IT IS awards season in rugby league and gongs are being handed out to the great and the good.
As an alternative – in no particular order – here are some characters of the year who have made a mark this season, for better or worse.
Stevie Ward (Leeds Rhinos)/Luke Ambler (ex-Halifax)
This week marked the seventh anniversary of former Leeds and Wakefield hooker Terry Newton’s suicide.
Mental health issues are gaining a higher profile in the sport and that is largely due to the efforts of individuals like Ward and Ambler.
Ward’s early career has been hampered by some serious injury setbacks and he admits that has taken its toll mentally as well as physically.
His work to raise awareness of such problems – through his online magazine Mantality – has won high-profile admirers including pop icon Boy George.
Ambler began the season playing for Halifax, but retired midway through and now devotes his time to working on suicide prevention through his support group Andys Man Club.
Both men have gone a long way towards demolishing stereotypes about the sort of individuals who play rugby league.
James Child (referee)
Yes, really. There’s a music producer in Nashville, USA, who is learning more than he wants to know about the game on this side of the Atlantic - and the people who watch it.
James Childs recently retweeted one such message with the comment: “In which I am yet again mistaken for a widely despised referee in a British rugby league.”
If you are going to hurl abuse at someone it’s probably more effective if you identify the correct target – and are able to get his name right.
Child (no s) is one of the most talked about individuals in rugby league and has hit the headlines on numerous occasions this season.
At times his handling of games can be hugely frustrating and he seems to attract controversy whenever he takes to the field.
But Child is often a victim of his own reputation. Last week, for example, he made a perfectly good job of handling St Helens’ win at Salford, but still came in for some frightful abuse. He may deserve criticism at times, but not that level of vitriol – and on occasions this year he has actually refereed pretty well.
Rangi Chase (Widnes Vikings)
Chase can do things with a rugby ball other players wouldn’t dream of attempting, but he is also his own worst enemy and may have burned his final bridge this season.
He began on a wave of optimism, having returned to Castleford Tigers last year and done well enough to earn a new longer-term contract, but things quickly went wrong; he was dropped for a disciplinary breach and shipped off to Widnes.
Again, Chase started well, but in August, came the news the former England half-back had been suspended after testing positive for cocaine.
The full implications are not yet known, but at 31 it’s doubtful he will step on to a Super League field in future, which is a terrible waste of a remarkable talent.
Liam Finn (Wakefield Trinity)
The Ireland international half-back is a fantastic rags to riches story. Finn played in Super League for Halifax and Wakefield from 2002-2004, but then spent a decade outside the big time before stepping back up with Castleford Tigers.
He has had an outstanding year for Wakefield and typifies the qualities which have transformed the fortunes of that particular club, from a team of no-hopers to a respected side who can compete with the best in the game.
Evan Hawksworth (Stanley Rangers under-14s)/Adam Cooper (Culcheth Eagles)
Rugby league is a tough sport, at any level. Evan died after suffering a head injury in a game against Batley Boys in July.The same month, Adam – a 31-year-old father of three – passed away after collapsing during a match at Runcorn.
Both deaths were an almost unimaginable tragedy and were deeply felt by everyone associated with the sport. The dignity of those directly affected and the response of the wider rugby league community was deeply moving and highlighted how the game pulls together in times of need.