The old cliche “anyone can beat anyone in this league” is probably still true in Super League XV – Castleford’s early season defeat of Leeds, and Salford’s surprise win over Huddersfield over Easter, being just two examples – but we are also increasingly seeing the return of the old fashioned “thumping”.
Over the last two rounds alone, we have seen a 48-6 win for Huddersfield over Catalans, a 32-2 triumph for Warrington over Salford (both in round 9), a 52-18 thrashing of Castleford by the Saints, a 54-14 hammering inflicted by Wigan on Wakefield, and a 52-12 thumping of Harlequins by Hull KR (all in round 10). In fact, so far this season teams have won by a margin of 30 points or more on no less than 15 occasions (out of a total of 69 games) – that’s more than half the number in the whole of last season.
Unsurprisingly the current top 4 clubs – Wigan, Warrington, St Helens and Huddersfield – share the most wins by a margin of 30 points or more; each with three. It also comes as no surprise that the bottom two teams – Harlequins and Catalans – share the most losses by at least a 30 point deficit; each also with three.
Over the last few seasons we have grown to expect close, often low scoring encounters across the league, with only the odd “cricket score” thrown in. So why are we now seeing the return of games that are effectively over by half time?
Perhaps the winning teams are more determined than ever to “not take their feet off the gas”; finding a new ruthless streak that wasn’t quite there before. Or perhaps the losing teams effectively give up as they see their task of getting back into the match as an ever steeper hill that cannot be climbed.
Maybe fitness is an issue, with the fitter team taking control as the game wears on. Or maybe teams with the fiercest defenses are more able to create a platform from which to attack. Or perhaps teams are now more attack orientated, with better kicking games and faster players to exploit defensive lapses.
Well whatever the reason, it looks like one-sided games are back for good, meaning that many of Super League’s most respected coaches have got their work cut out.
It must be embarrassing for them to face the media after suffering big losses, and I suspect those with hair are pulling it out, as they try and pick their teams back up – physically, mentally and tactically – in readiness for the following week’s encounters. Being on the wrong end of a hammering isn’t necessarily a disaster – a good team is one that can turn the disappointment of a heavy defeat one week, into the joy and relief of a win the next …but I imagine that’s easier said than done.