Enjoy the play-offs

Having missed out on the Super League play-offs in the last two years it looks as though Wigan Warriors are anxious to make the most of this opportunity, as exemplified by the 31-30 comeback win over Bradford Bulls last Friday night.

A club that in recent times has been a shadow of its former self is now being talked about realistically as potential engage Super League champions. Okay, the Warriors will have a tough job making it past Hull FC, Leeds Rhinos and St Helens; but you never know how things might work out.

We will have a better idea of Wigan’s credentials after Saturday’s game with Hull. A big win for the Warriors would be the boost they need to go all the way; a narrow win might leave us thinking that Saints and Leeds still have the edge; and, of course, a defeat would mean the end of the road.

Hull are more than capable of winning this one. Despite a poor season (by their own fans’ admission) they have been able to cement their place in the upper echelons of the league. Saturday’s win over a tough Huddersfield side will have given them confidence.

Friday night’s Saints-Leeds game will also be a strong indicator of who will claim the Super League crown, not least because the winner goes straight to Old Trafford. St Helens have been the best team so far, but Leeds have proved something of a bogey team for the Knowsley Road side.

It could be that Saints are due a win against their Yorkshire opponents, or that the memory of previous defeats will prove too big a handicap. The Rhinos will certainly be well aware they are capable of beating St Helens; that can only be an advantage.

One thing that might be hard to stomach for traditionalists would be having Wigan as “champions” when the Warriors finished halfway down the league. For many the real champions are the side that finished top after the regular season, and the play-offs are pointless.

Of course history is on the side of the play-offs: such a system was first devised over 100 years ago, which negates arguments about it not being traditional. Besides, to contemplate scrapping any rugby league event which can sell out Old Trafford is perhaps not the smartest thing to do.

That said I would like to see greater credit given for the “League Leaders”. But for now it’s the play-offs that matter; I’m just going to sit back and enjoy them, and whichever side wins them can afford to be pleased with themselves.

[b]The power of hype[/b]

Of course the sitting back and enjoying might not be so easy while I’m at university without a TV. I had to miss Friday night’s game because there were a crowd of people in the bar watching England playing somebody in the Rugby [Union] World Cup.

I managed to persuade the bar staff to screen the Hull-Huddersfield game, but I was the only one watching it. One fellow student walked over and asked “is this league or union?” When I replied “league” he walked off again. I take it this individual was not a hardcore union fan otherwise he surely would have been able to tell for himself.

That is just the power of hype. All because of this world cup suddenly rugby union is the big thing. I wonder whether this individual has ever been to a rugby match in his life, but he “knows” that union is best. It would be pleasing to see our Rugby World Cup have a similar effect.

[b]European expansion?[/b]

An interesting fixture coming up will be when Malta take on Portugal next month. This game could easily be talked down what with it being played in Sydney and a reliance on Australian players, but these things have to start somewhere. Hopefully the growth of league across Europe will continue.

The idea, as I see it, is that Portugal will start out as a team of Aussies playing in Sydney. From there they’ll move to Portugal and play a few games, generating interest among genuine Portuguese people. Then some Portuguese people will take up the game and begin playing for Portugal, and given time a small-scale Portuguese league can be established.

This will grow until RL in Portugal is on a par with, say, Russia now. You might say this isn’t likely to work, or that it will take forever even if it does. But I can’t help but think that this approach stands a better chance of success than setting up a Super League franchise in Lisbon.

[b]Keep Your Eye On Rugby League[/b]

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