edged the first test against New Zealand in Hull but, in the second at Anfield, he truly stole the show with a hat-trick. Three superb finishes sealed a series victory for Bennett’s men with a game to spare and, with just three international appearances to his name, Makinson seems to have cemented himself on the global scene of rugby league. “If you look at the three games he’s had for England, he’s been outstanding, absolutely outstanding,” Bennett explained.

His performances for St Helens throughout 2018 – both in defence and attack – helped Justin Holbrook’s team win the League Leaders’ Shield and reach the Challenge Cup semi finals.

In winning the award, Makinson has become just the fifth English winner of the prestigious Golden Boot award, following Kevin Sinfield (2012), Andy Farrell (2004), Garry Schofield (1990) and Ellery Hanley (1988) in winning the accolade.


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GUILTY! Burgess hit with four-match ban

George Burgess has been suspended for four matches and hit with a £500 fine after being found guilty of eye gouging against an opponent in England’s 20-14 victory over New Zealand at Anfield last weekend.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs forward was hit with a Grade D charge of ‘behaviour contrary to the true spirit of the game’ which, in turn, has ruled him out of England’s final test of the year in Leeds and the Yorkshireman will also miss the first three games of the Rabbitohs’ NRL campaign next season.

The incident occured in the second half of the Anfield test match with the Kiwis’ captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak being on the receiving end of Burgess’ indiscipline and, while the Penrith Panthers back brushed off questions surrounding the incident post-match, the international disciplinary panel saw fit to ban the front rower.