FIVE THINGS: Ridiculous Richie, Iestyn and the Carney conundrum
1. Ridiculous Richie
Take a bow Richie Myler for scoring one of the most audacious tries in recent memory. Myler’s effort against Wigan, where he grubbered the ball through and then hooked it again with his foot over Matty Bowen’s hands and back into his own to score, was something to savour. Probably 99 times out of 100 that fails to work. But credit Myler for having the skill, and indeed the cojones, to pull it off in such a big game.
After Kevin Penny’s acrobatics the weekend before against Leigh in the corner, the halfback dished out his own piece of entertainment. It’s something that will be played over and over again, a piece of content shared around the world. After 30 odd years of watching rugby league it’s hard for me to remember a more thrilling and skillful solo try. That four-pointer capped off an awesome performance from Warrington who absolutely battered Wigan. After a tough victory over Leigh, perhaps the Wolves have turned things around. Myler is off contract at the end of this year and has spoken about having a shot at the NRL. The Wolves are still in discussions with the playmaker and after that try surely they’ll want to keep him.
2. England’s Tank on the Flank
Castleford’s human wrecking ball Justin Carney wants to play for England. The Trangie-born winger from country NSW will become eligible next year on residency grounds. Carney’s career has blossomed in the UK after a series of injuries cruelled his time with Canberra and the Roosters. At the Tigers the 27-year has scored 48 tries in 49 games. It’s a phenomenal rate. But the question remains, do England need him and does it set a send a bad message if they pick him?
England is not necessarily short of wingers right now. There’s Ryan Hall, Josh Charnley and NRL-bound Joe Burgess, while Tommy Makinson was putting himself in the frame with some fantastic performances earlier in the season. Also if Sam Tomkins gets the nod at fullback, surely Zak Hardaker is in the running for a spot on the flank. But you could argue Carney is a different mould to those others. He is more bash and barge – brute force – as opposed to the stepping speed merchants like Charnley and Burgess. In some ways Carney is more similar to New Zealand’s behemoth Manu Vatuvei.
England has picked non-English players before. The dalliance with Rangi Chase was largely a failure. Chris Heighington played three Tests for England in 2011, courtesy of an English father, but none since. Adam Cuthbertson also has an English dad and has been mooted for the national team this year. In the past Steve McNamara has been linked to overtures to the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans and Trent Hodkinson, who have English heritage. Picking players with questionable links to England is something that has been done regularly by the cricket and rugby union national teams. Having English parents is one thing and a three-year residency period, something two years too short, is different entirely.
At the moment England are strong in the forwards and the outside backs. They have options at fullback, wing and centre, and are blessed with some outstanding props and back-rowers. Hooker is strong and so is the lock position. The real weakness is at 6 and 7 where a world-class combination has not materialized against the Jonathan Thurston-Cooper Cronk and Shaun Johnson-Kieran Foran combos. That’s where England could do with a ring in. But in many ways the selecting Carney scenario is a Catch 22 – dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. If you pick him and the winger perhaps scores the winning try in a series against New Zealand or Australia, you’re a hero. It was a brilliant move. Select him and he fails to perform, or England lose, you’ll be pillored. Choose wisely as there’s no margin for error.
3. Harris’ holiday
Mixed messages out of Salford as speculation increases over the future of coach Iestyn Harris. According to the club, Harris missed the Red Devil’s win over Catalans just because he was sick. Marwan Koukash declared the 39-year old was going nowhere nearly two weeks ago as his memorable press conference. But several media outlets have reported that the coach’s time at the AJ Bell Stadium is now over, a few days before new director or rugby Tim Sheens arrives.
It’s been a rocky road for the Welshman who took the job when Brian Noble was sacked last year. I thought Koukash was harsh to axe Noble when he did, so early in the season and Harris, who has yet to inspire as a coach, was a huge risk in his place. Harris had a horrible record with the Crusaders in Super League and Wales lost all three World Cup games under him. Several players who have been under him in the past have far from raved about his coaching abilities. Undoubtedly he was a great player, but there are no guarantees that will make you a great coach.
At Salford he has racked up 12 losses in 19 matches, with the Red Devils missing the finals last year. The team remains undisciplined and, as the match-winning try scored by Albert Kelly from the kick-off mid-week shows, prone to brain-dead errors. At the end of the day Harris has to take the blame and it is no major shock to see him go. Salford needs an experienced, professional and tough coach to lead them, someone who can repair the culture and stand up to Koukash when needed. Not someone relatively new to the cut-throat world of professional coaching. Mission impossible? Salford can’t afford to get their next coaching appointment wrong.
4. Merging madness
The announcement by Hull KR and Hull FC that they would be merging their academies next year to form a ‘Super Academy’ was met woth ridicule and derision by most in rugby league. Sure the aims are noble – producing more quality players in the city – but exactly how this will be achieved with one academy not two, with presumably less places in it, has yet to be revealed. The press release was full of ideals and ambitious goals but little on actual detail.
It smacks of being purely a cost-cutting gesture and one that would seek to take away from the bitter rivalry between the Robins and the Airlie Birds, which would be a huge shame. A draft system to work out which first-team a player would appear for? Please. The Hull derby is one of the greatest contests in rugby league, not only in Britain but the world. A proper inner city rivalry, it is played with passion, pride and fierce tribalisim. It is something to be treasured, not devalued.
Developing talent and producing players is something that is costly but vital. The best producers of talent in England – the Wigans, Leeds, St Helens and Warringtons – are those that are continually challenging at the top every year. There are few things better as a fan than seeing home-grown players, men like Paul Wellens, who star for the clubs they supported passionately growing up. Those clubs also the ones smartly making money from transfers, like the Warriors did when Sam Tomkins went to the NRL. We need more money invested in youth set-ups and academies, not less, and it’s hard to see this ‘Super Academy’ living up to its lofty title.
5. Custodian’s curse
Adam Quinlan is the new man to take the reins at fullback for St Helens. The Aussie arrives from Parramatta, who he has not played an NRL game for in 2016. Quinlan has spent the season in the NSW Cup with Wentworthville, the Eels’ feeder club. A St George Illawarra junior, he broke into first-grade with the Dragons in 2013. Able to also play in the halves, the fullback has scored eight tries in 25 NRL appearances.
Quinlan has showed flashes of his talent in Australia but nothing consistently. He’s even been compared to Billy Slater by former Dragons teammate Gareth Widdop: “While he isn’t the biggest fullback going around, geez he’s got lightning pace, ridiculous footwork and an ¬ability to pass the football. I actually see similarities between him and Billy Slater. He’s such a strong support player with a great set of hands that you really want him to be on and around the footy all the time.” At St George Illawarra Quinlan was stuck behind NSW custodian Josh Dugan, while at Parramatta Corey Norman, Reece Robinson, Will Hopoate and even Chris Sandow have been preferred at fullback over him.
It’s fair to say the number one jersey has been cursed at Langtree Park this year. The Saints are on to their 7th fullback with Wellens, Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Lance Hohaia and now Shannon McDonnell all falling by the wayside. Here’s hoping the 22-year old has better luck. The Culburra Dolphins junior doesn’t have to be Billy Slater, at this point he has just has to stay fit. Be a solid contributor to a St Helens team in desperate need of some stability at the back and Quinlan will be warmly welcomed on Merseyside.