International Masters Festival ends in a draw.... as expected
It was a wonderful occasion to see the national Masters Rugby League teams from Canada, Ireland Wales and hosts England lining up together for the four national anthems at the start of an exceptional day of Masters Rugby League.
It was fitting that the first Masters International Festival returned to Leigh East the venue of the very first Great Britain – Australia Masters international game way back in 2008. The Leigh East club’s home with its two artificial pitches and excellent facilities made it the ideal venue for the Masters International Festival, originally planned to take place on RLWC2021 semi-final weekend.
For the Canada players, the Festival was the last stop and highlight on their tour to England which had already taken in Leeds, York, Chester and Liverpool. Many of their players had taken unpaid leave to make the tour and the tour committee - fronted by Dan Tate and Nicholas Mew- had worked through all the covid-related changes and challenges to ensure the tour went ahead. The team had come together well during their two tour games and were looking forward to being part of the historic first ever Canada Masters international game.
Ireland flew over for the games in good spirits with players coming from across the Emerald Isle, some with significant Masters experience and some not. The two Brians – Birt in Belfast and O’Brien in Dublin, had worked tirelessly to get the team selected, together and over to England.
Wales team was a very experienced Masters team comprising players from North and South Wales plus Welsh-born Wayne Bridges from Blackpool Masters and heritage player Gareth Evans from Arelcdon Masters.
England was represented by players from across the country with players from several Masters clubs from Aldershot & Fleet to Northeast Masters and from York to Whitehaven. Experienced Great Britain Master and coach Paul Royston took change of the lads who quickly gelled into a team.
The scene was set for the games across the two pitches. Each country played three short games with each of the other countries to give every team their hour of Masters. The spectators gathered at the two pitches and the whistles blew and the much-awaited festival got underway.
All the six games were played in excellent Masters Spirit with some excellent Masters played. The quality of the Rugby League played showed clearly how important the games were to every single player – all pulling on their national jersey at Masters for the first time.
The four countries shared ten excellent tries with four coming from speedster Gareth Evans for Wales. The loudest cheer of the day was without doubt for Canada gold shorter Bob Jowett who ran clear and covered 80 metres before touching the ball down for a memorable try. All games as always in Masters ended in traditional 0-0 draws.
The action of the pitch came to an end with all four teams plus the six match officials forming the traditional Masters circle after the game to give three very loud cheers for Masters Rugby League.
Back in the clubhouse, the Masters socialising got underway with post-match food and drinks and significant swapping of Masters kit!
The clubhouse was packed for the Festival presentations under the control of MC Dave Parkinson. The team representatives presented pennants to each of the other Masters nations. There was a Master of the Day award for every country each of which was greeted by loud cheers. Gold shorter Bob Jowett won the award for Canada with fellow gold shorter Wayne Bridges taking the award for Wales. The Master of the Day for Ireland went to another gold shorter Gavin Youngs. Paul Forster of Chester Masters was the only non-gold shorter taking the Master of the Day award for England.
Paul Field, on behalf of the Masters Management Group, thanked all the staff at Leigh East and the Leigh East Rugby League club for their hospitality. There were special thanks for Gaz and Emma Hopkins and their team who worked behind the scenes to make the festival possible. The final presentation of the day was of the Spirit of Masters Awards to Canada’s Daniel Tate and Nichols Mew for all the work they have done promoting Masters Rugby League in Canada and for organising the very first Canada Masters touring team.
Welsh Captain, Chris Thomas, clearly enjoyed his day saying “What an outstanding festival. It was brilliant mixing with old and new Masters and international Masters. Masters continues to grow from strength to strength. Long may it continue.” Ireland Masters description of the experience as a “fantastic weekend” was echoed by Canada’s Daniel Tate.
England, Ireland and Wales now look forward to their next international outing which is at the Tri-Nations Masters Rugby League Festival in Bethesda Wales in May 2022.