There was a general sense of disappointment as the play offs kicked off last week, a number of one sided games really took the excitement off the start of the end of the season. It all started with Huddersfield being humiliated by Warrington on Friday night. As well as Warrington have been playing and as in-different as Huddersfield have turned out recently it was rather an embarrassing score line for the Giants. There was hope there’d be a bit more fight in them but clearly not.
This was then followed on Saturday by a 50 point margin in France as Hull KR visited. This is a Hull KR team who had won there just two weeks previously and looked to be in a good run of form after following that game up against Castleford, yet the outcome gave the feeling that KR had left themselves spent in their efforts to sure up the last play off place.
Sunday seemed to bring more joy with a Saints 26 – 18 victory away to Wigan but a 42 – 10 for Leeds over Hull was hardly a close scoreline, from teams you would expect to be more evenly matched. Although Leeds certainly look to be gaining some momentum.
This contrasted with some great games in the NRL play offs for those who were able to watch them early on – although that said the NRL play offs are into their second week, maybe the Super League will follow in being much closer this weekend.
As with everything in Rugby League though these one sided games pointed to doom and gloom and decay of the sport. The league is getting ridiculous, the gulf is too big between the few big teams and the little teams who just scrape a play off place. It should only be 6 teams, no it should only be 4. There were all sorts of accusations but rewind to earlier in the season and it was such a different story. Quins were storming, Cas doing well and fans and critics a like were pointing to the most competitive season ever, the joy of watching a competition where any team is capable of beating the other. Inevitably that has altered over the season, smaller teams and squads have understandably struggled to remain in top gear and finish in the play off places. But is this time for despair? Are there wholesale changes to make? I don’t think so, some teams simply ran out of steam – Huddersfield haven’t been on fire for a good while now and let themselves down hopelessly, Hull KR appear to have burnt themselves out just making the play offs, but these were just two of the games. I think that they were the only games on Friday and Saturday made things seem worse than they are. Still we shall see how the second round of play offs pans out.
Greatest team ever?
One of the big bold statements I read over the weekend was during the Warrington Huddersfield game when it was bravely stated on twitter that Warrington are probably the best team ever to grace a pitch. Now I had to check with the tweeter who said they were the best team he’d ever seen which given his age pretty much equates to the best Super League team ever, so that ruled out the team of the late 80s I grew up watching at Widnes and the great Wigan teams of the 90’s. And he did mean in a 13 lining up against 13 manner, certainly not in a game changing legacy way. So are they the best team to line up on a Super League pitch? I asked the question on Facebook and somebody rightly said lets ask it again after the Grand Final, which I fully intend to do. In the meantime though I’d like to get some suggestions as to who might contend the current Warrington line up? Personally there are a few great teams that spring to mind, St Helens of the late 90’s early 2000’s, Bradford of the era following that or the Leeds team that followed them. But I’d welcome your suggestions as to who you think is the best team of the Super League era.
I also managed to catch the championship play offs last night, a competition I’ve not seen too much of this season despite being a Widnes fan. A great win for Sheffield, a team I’ve always had an affinity for and admired even more since hearing some of the work that goes on at the club in an early episode of the talking points podcast. It was a great win for them to take them to the Championship Grand Final where they will be huge under dogs to a great Featherstone team. But what struck me was the quality of the coverage. Sheffield’s first try consisted of a great running line from Sam Scott to cross the line. But I’d looked away and the reply of the try seems to have been filmed by somebody sat in the first row near the corner flag, when what we needed was a wide shot to see how the run had cut open the Leigh defence. I’m told the Championship coverage has been full of bad camera angles like this all season – really? This is Sky not some tin pot ITV sports coverage, I expected better.
As ever though onto this weekends fixtures – my prediction average of 50% from last week should hopefully be at least equalled.
Huddersfield v Leeds – I’ll start by covering my ass and saying both games are difficult to pick this week. Momentum is always a valuable thing to have coming into the play offs and it is certainly with Leeds here. Huddersfield have failed to look convincing against strong opposition for a long time and Leeds seem to be hitting a good stride and run of form. I’ll back the Rhinos here, maybe not the humiliation the Giants had last week but I expect to say goodbye to them by the end of the night.
Wigan v Catalan – Possibly one of the most difficult predictions. Wigan appear to be suffering massively since winning the Challenge cup, before hand they looked solid, almost un beatable and since they appear to be struggling. Catalan have generally good form and pose a serious threat, especially having turned Wigan over both home and away this season. I’m going to plump for a Wigan win but they really need to up their game – if I was putting money down though Catalan would be a great bet, no doubt with longer odds, they are more than capable of advancing to the next round.
The club call
Warrington face a hugely tough decision this weekend and will no doubt be watching both games carefully. If Wigan scrape through a game against Catalan it would be hugely tempting to pick them and try and secure a victory before they can get another win and some confidence but picking a team as dangerous as Wigan is always going to be risky. Catalan on the other hand would present a more favourable and obvious option but they have taken some big scalps this season, including a win away at Warrington early in the season, and a victory against Wigan would be a huge boost for them.
From the other game Huddersfield would seem the favourable option having been humiliated already, but playing a team twice in the playoffs just seems strange and risky and there is a real danger of complacency after such a hammering last time out. Leeds though have proved how well they can get themselves up for a big game, giving a great account of themselves in the challenge cup final and playing well coming into the playoffs.
I think the most likely call will be to pick the winner of the Huddersfield Leeds game, but there won’t be an easy game at the semi final stage.