Five Things: Turning the screws, McDermott and reserving the right

Neil Barraclough

1. Turner for England?

Jordan Turner continued his excellent 2015 with the match-winning try against Warrington on Thursday. The big centre has crossed for 15 tries from 21 this term, an impressive effort, he’s the top try-scorer for St Helens and he has been a key cog in their march to go back to back. He definitely has the eye for pivotal moment. Turner has also set up nine tries, showcasing his passing ability, while busting 43 tackles. The 26-year old has been at Langtree Park since 2013 when he moved form Hull FC. Making his debut for Salford back in 2007, the Oldham product has racked up 74 tries in 184 matches in total.

A strong ball-runner and with the ability to kick goals, his form this year and in 2014 has to put him in frame for an England call-up. Looking purely at the numbers, Kallum Watkins has got one centre spot already sewn up. Watkins has scored 12 tries, has seven try assists and has an amazing 91 tackle busts, while also running for a huge 2479 metres. Those are fantastic numbers, The other contenders, Dan Sarginson and Michael Shenton, are just below with eight tries and six try assists, and nine tries and eight assists respectively. Turner has scored and created more tries than those two England incumbents. The other wildcard is NRL centre Jack Reed, who has done a job for England before and has been on fire this year for Brisbane.

The only issue around Turner is his defence. He has missed a lot more tackles than the other Super League centres this season that are pushing for national selection. In total he’s missed 54 tackles, more than twice than Watkins and Sarginson, and 21 more than Shenton. That is certainly a worry. But if he keeps his current form up, and can work greatly on his defence, he should certainly be in contention. Something for Steve McNamara to ponder as the New Zealand series approaches.

2. Reserving the right

The lack of a proper reserve grade or second-tier competition in Super League has rared its ugly head again in recent weeks. The farcical situation with dual registration, a system no one seems to favour, rolls on with some players set to be frozen out of playing any games until next year. Several coaches have come out slamming the lack of a competition in between the Under-19s and the top flight, and the fact that many players are being lost to the game as they are squeezed out with nowhere to play.

Funding a proper reserve grade league is a problem but surely it is something worth investing in, something that could bring tangible benefits to the sport. A cut off age of 19 is just too young for rugby league. Many players hit their peak at a later age, maturing and growing into their bodies. There also needs to be a level between Under-19s and Super League so that players coming back from injury, who need game-time, can get it. The NRL is looking to change its Under-20s set up because of similar problems and Super League should do the same. We don’t want to get a situation, which appears on the way, where clubs are forced into arranging and organizing their own reserve matches because the RFL has dropped the ball.

3. McDermott doesn’t miss

Leeds’ 70-6 smashing of Salford on Friday was both embarrassing and humbling for the Red Devils. Rhinos coach Brian McDermott added more fuel to the fire with his comments after the game. McDermott said: “It embarrasses me to be involved in rugby league when there is an owner of a club conducting himself how he is – saying what he wants, when he wants and how he wants. He needs to realize that that is not how to lead a club.

“That group of players are not that bad and what we saw out there was a completely demoralized, shot group of players who lack confidence. It’s not because they have bad coaching or have bad conditions but they are demoralized by what goes on off the field. I wouldn’t want to be led by a person who is erratic and says the things he does about his own group of players – [the scoreline] is absolutely his fault. There are some good people in that team who don’t give up that easy so there are questions to be answered and lesson on leadership to be learned by the owner.”

There are few figures more direct and honest than the former Royal Marine. He doesn’t pull ay punches but his words carry weight considering his standing in rugby league. McDermott hit the nail on the head when it comes to Salford’s biggest problem amid all the hype, headlines and drama – the lack of real leadership. The Red Devils still haven’t fixed it. Marwan Koukash’s Twitter response to McDermott’s comments was short but expected in true Koukash-style: “Well done to @leedsrhinos but McDermott should keep his mouth shut.”

4. Perpignan pain

It wasn’t just McDermott making waves in the media but Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch after his team’s close loss to Hudderfield. Guadsch launched a fiery media missive: “Enough is enough! We have had another two points taken away from us today because of the scandalous and dishonest decisions of the referees“. I would like someone to explain to me how the second try for Huddersfield was awarded by professional referees given how far forward the ball travelled….I’m extremely disappointed today to see a magnificent competition like Super League discredited by the officials. Our supporters are just as angry as I am with this situation and it worries me that our attendances will decrease over the coming months because of this. I am really sickened by this situation.”

The Dragons-Giants game in the south of France was marred by some bad decisions, on both sides. Danny Brough was questionably sin-binned after he was hit was late while the pass that Simon Grix threw for Jermaine McGillvary’s try went about five miles forward. The referee and the touch judge both inexplicably missed the Grix pass. Now, I don’t think there is any bias against Catalans, or any conspiracy of any sort, but the amount of obvious decisions that are being bungled in a round-by-round basis is alarming. This is not an infrequent one but a regular occurrence.

The officiating in Super League just isn’t up to scratch and needs vast improvement. Whether that means making sure there are more full-time refs, widening the recruitment pool from other countries or ensuring every game has a video referee, it’s hard to say. You will always get 50-50 calls that go either way, debatable ones that cause consternation. That’s part of the fabric of rugby league. But it is when they are so blatantly obvious that they hit you in the face, in every single game, that is a really worrying sign.

5. Broken Locke

He’s not the most loved figure on the other side of the Pennines but you have to feel for Kevin Locke. The Kiwi came off after just 13 minutes against Castleford when he injured himself trying to stop Grant Millington scoring a try. Locke was clutching his arm and shoulder, and may have suffered a pectoral injury. He was taken straight to the hospital and Wakefield coach Brian Smith said after the game that it looks like a season-ending injury.

What a bitter blow for the Wildcats and for Locke, if his year is over. After all the messy departure from Salford, it looked like the full-back was finally enjoying himself at Wakefield and getting back to his best form. Locke was going to be a vital member of the Wildcats’ bid to avoid relegation. Some had billed the New Zealand international as the club’s biggest signing since Wallly Lewis back in the 1980s. Now Wakefield will have to traverse the middle eights without him, without a player who was starring in the World Cup less than two years ago.

The Wildcats looked to have turned a corner after Smith had arrived, beating Hull FC and going down in close matches against Salford and Warrington, but they fell back into bad old habits against Castleford. They were pumped by the Tigers and with Locke now gone, they have a tough job in picking themselves off the floor again mentally.