John Davidson looks at what we learned from the weekend of Super League, which included the retirement of a big name and the emergence of a young talent.
1. Concussions catching
Sadly it’s becoming an all too common occurrence in the modern game – players forced into early retirement because of recurrent concussions and trauma to the head. Michael Monaghan hung up his boots at the end of the year and spoke about his fears after a long career of head knocks. Lance Hohaia departed this season because of “recurrent post-match concussion-type symptoms” while the story of dual coder Shontayne Hape is frightfully scary.
Last week Darrell Goulding was the latest player to call time and at just 27 years of age. After 10 years in Super League, mostly for Wigan, he has retired on medical advice. It’s sad end for a very good player, who won the double with the Warriors in 2013, and scored 78 tries in close to 200 first-grade appearances.
The centre and winger, a Wigan product, is widely respected in the game and at one stage was close to becoming an England regular, winning two caps in 2010.
It’s terrible to see him cut down in the prime of his sporting career, but it’s a strong reminder of the inherent dangers of rugby league. The health of our players, both now and in their retired years, is paramount. We must protect them as much as we can. More respect to those gladiators who play ‘the greatest game of all’ for our viewing entertainment. Here’s hoping Goulding makes a swift and successful transition to a post-footy career and is not lost to the sport entirely.
2. Dwindling Dragons
They almost pulled off an unlikely upset win but Warrington proved to be too strong for Catalans in the end on Friday night. The Dragons’ away hoodoo continues and they looked remarkably lost at the Halliwell Jones Stadium without Todd Carney. In reality the Wolves weren’t at their best, Scott Dureau had an off night and at times the French side was rudderless.
It’s a worrying sight as we come to the back end of the season. Without Carney and Wille Tonga for probably the next two months, the Dragons are going to be up against it. Apart from the class that the two former Origin reps provide, they also give experience and vital leadership. There’s little in the game that this Aussie pair hasn’t seen or experienced before.
Catalans have Hull FC at home next and the Airlie Birds will arrive full of confidence. After that they have Wakefield, Salford and Widnes, definitely winnable games before Huddersfield and Leeds. The Dragons will need to find a way to win without Carney and to add some structure into their play. While they’re an exciting, enthralling prospect when their impromptu offloading game gets going, they still make some basic errors and boneheaded mistakes. Their defence can be brain-dead on occasion. Amazingly Laurent Frayssinous still has his hair, because surely he must be pulling a fair bit out each week.
It was gutting for Catalans to lose Carney but they must get over it and move on, fast. Friday should have been a wake-up call.
3. Black and Gold
Hull FC have turned their season around after an inconsistent start. Always a gritty, defensively orientated team, in the mold of coach Lee Radford, the Black and Whites have started to add some starch to their attack. They have won four of their past five matches, adding the scalp of Widnes they picked up on Thursday to a good derby win at Magic Weekend.
At the moment they are in seventh spot and a place in the finals is the minimum for this ambitious club. Marc Sneyd and Leon Pryce are starting to gel as a halves combination, Jordan Rankin looks at home at fullback and Tom Lineham keeps scoring tries, taking his 2015 tally up to 15. Hull FC has probably the best back-row in the UK and Mark Minichiello has been a handy pick-up, throwing back the years with a hard-working performance every week. Danny Houghton continues to be the underrated heartbeat of this side, making 696 tackles so far in Super League XX, more than any other player in the competition.
The Black and Whites will be tested in the next two weeks when they face a weakened Catalans and Leeds, both away fixtures. After that they have Wakefield, Castleford and another Hull derby. If they can come through the next weeks with at least three wins, and maybe four, they’ll be sitting pretty for the start of the finals.
4. The Simpsons
Jared Simpson, no relation to Bart or Homer. Remember the name because this Huddersfield kid can play. Only 19, the slightly built speedster made his debut against Wigan at fullback. And just four minutes into the match he scored a lovely try, showing some real pace to break a tackle and glide over for a four-pointer out of nothing. It was a try to savour.
The teenager had a decent first game in Super League, was solid under the high ball and didn’t shirk any duties. He’s a small, lithe thing, who looks like he couldn’t be blown down by a strong wind, but don’t let appearances fool you.
Simpson is tough and took several knocks against the physical Warriors and kept getting back to his feet.
Simpson comes from great rugby league stock – his father Roger was a top winger for Bradford in the 1990s and played one game for England. Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson was effusive in his praise for the Moldgreen junior after the Wigan game. “My God he was good,” Anderson said. “He’s shocked a few people around the place. There’s very few people who could have scored that try. He’s a confident kid and he’s got a long way to go.”
Jared Simpson, remember the name. This kid’s got an exciting future in front of him.
5. Battling Broughy
Danny Brough can rub some people up the wrong way but there’s no doubting his talent or passion. He always gives his all and never leaves anything left in the tank when’s out on the pitch. Brough’s known for his creative play and deadeye kicking, but also for his verbal stoushes and run-ins with other players and referees. The Scotland skipper does love a bit of niggle.
On Sunday it was the Brough and James Child show as the stand-off and ref butted heads constantly.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Brough as his side didn’t get a single penalty in the second half, while Wigan got five in a row. The Giants were very poor in the final 40 minutes, but not that bad.
All up the Warriors received 10 penalties and Huddersfield six. Child made some debatable decisions and Brough continued to protest and argue, again and again. It’s his right to question calls as he is the captain, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a referee reverse his decision, or become more favourable to a player or team, after their skipper has been haranguing them all day.
The Giants went down 32-18 to Wigan on the basis of poor execution in the first half. Huddersfield should have scored more points in the first 40, instead of being locked at 12-12 at the break. They seemed to run out of puff after half-time while the likes of John Bateman and Matty Bowen dramatically stepped up a gear. Brough wears his heart and sleeve and almost inspired his Giants to come back and win with a fantastic intercept try on 50 minutes. But it wasn’t to be and the Warriors got the cash. Brough might want to work on his communication skills with the officials in future, but I can’t see the diamond from Dewsbury changing anytime soon.