Five Things: SL’s top full back, moaning coaches and Dragons for the drop?

Neil Barraclough

One – A long way to go

Brave. Proud. Gutsy.

All words used to describe Wigan’s performance in Sydney.

Unfortunately English teams have been all of the above for the last 40 years. It’s proven to not be enough.

It’s no coincidence that since they’ve started taking it more seriously, NRL teams have won five of the last six World Club Challenges. The overall tally still stands in Super League’s favour, but consider the decade or more when Aussie teams took the game as little more than a week-long booze up a long way from the pressures back home.

Still, talk of an expanded six-team World Club Challenge would be a major boost for a game struggling to get to grips with the reality of 21st century sport: international competition is all that matters.

Let’s just hope we can actually win one sooner or later.


Two – Burns has got the bottle

Full marks to Travis Burns, who shrugged off 80 minutes of sapped energy and a monster wind to nail the conversion that snatched Hull KR’s draw at Huddersfield.

Burns booted his effort long after the final hooter had sounded, leaving Rufus the Robin flapping so hard in celebration that there was brief danger of him taking off.

Rovers fans went wild, Burns was mobbed by his team-mates who ran over like he’d just won them the Cup, and even Rufus came running over to jump on top of the boys in blue.

In short, everyone from Hull KR had gone pretty much mental – apart from Craig Sandercock.

“I’m never happy,” he said.

Heaven knows what he’d have been like if they’d lost.


Three – Super League’s number one

Sam Tomkins’ departure means the title of Super League’s best full-back is up for grabs – or it was until Friday.

Zak Hardaker was sensational for Leeds; two tries in attack and stubborn defiance in defence doing much to inflict Warrington’s second defeat in as many weeks.

Brian McDermott said: “You’ve got to come up with some special stuff and Zak’s tackle on Stefan Ratchford was right up there. I’d actually put my pen down thinking ‘that’s a try’ but then I looked up and it was play on. I couldn’t work it out. I looked at the replay and he’d done something special.”

Hardaker is part of a group of backs Gary Hetherington has hailed as the club’s best in 40 years. It’s not hard to see why when Ben Jones-Bishop can’t make the 17, but the fear for Leeds is whether their aging pack can still hack it.

Starting props Kylie Leuluai, 36 next month, and Jamie Peacock, already 36, form part of a front row with Paul Aiton that has 100 years between them.

But as long as Peacock keeps producing heroic 60-tackle efforts, like he did on Friday, then few will question anything.


Four – Relegation does not increase quality

The return of relegation from the top flight undoubtedly gives more meaning and more nervousness around every game for Super League’s strugglers.

But does it increase the quality on show? Judging by Thursday’s evidence at Belle Vue, absolutely not. It was, in short, crap – but few at Odsal will be complaining about a victory that could prove crucial come the end of the year. 

Francis Cummins said: “It can be as scrappy as it likes. It (winning) is a great feeling for the lads. We’ve not had too much to smile about and that win was priceless.”

Just one request, please: a bit less carping about how tough Super League teams have got it when forced into a Sunday-Thursday turnaround.

Of course it’s not ideal, but we can’t remember anyone shouting about it when Championship teams – with players who had day jobs and couldn’t dedicate themselves to recovery and training – were doing it over the last two years.


Five – Dragons for the drop?

Could Laurent Frayssinous be the first Super League coach to face the chop this year?

Sunday’s 32-6 defeat at Castleford certainly won’t help, but it’s not the first two defeats that should be most worrying for Catalan – it’s what’s still to come.

Their next five fixtures are against Leeds, Wakefield, St Helens, Huddersfield and Wigan, leaving the prospect of one win from their opening seven a distinct possibility.

Friday’s match against Leeds is looking like an absolute belter.

Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough