Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

Is there something in the water taken by the professional coaches in the Wigan Borough?

Both Shaun Wane and Paul Rowley, intensely passionate and single-minded in their aims and objectives, appear to be devotees of the ‘nobody loves us but we don’t care management style.’

If any of their friends and/or relatives are stuck for a Christmas or birthday present for the feisty, caravan-circling duo, Dale Carnegie’s worldwide bestselling book, ‘How to win friends and influence people’ is still available.

For non-Wigan fans, there was a feeling of schadenfreude as the pictures were beamed back from glorious, vibrant Perpignan; the Dragons and Warriors fans out in colourful force to witness the cherry and white’s second-most humbling in Super League history.

Catalans were superb, almost unstoppable, pouring forward in abandon as Todd Carney – looking every inch the baton-wielder so many hoped when he signed – Scott Dureau and Zeb Taia combined with the flair the region craves.

Morgan Escare took the solo part, producing a glorious effort from a free play with a right foot chip over, left foot dribble and gymnastic dive to set a beaming smile across the face of Dragons owner Bernard Guasch, a man who knows a thing or two about garnish.

All the while, ashen-faced Wane looked like the hungry boy locked out the sweet shop with a pound in his hand, having been reported as saying on the way out to the south of France that he was looking forward to his side being top of the league come the following Saturday night – cue the misfire.

That both the Warriors and Dracs can suffer from such away-day blues is one of the more intriguing mysteries of the top flight, where the leading contenders in the inaugural ‘Blackpool Bash’ are aiming for.

At the head, extending an incredible unbeaten run to 26 games are Leigh, whose current popularity appears to be in inverse proportion to their unquestioned ability. On the main stage, their headliner against Featherstone turned into a niggly, unedifying watch that detracted from what those at the seaside resort had deemed a success.

Featherstone coach Andy Hay took responsibility for the part his side played in the ill-disciplined lack of spectacle, his opposite number seemed to blame everyone else, even exonerating the actions of Gareth Hock, the perpetual accident waiting to happen. It would be a shame if the goodwill the Centurions’ exploits deserve was tarnished by a lack of humility about their achievements.

The snaring of Mickey Higham – possibly a strange investment when he would come as a free at the end of the season – produced barbs by Rowley at Tony Smith which gives the forthcoming cup tie between the sides additional edge, but all seemed extraordinarily playground.

From the start both Leigh and Fev looked down on energy levels resorting to push, shove and the general slowing of play, perhaps as a result of their exceptional efforts in the cup the week before. Rather than those one-off games telling us anything significant about the middle-eights, maybe the difficulty to back up similar intensity after them is more of a guide of how that competition might go.

Super League effectively took a back seat for the seaside get-together, a total of 15,000 fans across the two days gathering to celebrate life outside the premier ranks. What came across, apart from London’s astonishing renaissance, with Andrew Henderson’s on-field organisational influence the Broncos so far missing link, was that it was a jamboree in its own right.

The Championship – and Ipro cup final – didn’t need the validation of Super League, no matter how many times it was patronisingly framed in commentary. Direct comparisons are irrelevant especially in an era where there is such a chasm between full and part time which almost produce different sports. Vive le difference as they say with accompanying chilled red wine in Dragons country.

Bloomfield again proved, put teams together of similar ability, add some genuine local, heartfelt rivalry and an accessible, party location and it works, not just for the fans but, especially, the players. They get to be part of a genuine occasion and in an unaccustomed spotlight. It is unlikely to attract huge swathes of neutrals outside of the game – but so what, the more games like Workington v Whitehaven for drama and meaning the better.

Hull lost but claimed the Steve Prescott cup on aggregate against Saints, Kevin Sinfield climbed the all-time point’s-scoring ladder to third as Leeds saw off plucky Hull KR and Widnes finally won on grass but then complained about the state of it.

Video refereeing decisions came in for further scrutiny at Cas where Huddersfield seemed on the right side of a couple at a game where all the uninjured full time officials were present in one guise or another – and still controversy reigned. By making the men in the middle rightly responsible for referring the decisions with a verdict attached, the need for two locked away to rubber stamp it now seems even more unnecessary, a bit like playing games on Sundays.

Genuine James Webster’s departure from Wakefield was not a shock – nor Lopini Paea’s – but has there ever been greater dignity around a departure than Paul Cooke’s at Doncaster. His statement, which can be seen on the club’s website, was the ultimate in class, graciousness and honesty – of which there is too little in certain sections of the game at the moment.

 

The broadest smiles are in Perpignan the morning after.

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