13 conclusions from the weekend’s rugby league: Mark Aston’s brilliance, Leigh’s play-off push

Aaron Bower

It’s been another blockbuster weekend of rugby league across all levels: not just Super League.

The two finalists for the 1895 Cup were determined, while there were a plethora of big storylines and talking points across the divisions. Here’s Love Rugby League’s weekend debrief with 13 conclusions we learned from the action over the past few days..

George Williams is Super League’s best player

For now, at least. The England captain has long been one of the most important players in Super League but there’s surely an argument that he’s the standout man in the competition right now.

Williams was at his brilliant best on Thursday night as Warrington beat Hull KR to continue their magnificent start to life under Sam Burgess. Is there anyone better than him right now?

Salford’s squad depth could be their undoing

Paul Rowley
Salford Red Devils head coach Paul Rowley

While there’s been much made of the amazing position the league table found itself in last week, with six teams level on the top, it is easy to forget there’s a couple of teams lingering just outside the play-off places.

Granted, Leeds are in a bit of a rut right now, and Huddersfield have hit patchy form of late. But for a club like Salford, who may be in a battle for a play-off spot right until the very end, you wonder how influential the size of their squad could be.

Without a number of key players on Friday, they were well-beaten at Leigh. While some clubs can handle losing a few bodies, Salford really can’t. Could it cost them in the long run?

Rohan Smith: under pressure

Leeds are certainly doing it tough with injuries as things stand, and they’re really in a tricky spot.

But the manner of their defeat in Perpignan was.. well, flat. And not really befitting of what Rhinos supporters come to expect from their side. It begs the question: is Smith actually under pressure at Headingley? Or is there belief he can deliver the long-term vision at Headingley?

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Leigh can’t be written out of the play-off push

Josh Charnley Leigh Leopards Alamy
Leigh Leopards winger Josh Charnley celebrating a try in 2024

Okay, they’re still seven points off the play-offs. But Leigh have a game in hand and right now, they’re quietly starting to pick up some form, too.

In recent weeks, the Leopards have hammered Catalans and now Salford, with Adrian Lam’s side at their best on Friday night. With key players returning and form picking up, there is still a huge chance Leigh could muscle their way into the play-off race. There’s a lot of rugby still to be played..

St Helens – underperforming, or undeserved criticism?

There’s a real conflict of interest among St Helens supporters right now regarding the state of their season, you feel.

Yes, they’re out of the Challenge Cup, but they’re also joint-top of Super League as we approach the halfway mark in the season. For all the critics over their attack, only reigning champions Wigan have scored more than they have.

Are people overreacting about how off it the Saints are? Or are they genuinely underperforming?

We need to be patient with the WSL

While the women’s game has made some incredible strides in recent seasons, there is – as anyone would admit – still lots of work to do to bridge the gap between the best and the rest.

That was underlined on Saturday afternoon when Wigan racked up over a century against a Huddersfield side still making their way as a women’s outfit. Hopefully, scorelines like those become much less common in the years ahead – and there were two thoroughly entertaining games on Sunday between Warrington and Barrow, plus York versus Leeds.

It shows that over time, things will improve.

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London will win more games in 2024

Mike Eccles London Broncos Alamy
London Broncos head coach Mike Eccles

At the 11th attempt, London Broncos are back in the winner’s circle in Super League. It’s been almost five years since they won a top-flight game but nobody could argue with the result when they overcame Hull FC on Sunday.

As Mike Eccles pointed out post-match, had they got the monkey off their back earlier in the season – probably in that Round 3 clash at Hull – they may have been in a much better place. But with that now gone, London can look ahead and play with freedom, knowing they won’t end winless. They’ll surely get at least one more scalp.

Mark Aston is one of rugby league’s most important coaches

Okay, he may not have won Grand Finals or Challenge Cups. But for well over two decades, the job Aston has had to do at Sheffield Eagles has been extraordinary.

Time and time again, he has had to rebuild the Eagles. Financial crises, countless stadium moves and so much more drama – but the Eagles are going back to Wembley next month after beating York in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup.

He is one of rugby league’s great characters: and one of the most important people the sport has arguably ever known.

Hull FC’s season isn’t over

There had been suggestions in some quarters that Hull FC’s season was done and dusted by the end of April. Out of the Challenge Cup and way adrift of the play-off places, there was a feeling Hull had nothing left to play for in 2024.

However, the Black and Whites do: they’re now firmly locked in a battle to avoid finishing bottom of Super League. Some thought London wouldn’t win a single game, meaning they would be nailed-on to finish bottom.

While relegation isn’t at stake, there’s still almighty humiliation to be avoided for a Hull side who may not yet have reached their nadir.

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Simon Grix’s audition has taken a hit

There had been positive shoots in Simon Grix’s first couple of weeks as Hull coach. Bags of effort and major strides forward in that bracket, particularly in their defeat to Leeds a fortnight ago.

But if this is an extended audition for Grix to land the Hull job on a full-time basis, his chances took an enormous hit here. The manner of their defeat in London was, quite frankly, embarrassing. The Hull hierarchy certainly won’t have been impressed.

Cornwall keep fighting

They’re hundreds of miles away from the heartlands, and even more away from the sport’s elite in a hypothetical sense.

But – and this is to their immense credit – Cornwall are continuing to build for a future in the south of England. Their efforts were underlined with a rare win, as they produced a fantastic late comeback to win at Midlands Hurricanes.

It’s been a tough start to life as a rugby league club for Cornwall – but their determination is to be admired.

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Wembley Wa(ke)y

Wakefield Trinity
Wakefield Trinity celebrate a try in 2024

It’s been a long time between drinks for Wakefield Trinity but after 45 years, they’re heading back to Wembley Stadium next month.

Trinity were much too strong for Bradford Bulls in their 1895 Cup semi-final at Odsal Stadium to book their place in the final and we reckon that the RFL will be just as thrilled as Wakefield supporters. The cup final gate will be significantly boosted by the presence of Trinity on finals day – but there’s surely still an argument for it to take place as the curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup final, no?

It would make it a much more memorable occasion for everyone.

Castleford v Hull in a fortnight is huge

Not in terms of the play-offs. Not in terms of relegation. But in terms of the pressure surrounding the long-term vision and pressure of both clubs.

They each have a fortnight to prep themselves for it. The loser is immediately thrust into a battle to avoid finishing bottom with London – if they both aren’t already. It promises to be a nerve-shredding night between two teams coming into the game off the back of horrendous defeats. Strap yourselves in..

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