Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

One of the great aspects of sport is the offer of redemption.

Because there’s invariably another game around the corner, there is an instant chance of righting a wrong, turning a seeming disaster into triumph, the sword of Damocles hovering to wearing a garland.

But to achieve such a stunning volte-face in the face of ruptured confidence – that most precious of commodities in sport – requires immense mental resolve and self-belief.

So hats raised, off and thrown high in the air to Kieran Dixon and Shaun Ainscough.

Hull KR excitement machine Dixon is still a novice in rugby league terms having come through the ranks at Hemel and London, and has had to recover from an horrendous knee reconstruction.

He’s raw, unpredictable and vulnerable which makes him so watchable but, more than that, this weekend he gave hope to all.

At Wembley he, in particular, was ruthlessly exposed by a Leeds juggernaut, the final Rovers hand on a ball his, when he lost possession that led to Tom Briscoe’s historic fifth try at the national stadium.

The more Dixon tried that day, the worse it got – but he never stopped trying. Understandably shielded from the media in the immediate aftermath, we wondered how he’d cope especially with the Robins going back into the Qualifiers to now continue the scrap for their Super League lives.

Astutely, coach Chris Chester alternated him between full-back and winger against Wakefield and Dixon responded to the show of faith and his own inner belief with two game-turning tries to defeat the Wildcats and win the man of the match award – what a courageous triumph.

That win all but assures Rovers of their place in the top-flight and, on the back of the psychological trauma of the week before says much for their spirit and togetherness, especially coming from three tries down.

Maurice Blair, another who came in for some heavy criticism in the Cup final pulled off the last-gasp, final seconds tackle that ensured victory too.

By contrast, Leeds, missing three of their Wembley heroes and against a resurgent, determined Saints – boosted by the return of Jon Wilkin, who allowed Luke Walsh to prosper – part-suffered a cup hangover.

With the Rhinos defeated and wins for Saints, Wigan and Huddersfield, the top four is virtually settled but each of the sides has a realistic expectation of winning at Old Trafford.

Ainscough’s joy came with a try in Batley’s big win over Whitehaven that keeps them two points off a relegation position.

The week before he had become a viral sensation, following his exploits at the end the game against Featherstone.

With the Bulldogs desperately holding on for a surprise win, as the hooter sounded, he hoofed the ball away, attempting to land in row Z and begin to celebrate victory, only to see it slice off his boot and be snapped up by Fev winner Will Sharp who went over for the clinching score; it’s a definite candidate for Question of Sport’s ‘what happened next’ round.

On placing the ball over the whitewash this time, he exaggeratedly kicked it away, hopefully exorcising his demons after again, unflinchingly, putting himself back on the frontline for our entertainment.

Our admiration for players should know no bounds as the NFL are finding with Jarryd Hayne, the ex-Parramatta Eel and Kangaroo, just taken on to the San Francisco 49s roster for the forthcoming season.

That is absolutely massive for rugby league, to open up the inherent skills and athleticism that are honed in our sport to one of the world’s biggest spectating markets.

Hayne has wowed them from the first time he donned a helmet in a game he has played for just a few months and, looking at the video footage and press cuttings, has blown one of the most demanding audiences away with his quick adaptation.

He is the latest in the line of emerging global sportsmen and women, whose world class abilities transcend one discipline; Sonny Bill Williams being the other obvious one forged in league.

Other players may be signed up on the back of it but there is new found admiration, respect and exposure for league on the back of Hayne’s astonishing achievement for which we should be extremely grateful.

Wigan took their game with Catalans to Millwall to do likewise and attracted a highly encouraging crowd of over 8,000, with, reportedly, half of them from the south of England and a quarter new to the sport.

There was copious branding, interviews in the outlets we find so hard to break into – Dan Sarginson was on Danny Baker’s revered sausage sandwich game, no less – and hopefully a quick-fix presence for the sport back in the capital so soon after Wembley and leading up to the Test match at the Olympic Stadium with the Kiwis in November.

It’s how the dots are joined up from here that will count.

Consternation about what constitutes a try at both Huddersfield and Leeds, Jamie Ellis and Mitch Achurch awarded them by merely having their finger scratch the ball.

The rule says downward but neither seemed to have pressure, it’s a tough dividing line but if super-zoom has to be used to determine, then something needs changing; at normal speed, neither looked convincing.

It’s a tough call for the on-field official but not as much as backing up within 24 hours. Richard Silverwood joined the sick list which meant that young Joe Cobb went straight from officiating at Halifax on Saturday to Odsal the following afternoon.

We talk about duty of care for players and that should apply to the men in the middle too, no matter how slim the resources are.

Aside from the physical challenge of keeping up with and monitoring play the day after a long run, the accompanying mental fatigue must have an effect on decision making, especially with so much to look for.

And to think we talked about going to two refs a game.

The broadest smiles in Hull KR the morning after.


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