Rotherham in South Yorkshire has emerged as another outpost of X-League in 2024.
Inspired after attending Sheffield Forgers’ winter Monday night X-League sessions, Chris Clayton and Kieran Gwynette decided to set up something similar in their hometown.
Walking Rugby was the the gateway drug to X-League for the pair, who have found that the sport offers something a little more energetic that is still accessible for older players.
Clayton, 59, first played rugby league in Rotherham in the mid-1990s. He remembers playing rugby union on a Saturday before turning out on a Sunday morning under a pseudonym for teams like the Rotherham Rangers in the 13-a-side code.
Thankfully, certain areas of society have now moved on enough for him to be able to play this variant of the Greatest Game under his own name.
“Kieran sent me a WhatsApp about Forgers X-League and I had no idea what it was!” said Clayton.
“It seemed like a really exciting form of rugby league that would suit somebody who is not in the prime of their rugby league years.”
The pair were inspired to set up their own X-League sessions under the name of the Nomads. These sessions are now running at Parkgate Astro in Rotherham on Mondays at 8pm.
For Gwynette, playing X-League opened a new perspective on his abilities as a player, as well as adding more richness to his social life.
X-League closed a gap for him that Walking Rugby was not quite filling. He had previous rugby league experience, albeit 25 years ago.
“X-League was discovered via a Facebook post after a conversation between Chris and myself,” he explained.
“We were saying that the Walking Rugby we participated in at Wath RUFC wasn’t fulfilling us as much as it did when we first attended.
“Chris found the Forgers and loved how the group welcomed him and how great he felt after playing.
“It was great seeing the positive impact on Chris so I attended.”
Despite initial anxieties, Gwynette feels that he has blossomed into new areas since playing this variant of rugby league.
“I generally struggle in groups and shy away from being at the front of things,” he added.
“X-League in Rotherham has forced me to step forward and take charge of certain things.
“It’s allowed me to play in the way I want to in attack without the limit of pigeonhole positional expectations.
“It’s helping me to get over the mental blocks I had put on myself with the fear of being too old and broken to take the hits.
“I’m not fully there yet but I can’t wait to feel free to play this game with the passion I had in my youth.”
Clayton feels the game is perfect for older players who still enjoy a bit of physicality and competitive spirit.
“I would definitely recommend it!” he said.
“As long as people don’t mind a bit of bump and thump and one or two cuts and grazes. It’s not ultra physical of the kind that will put you in a wheelchair or finish you off, which is not where I wanted to end up!
“But there’s plenty of bump and thump to make you feel alive.”
X League promotions officer Zack Wilson is delighted to see the sport take another step across Yorkshire, which is a significant region for the game’s future progress.
“Chris and Kieran have taken an important step for X-League’s development, as expanding across Yorkshire is key for the future of this variant of rugby league,” he said.
“The next step for any of these players who want to take it further is to participate as Forgers in the summer programme of Grand Prix and Merit League fixtures.
“They can then experience the full range of what X-League offers and I look forward to seeing as many of them as possible play in Forgers’ purple and gold once the sunshine arrives.”
Clayton feels optimistic about the future of X-League in South Yorkshire, and hopes one day that Rotherham Nomads can join the ranks of X-League clubs in their own right.
“We’re looking to expand X-League into Rotherham and that side of Sheffield,” he said.
“But also, we want to support the Forgers in the Merit Table and the festivals that we can get involved with.
“Longer term, I’d like the Nomads to be a standalone X-League side.”
The Nomads currently run Monday night X-League sessions at Parkgate Astro at 8pm until 9pm.