1. Bulls charge
Bradford have turned it on on Sunday to defeat Salford by a whopping 31 points. The Bulls put 41 on the Red Devils to completely dominate them at home, the first Championship side to beat Super League opposition in the Qualifiers. It was exactly what the doctor – no, not that one – ordered and has given the whole Super 8s concept a boost. Bradford were below par last weekend against Wakefield but have given their promotion campaign a big shot in the arm against a side that was unbeaten in the first two games of the Super 8s. Full credit to James Lowes and his men.
Salford were shockingly bad, a surprise considering how revitalized and refreshed they looked in the first two weeks. After the game coach Ian Watson described his team’s performance as “an embarrassment for everyone associated with the club”. It was only five weeks ago that they suffered another embarrassment, a 64-point shellacking at the hands of Leeds. The Red Devils picked themselves off the floor after that match to beat Wakefield and Leigh. But this defeat has pulled them back into the chasing pack and a likely million pound game appearance. Salford still have to face Widnes and Hull KR, which will be difficult opposition. One positive is the two-week break that the Red Devils now get before they face Halifax. The video session on Monday reviewing the game should be a doozy.
2. Saints and Wire worries
Tough times also for St Helens and Warrington, with more losses for both roaking up. Saints look a shadow of the team at the moment who did the double last year, while the Wolves have now lost four in a row, including their Challenge Cup defeat. Chris Sandow has struggled since landing in Super League but it was not just him but a a whole host of Warrington players who were down on confidence on Friday night. Wigan did a number on them at home, the first time they had not scored a point at the Halliwell Jones since moving in 11 years ago.
Coach Tony Smith was philosophical after the game: “Fans are fans, supporters are supporters. People who support through the good and the tough times. We’ve had plenty of good times and we’ve had plenty of tough times as well. People unite to make things strong. Flak can be thrown at players, coaches, that’s fine. That’s part of the remit of the job but people who support their team when they’re going through tough times, they’re supporters, that’s why we call them that. We’ve got plenty of good support here too. There’ll be some fans and people on the night of the game that feel embarrassed and they’ve been chanted at by the opposition. It builds emotions and that’s rugby league. Rugby league is an emotional game. Real supporters pull together and come through it, this club’s had plenty of the not-so good times and we’re not down and out just yet.”
Smith, who is sure to come under some criticism, also flagged a shake-up at the club next year in terms of off-field and on-field operations. Several new players are coming in, some current ones will depart, and there may be some changes in the backroom and medical staff as well. Smith mentioned Warrington’s injury count this season, which has been considerable, and it’s his belief that the club must be better at dealing with injuries if they are to challenge for silverware again.
St Helens know all about dealing with injuries and it seems like they have started to catch up with the champions. The loss of Jon Wilkin, such an experienced and classy leader, appears to have hit the hardest, more than Paul Wellens, Luke Walsh or Jonny Lomax. Defending a title is arguably a lot harder than winning one and right now Saints look jaded after an already long season. Tommy Makinson is back, which is a plus, but several St Helens players need to lift their game. They weren’t far behind Huddersfield on Thursday night and losing to Catalans in France is understandable. But the men in red and white will be told that three straight losses is unacceptable. The pressure is on and Saints will be well fired up when they play Leeds in two weeks, which should be a classic encounter. Do they have the motivation to get to Old Trafford again? We’ll find out in the next month, but I wouldn’t write them off just yet.
3. Needless niggle
Leigh against Wakefield on Saturday was thrilling, exciting and a real contest against two desperate sides. Wakey are much improved and Leigh play with invention, innovation and style. It was also filled with niggle and some off the ball dirty play, something that was definitely not needed. Leigh’s discipline has been an issue all season and Saturday was not any different. Wakefield weren’t saints either by any means, but a lot of their stuff was in response to the Centurions’ questionable antics.
We want to see passion, committed players and a bit of fire now and then. Rugby league’s a brutal game and tempers flare. What we don’t want to see is players kneeing each other in the head, continual head pats, slapping or crusher tackles. Michael Sio was sin-binned for a crusher, which in a way was understandable. It’s something we don’t want to see in the sport. But the Leigh player who kneed a Wildcats opponent in the head got off with nothing. James Child lost control of that game and his decision to card Sio, while letting others off, was out of sorts for a game where a lot was ignored or let go. Saturday afternoon on Sky has been enjoyable, a great timeslot. But we need consistency from our referees, who need to lay down the law early if teams infringe. If you give players an inch in a match, they’ll take a mile. Child didn’t do that and things almost got out of hand at the Leigh Sports Village, which was a shame.
4. Vacation for Vatuvei
Manu Vatuvei has joined New Zealand’s growing casualty ward that includes Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai. The cult winger and potent try-scorer will miss the England tour with a shoulder injury. Stephen Kearney’s side has had a rough run with injuries with fellow wingers Jason Nightengale and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak also out for indefinite periods. Centre Dean Whare has a broken thumb and won’t play for his NRL club again this season. The Kiwis will likely go with Peta Hiku and Sosaia Feki as their wingers, but the likes of Sam Perrett, Josh Hoffman, Antonio Winterstein and Jordan Kahu will come into consideration.
New Zealand’s pack is strong with the Bromwich brothers, skipper Simon Mannering, Lewis Brown, Martin Taupau, Kevin Proctor, Jason Taumaolo, Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and Greg Eastwood. In-form Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will also miss the UK series, but the Kiwis should be able to cover for him. New Zealand’s strength in depth is one of the reasons they have been able to beat Australia of late. The Kiwis have always had talent but not great depth away from their first 17. They are being tested at the moment and it will be fascinating to see who Kearney eventually decides to pick. With no Johnson, Isaac Luke, Kieran Foran and the dynamic Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was the keys. The tour may lose a bit of pizzazz without the Golden Boot winner but the injuries should help England’s chances of a series win on home soil.
5. Blazing Ben
Ben Pomeroy got red-carded against Castleford, in his first game back after receiving a red in his last game against St Helens, for a very dangerous tackle. The Catalans centre tried what looked to be a wrestling move as he dumped the Cas player Ashley Gibson on his head. You have to wonder what the Aussie outside back was thinking. Surely it was unintentional but it was crazy WWE stuff and really scary to watch.
It was terrible to see and it was very lucky that Gibson wasn’t seriously hurt like Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon tragically was last year. We’ve had enough tragedies like Danny Jones and James Ackerman in the sport this season. Some would have thought a sin-binning would have sufficed for Pomeroy for his tackle that went astray, but we need to come down hard on this sorts of actions that can seriously hurt players, accidents or not. Their welfare is paramount. Good on Ben Thaler for making the right call. Pomeroy is off-contract at the end of this year and a raft of send offs will surely not help his cause at getting another deal in Perpignan. The ex-Cronulla centre needs to calm down a bit because back-to-back red cards, let alone that kind of body slam, is not a good look.