Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

It was always a brave slogan and one that, at some stage, was going to bite a bum. No sport, no matter how well structured or intentioned has managed to make ‘every minute matter’; there have always been disparities of form, fighting spirit and finance, and the new era hasn’t changed that.

Wakefield getting caned at Warrington, in what is the first obvious fracture in the nice gloss applied to 2015, is neither a surprise nor anything more than a jolt to the overall perception. Take away the two relegated sides from last season’s league table and the Wildcats are exactly where everyone thought they would be given their self-admitted lack of spending power with, rightfully, financial prudence their current watchwords instead.

With less in the kitty than some top Championship sides, a reticence by some to sign for them given the broken promises of previous regimes, a limited crowd base and a near unserviceable stadium, rounds 24 to 30 were always going to be the defining games of their season.

The look might not be good in the 80-0 aftermath and coach James Webster’s frank admission about where the priorities lie somewhat off message but chairman Michael Carter’s honesty is as refreshing as it is admirable.

If the Wildcats are in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom, Leeds’ remarkable surge at the top – the only side to take six points over the Easter week – similarly mitigates against it being a closer competition this season, after all six sides were in contention for the League Leaders’ Shield at the end of 2014.

Currently seven points ahead of third spot and with only the top four making the play offs for Old Trafford now,  with less than half the first part of the campaign gone, the Rhinos’ consistency has been remarkable especially considering they had five first-teamers – three of whom are current international backs – out at Salford.

They face tests against Saints, Warrington and Huddersfield in the next three rounds but maybe the slogan should have been, ‘more minutes matter.’

 

Has there been a watershed moment on Sky this week? No longer are the referees being lambasted and over-analysed, there was leeway, consideration and understanding in the commentary, which made a nice change. 

Of course there were still pointed-out errors but we have to get off the rapidly speeding up escalator of criticism, especially if recruitment levels – chronically needed – are to increase. It is no coincidence that junior games, even where the sport is geographically strongest, are being called off because of the lack of a match official.

Sport is supposedly unpredictable, that’s part of its attraction, so it is completely unrealistic to expect the men in the middle to be automatons – consistent would do.

Also, with regards to the big current issue of burn out, interesting to note that Denis Betts thought that Richard Silverwood’s performance was down after being in the middle three times in quick succession. 

Generally, the third Easter game, the one that supposedly sorts the ‘men from the boys’ – or the better quality, less injury-ravaged from the threadbare – was significantly and predictably down on quality, especially for incoming overseas players unused to it and in pivotal positions.

Castleford defended magnificently and, in fresh players Frankie Mariano and Ashley Gibson, had a spring in their step to move up to sixth. But, by contrast, Hull KR – and especially Albert Kelly, Terry Campase and Josh Mantellato who have been standouts to date – appeared jaded.

Man of the match at the Hose on Saturday was Ben Roberts who again benefitted from being judiciously used so far and during the holiday period for maximum influence, while Luke Gale continued his commanding form. He and Stevie Ward would surely be shoe-ins if the England team was playing in the near future – as it should be if we instigated a global international window around the upcoming Anzac weekend Tests.

 

Travel is also an affecting issue over Easter with a French side in the competition – and increasing speculation that Toulouse could be back in the Championship in 2016. Widnes and Catalans were both hampered in round 10 as much by managing those logistics as putting a competitive side out.

Lest we should forget, we are part of the entertainment industry.

Hull ground out a win against the Vikings thanks to a couple of almost identical interception tries both from Tom Lineham as part of a hat trick that took him to the summit of the SL poachers and double figures, an even more admirable feat bearing in mind FC are, behind Wakefield, the lowest scorers in the competition.

Samkins is coming back, Zak Hardaker is in rehab and Rangi was banished as rugby league grabbed some significant headlines. Brian McDermott was the most forceful critic of the surely-to-be-outlawed cannonball tackle irrespective of the fact that his side were taking on the Red Devils which was honourable and ballsy.

Less column inches were devoted to established Bristol Sonics pulling out of the expanded Conference League South. Having spent more than 15 seasons building a community club with a junior programme, their step back into the South West League is a worrying development not least after attracting over 8,000 fans to the city for the World Cup barely 18 months ago.

That dissipation of interest, partly because of no major follow up and the over-stretching of limited playing, commercial and spectator resources in the region is another cautionary tale as the sport heads towards its 120th birthday. Sonics are grassroots up not top down like the All Golds and Oxford RL.

 

The broadest smiles are in Castleford the morning after.

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