A player familiar to many for his involvement in Oxford Rugby Union in recent times, winger Sean Morris has achieved acclaim this season for his role in new Rugby League outfit Oxford Inspires. The Inspires, competing in the third tier of professional Rugby League, have won two of their first three games, with Morris proving himself to be an important figure particularly in the 18-16 victory at Oldham last Sunday.
Switching codes has only been a recent concept for Morris, for whom Oxford RL fitted his circumstances perfectly. He played his first game just a few weeks ago for Oxford. “I’ve had a disrupted Rugby Union season with a lot of injuries, and I was looking at a summer where I was itching to play but didn’t have a team.”
Despite sitting third in the race to be Championship One Player of the Year, Sean is quick to acknowledge the huge steps he still needs to take. “The basics are the same, but the team is doing a good job of looking after me and making sure I know what to do. I’m still learning some of the rules and the nuances of the game, so the support has been really important.”
In their inaugural season, Oxford were always going to have unique difficulties entering an established tier such as the Co-operative Championship One. “We are a new team, but we have made some good progress against much more experienced opposition, who have been playing together for a number of years and know each other much more. The team is starting to gel really nicely.” A hard fought victory last week confirmed this team unity.
With some encouraging performances as well as results in the opening weeks, Morris’ eyes are set firmly above their current position than below. “It’s our first season so we were not expecting much, but we have made a strong start. There is a bit of a feeling around the club we could possibly push for promotion.” For Sean, the foundations have been laid for suc- cess. “We definitely have the players and the set up, it’s just whether we can get everything right on the match days and push forward.”
The Board of Directors have made it clear that a mix of local players and experienced Northerners would be used at the club. “The heart of the team has come down from up north, and there is a whole bunch of them that have a serious amount of experience. For us guys who have played for less time here, they’ve been really helpful. There are about fifteen players with some serious Rugby League background. They’re invaluable to the team.”
Oxford were knocked out of the Challenge Cup in their first match, losing to Rugby League giants Halifax 54-12. However, this result still gave the Inspires confidence in their abilities. “It was a great experience for the club and definitely a challenge. It wasn’t as big a mismatch as people were expecting. They weren’t embarrassed by any means, and they stood up and were counted. They put in a good performance against a Rugby League heartland.”
Oxford’s first game at Iffley was a narrow 22- 20 defeat to South Wales, but the response from locals to this new venture meant the game was a cause of celebration for the management in
particular. “It’s a new franchise so it’s going to take a while for the crowds to pick up, but I was pleasantly surprised. Considering it was the first game for professional Rugby League in Oxford, the crowd was pretty good and hopefully that will be something that will build throughout the season.” Anticipation is certainly build- ing for Sunday’s home match against Hemel Stags, especially because Oxford University students will be able available to watch the game at Iffley Road. “It will be a fantastic occasion. They are running an offer for students to get a free cider with entry, so hopefully we will end up with a fun day and lots of students coming down and getting their free drink. It will be a good atmosphere with some sunshine.”
If they can continue to produce the performances they have achieved so far this season, Oxford Inspires will be a fantastic addition to the Oxford sporting landscape. Morris shows the opportunity for the club to tap into the potential of a Rugby Union dominated area, and perhaps add more to their ranks from the University.