Five things: Catalans crow, wing wizards and Walsh woe
John Davidson takes a look at the Dragons’ mauling of Wigan, the rise and rise of Tommy Makinson and the evolution of the winger.
1. Catalans and Carney kings
It’s taken some time – round 15 to be exact – but the Dragons have finally arrived. Catalans 42-point pasting of Wigan shows the French club are real contenders for Super League this year, as long as Todd Carney stays fit. The Dragons have long been the Jekyll and Hyde of the competition and 2015 has been no different.
Tough at home, poor away, they’ve won seven games and lost eight. Crucially, all of their victories have come at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, except for their 40-4 defeat of Wakefield in April. Even more crucially, Carney has played just six of those 15 games because of different injuries. If they can keep the former Cronulla half on the park, and improve their away form, they can beat anyone.
Carney is building a strong combination with fellow Aussie Scott Dureau, and back-rower Zeb Taia is in sensational form. They’ve backed up their defeat of St Helens by delivering Wigan’s biggest losing margin in a decade, two of the best sides around. If they have their first-choice 17 available there is an abundance of talent. With a bruising forward park and match-winners like Morgan Escare and Wille Tonga in tow, the sky’s the limit.
2. Magic Makinson
Tommy Makinson is one of the unsung heroes in the St Helens team. He doesn’t get the plaudits of some of his more heralded team-mates, but he should. This season Makinson has scored 10 tries, including some amazing solo efforts. That puts him eighth in all of Super League and just one behind fellow Saint Jordan Turner.
Quick and elusive, Makinson is a devastating ball-runner at times and an explosive finisher. Versatile as well, the 23-year old can play at fullback, in the centres or on the flank, can kick goals and is also safe under the high ball.
He’s played for the England Knights two years ago and surely he is a chance for the full England team at the end of this year. Already Makinson has racked up more than 100 appearances in Super League and his best looks yet to come.
3. Unlucky Luke Walsh
Makinson might not be one of St Helens big’ names but Luke Walsh certainly is. Huge things were expected of the little Aussie who arrived from the NRL 18 months ago amid much fanfare. And in flashes, the 28-year old has certainly delivered. He’s a brilliant kicker, an excellent passer and directs his team around the field with precision.
But Walsh has played just five games this year, and 16 in the last Super League campaign, because of injury. That’s a total of 24 matches he has missed so far thanks to ankle issues and a horrible broken leg. The small scrum-half wasn’t fit for St Helens grand final win over Wigan and has barely been cited in 2015.
Walsh signed a two-year deal from Penrith with an option for a third year. It will be interesting to see if Saints keep him on next year. Undeniably he’s a quality player, but are they getting value for money when he’s missed more games than he’s played? St Helens have managed well without him, though that’s become much tougher without both Jonny Lomax and Lance Hohaia. They beat Hull FC on Friday with young Lewis Charnock partnering Travis Burns.
Should Saints go for a more durable half for 2016 or persist with Walsh? It’s an important decision ahead for Kieron Cunningham.
4. The wonder wingers
Gene Ormsby’s hat-trick on Friday night against Salford, especially his acrobatic score for his third and final try, shows the dynamism of modern-day wingers.
Not long beasts the size of Manu Vatuvei and Lesley Vainikolo were all the rage.
Sure, lots of clubs still have giants out on the wing, like the Warriors with Vatuvei, Widnes with Patrick Ah Van and Castleford with the ‘tank’ Justin Carney.
But the 21st century wing has must have brilliant reflexes and be able to contort themselves into unusual positions to get the ball down under immense pressure.
They have to be flexible, fast and entertaining. Ormsby’s flying dive was a highlight. But there is quite a few freakish finishers getting around Super League.
We’ve already mentioned Tom Makinson, but there’s also Wigan trio Joe Burgess, Dom Manfredi and Josh Charnley, Catalan’s Michael Oldfield, Ken Sio, Ryan Hall, Tom Lineham, Josh Mantellato, Ben Jones-Bishop, Joel Monaghan and Jermaine McGillvary.
We are quite blessed with some special try-scorers these days. So don’t too overawed by jumping Gene’s jewell, we’re sure to see plenty more like it before the end of this season.
5. Webster’s exit
There was an inevitable look to James Webster following Wakefield’s collapse to Leigh in the Challenge Cup. The Wildcats coach appeared in the post-match TV interview as though his time at Belle Vue was over, and they indeed it was with his resignation just a few days later. It seems most Wakey fans were happy to see the back of Webster, perhaps understandably, but it’s hard not to feel for the young coach.
Formerly an assistant under Richard Agar, Webster did a great job last year after being appointed. He kept Wakefield up and they took some impressive scalps in 2014. This year they surprised with two early wins but have followed that with a string of losses. They’ve had to contend with a terrible injury count but Webster hasn’t been able to bring in sufficient reinforcements or promote youngsters from the Under-19s.
Wakefield are the poorest club in the competition and their ordinary recruitment has come back to bite them. They just don’t have cattle to compete with the best.
But the Wildcats squad has to take a lot of the blame for Webster’s axing, as they have done in the media this week, as their performances have been lacklustre.
Defensively they have been abysmal, and it’s not the Sydneysider missing 40 or more tackles each weekend. Webster’s inexperience may have caught up with him, but I have always found the red-headed former halfback an intelligent, articulate forward-thinking coach. At 35 I expect him to bounce back and hopefully pop up with another job in rugby league soon.