Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Why we can't forget Workington

Workington will go down in New Zealand league infamy.

The small Cumbrian town played host to one of the biggest shocks in Kiwis history last Saturday (NZT), as an unfancied and unfamiliar Scottish team drew 18-18 with the team ranked No1 in global league.

Even though the Kiwis have made the Four Nations final, thanks to England's loss on Monday, the events in Workington can't - and shouldn't - be forgotten.

Time will tell if it was a one-off nightmare on a difficult evening, or evidence of deeper problem within this Kiwis camp. The facts are New Zealand was outplayed, out-enthused and out-coached.

The match will sit alongside other Kiwis calamities, like the 1986 loss to Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby (PNG's first major scalp) or the 1995 draw with France in Palmerston North.

But perhaps Workington was the worst, as both the examples above featured opposition with more league pedigree than Scotland.

Last Saturday produced a shock result, in an unlikely venue. The coastal town is as isolated as you can get in English league; there are no direct trains from the main metropolitian centres, and one fan from Leeds had taken two days to arrive, due to the paucity of bus connections. It's 540 kilometres from London, 209km from Edinburgh and a long way from the league hubs of Leeds (233km) and Hull (300km).

It's small (population 25,000 approx), and quaint. The local paper's front page on match day proclaimed "Restaurant plans for town centre", speculating that `Nandos' or Domino's pizza chain may be arriving in Workington

`Worky' was once a league stronghold, and their 1951 Challenge Cup win brought the whole county to a standstill. But Derwent Park hasn't changed much since then.

The carpark was a bare patch of muddy ground, the media area was crammed inside a small boardroom and VIPS and officials were entertained in a clubrooms area that was smaller than many Auckland suburban league clubs. But the hospitality was delightful - as homemade soup and pies were brought it for the journalists - and the local passion for league was epitomized by the dozens of locals who had given their free time painting and sprucing up the ground in the weeks preceding the clash.

But it wasn't an ideal venue.

The field is surrounded by a speedway track, which makes it difficult to maintain the playing surface to the expected standard. The field was uneven, and one corner of the in-goal rose sharply.

Both sets of coaches sat in the back rows of the grandstands, with punters in front of them able to turn, make comments and take photos, and the dressing rooms were dreadfully cramped.

But it's become a second home for Scotland, who are now unbeaten in four matches there since 2013.

And the Kiwis of yesteryear, who had to contend with a boggy Carlaw Park in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s would have had little sympathy for the Kiwis' struggles on Saturday.

The ground and conditions may have affected the accuracy and execution, but can't be used to explain the lack of application.

And that is the most troubling memory of Workington.

Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand league since 1981

- NZ Herald

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