We are now 10 games into the Super League season and St Helens and Warrington are starting to pull away from the pack. Both teams have made blistering starts to the campaign and they look set to battle it out for glory in October. Other teams have underwhelmed, while we have witnessed all manner of individual brilliance, controversial moments and gripping contests. Here are five things we have learned so far this season:
St Helens are on fire
St Helens and Warrington both won eight of their opening nine games to leave their rivals trailing in their wake. Their clash on Friday night was eagerly anticipated and many were expecting an extremely close contest. However, Saints were utterly dominant. Regan Grace stole the show with a remarkable solo try, but it was a brilliant team performance from St Helens, as they dismantled the Wolves, scored seven tries and ran out 38-12 winners.
That left them clear at the top of the table and full of momentum as they approach the remainder of the campaign. “They ran harder, tackled harder, they wanted it more,” said a dejected Steve Price after the game, and he knows his team must improve considerably if they are to pip the Saints to silverware this year. Nobody will fancy taking on St Helens when they are in this sort of form and they should be due heaps of praise and respect, from fans, rivals, former pros, bookmakers, the Sporting Index spread betting blog team and the leading sports writers alike.
Blake Austin displaying steeliness
Warrington superstar Austin was the pre-season favourite to be named Man of Steel and he has certainly lived up to the hype. The marquee standoff has already crossed for 10 tries this season and he has displayed the ability to crush teams with his power. He was utterly sensational in their 63-12 win over Hull FC at the end of March as he ran for 180 metres, delivered 12 tackle bursts, made four clean breaks and scored a career best four tries.
The former Canberra halfback is always dripping with menace and he continued his sensational progress in a demolition job on London last week. Austin scored two tries, laid on two assists, ran 16 times, made four tackle busts and had two clean breaks. His figures have been astounding and the bionic man keeps getting better, so he already has one hand on the Man of Steel gong. He did score against Saints on Friday, although he could not prevent his team from slumping to a disappointing defeat, but he will be a real threat when they meet again later in the year.
Time for a clear plan at Wigan
Defending champions Wigan were always liable to struggle in the wake of Shaun Wane’s departure, but the extent of their slump has taken everyone by surprise. It is clear to see that farcical off-field developments have taken a heavy toll on the team. Shaun Edwards posed in a Wigan polo shirt in August 2018 as he was unveiled as the team’s head coach from 2020, with interim boss Adrian Lam holding the fort until then.
Yet the Wales defence coach did not actually sign a contract and Wigan were kept in limbo for months, before Edwards announced on Monday that he will not be taking up the head coaching role. “I feel Wigan need a more experienced rugby league head coach than myself, to give the club and the people of Wigan the best team possible,” he said. Results have fallen off a cliff while this whole sorry saga has played out, and the top brass at Wigan need to put a concrete plan in place quickly in order to avoid further damage. They have managed just three wins from 10 games and they need to put this fiasco to one side, knuckle down and concentrate on climbing up the table before Super 8s time.
Rhinos charging towards Championship?
Leeds Rhinos have endured a miserable season thus far and they looked worryingly fragile in defence against Hull KR last time out. Instead of building on a morale-boosting win against Castleford Tigers, they put in yet another embarrassing performance and they remain rooted to the foot of the table. They have been conceding extremely soft tries and if they cannot figure out how to better protect their line they could be playing Championship rugby in 2020. Their body language shows a team low on confidence that is slowly imploding. Yet there have been some bright notes, particularly the form of Konrad Hurrell. His teammates need to follow his example and put in more performances like the one against Castleford if they are to dig themselves out of trouble.
Zip wires needed next year
Castleford head coach Daryl Powell has promised he will not invade the field again after being hit with a suspended £5,000 fine for his antics in their defeat to St Helens on March 22. Powell stormed the pitch to berate Greg Eden, who in fairness was having a horror show. It was an embarrassing incident for the winger, and it did not take a lip reader to understand how furious Powell was with him. After the game, the coach said: “I was just having a quick word with Greg. But I just wanted to get to the other side and try and organise things for half-time. I stopped the game, though, didn’t I so I didn’t quite make it! It’s just disappointing. Your team’s getting belted and there’s no way down and around from there so it’s hard work. We need a zip wire to get down and across the field. It’s a disappointing night. I won’t do that again.” Eden has shaken off the humiliation of being hauled off that night, and he has eight tries for the season, suggesting that comparisons with Billy Slater were not too ridiculous after all.