Coaching staff and players were particularly vocal this week in Super League after a double round being played over the Spring Bank Holiday.
This time round, I thought I’d look at the statistics brought up by Opta to see if they have a point.
Firstly I was interested to look at the number of players that backed up over weekend. Each round 204 players don the jerseys of their respective teams, but after Huddersfield Giants’ controversial decision to rearrange their tie with St Helens, that left a mere 170 names to check. Rather than going through all teams, I decided to look mainly at two.
At random I chose Castleford and Leigh, but I also looked at the number of players used by Wigan, Wakefield, Salford and Catalans. Of these the least players used was Leigh Centurions (19) who included Antoni Maria in their line-up for the first time since early on in the season.
On Friday, Leigh went to Hull and won their first ever away game in Super League. The game included the surprise selection of Cory Paterson at centre. Cory has had plenty of injury concerns this season and interestingly he was back in a more accustomed second row spot on Monday.
On loan Ben Crooks missed the game on Friday and played on Monday with Dayne Weston and veteran Harrison Hansen the two players making way.
On Friday the key to Leigh’s victory was the work of their forwards. I know you could equate this to most performances of a rugby league team but hear me out. Leigh spread the work amongst their forwards.
Danny Tickle was a clear stand out at the KCOM, perhaps unsurprisingly as a former Hull player. He made 28 tackles and 17 carries for 124 metres. All Leigh’s other forwards varied in carries from 10 (Dayne Weston, Sam Hopkins) right through to 15 and 16 (Jamie Acton and Glenn Stewart).
Even the aforementioned Paterson made 13 carries. If I now compare this to Hull forwards – although there were big efforts ball in hand from Mark Minichiello (14 carries) and Chris Green (12 carries) you also saw the usually influential Liam Watts only run the ball nine times, Sika Manu made just seven carries and Danny Washbrook six.
To be fair Leigh did make the middle forwards do an awful lot of work in defence and maybe this was the key. Danny Houghton made 59 tackles, Watts 45, Chris Green 39 with Washbrook (37) and Josh Bowden (30) also getting to thirty tackles.
Flipping over to Monday and the visit of league leaders Castleford, there was little between the teams in the first twenty minutes. Next came half an hour of fast, skilled, clinical rugby and then a committed last half hour as Leigh tried to stop the Tigers amassing a huge score. To be fair Leigh did lack an edge.
I’ve already mentioned Jesse Sene-Lafao in my musings and he was brilliant again – two tries, 188 metres, 30 tackles. Junior Moors also made 24 carries for 204 metres. Both were absolutely first class.
Leigh lost Stewart to concussion early on and Sam Hopkins and Danny Tickle led the way with over forty tackles each. There were quiet games for Jamie Acton (nine carries) and Atelea Vea (nine carries) which in the case of both suggests Friday did take it out of them.
Let me concentrate on Cas a little more. I mentioned Junior Moors (above) being outstanding and he was one of three changes made by Daryl Powell for the Monday game. No wonder Paul McShane gave him so many passes! Moors has been a wrecking ball all season and with rest and just one game he was perhaps even more effective than normal.
Jake Webster was the second player drafted in and he caused similar havoc wide out, making 138 metres and scoring a try. Larroyer was on debut for the Tigers and got stuck in. Whilst quiet with the ball, his 22 tackle spell helped Cas to keep a clean sheet.
The Tigers are a great side to watch. Seven players ran for over 100 metres with three others making over 80. Against Widnes on Friday five Tigers made 100 metres or more with three running 80 or more. Looking at the list I would presume some forwards played less minutes in an effort to keep them fresh.
I want to highlight Nathan Massey and Adam Milner here. Against Widnes, Massey made nine carries and 19 tackles whilst in the same game Milner made seven carries and 29 tackles. On Monday Massey ran for 15 carries (including 115 metres) and made 33 tackles, while Milner also made 13 carries although his tackle count was pretty similar.
Overall Castleford used 20 players with 14 backing up. The impressive Salford juggernaut continued with a 50-12 success over Catalan and an impressive 38-12 win at Warrington. The Red Devils used 22 players with 13 backing up.
Catalan themselves used 20 players over the weekend with 14 backing up. Wakefield used 21 players with 13 backing up, although worryingly for them they have since revealed three big injuries to Adam Walker, Jacob Miller and Tinirau Arona.
Wigan also used 20 players over the weekend but have they uncovered yet another star? Debutant centre James Worthington scored two tries in their 42-30 defeat to Wakefield Trinity while Tom Davies and Liam Farrell continued their good form despite the loss.
I guess looking at things in isolation doesn’t paint a full picture although there are certainly trends and nuances that point to some teams coping better with a double fixture list than others. This year is unusual in the fact that there is a World Cup and changes were made to accommodate a training camp that never took place.
I do feel that the game needs to look at this issue. Coaches and players are correct there are lots of games in a short period of time and is this doing more harm than good? Let’s hope the RFL conduct a full review.