Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

A month into the new season and what have we learned?

The hoped for minutes-mattering-more-than-ever might actually do so for starters. In Super League, no-one is pointless and the last time that happened at a similar stage was in 2006.

Hull KR sit at the foot on points difference but have beaten Wigan and run Warrington and Leeds close. Only three clubs across the top flight and Championship remain unbeaten.

Wigan have set a new world record for collective press ups after coach Shaun Wane promised they would be the punishment for mistakes made in a game following their loss at Rovers in round three, the threat apparently hollow after their capitulation to the rejuvenated Tigers. Maybe it has more to do with the Warriors failing to adequately replace Finch, Green, Tomkins S, Richards and Carmont.

A new record in the summer era has been set for the highest-scoring draw, Josh Griffin’s late goal ensuring it ended level after a point-a-minute spree in laissez-faire Perpignan’s spring sun. Phil Bentham seems to love a late disputed penalty to settle an outcome, who’d bet in-play? When the score came in at 40-all, several had to check they weren’t looking at the Davis Cup feed while Todd Carney examined whether he still had any ribs. Special mention to Tommy Lee who looked a different player to the one seen in the opening rounds.

Maybe we should have some sympathy for the men in the middle. Yes, some sides have still mastered the art of the wrestle, especially on cloying, muddy pitches but the indications are that speeded-up, free-flowing rugby is back both here and, indicatively after only one round, in the NRL.

Leeds seem to have benefitted the most, a record win at Hull courtesy of an astonishing second half performance – again at a point-a-minute – in which three of their subs scored and a complete reversal from the opening 40 when they were barely able to complete a set as the quick-set FC defence swarmed them into errors.

Hull are the classic indication of the opening month up top and how quickly things change, going from most impressive performers in round one to ninth with three straight losses and coach Lee Radford admitting, “There is pressure now.”

In his 350th career appearance, Danny McGuire not only summed up the Leeds transition, barely able to do anything right in the first half to running the show in the second, but perfectly illustrated the key ingredient to back up talent – self-belief. The same was true of Justin Carney, reversing his horror-show of the week before with his two early tries to set the cherry and whites on the road to wrath.

It’s unlikely that there has been a game with more landmarks attached to it than the Thursday night game of two halves, Leon Pryce with his 200th career try, Rob Burrow with his crackerjack 150th after a brace from the bench and Tom Briscoe who graced the colours of both booed throughout his 200th career appearance. Pryce, McGuire and Burrow all trended on twitter, maybe an indication that the Thursday slot does have added profile value.

Overshadowing them all was Kevin Sinfield’s 15 points that put him fourth in the all-time scoring lists and the equally classy gesture from John Woods – whose position he took on the ladder – and Leigh in formally congratulating him.

St Helens have come through two tough West Yorkshire encounters to grittily remain undefeated, both the games against Cas and Wakey shows of character rather than flamboyance, especially at the Wildcats where they were reduced to one sub for almost an hour. It was redolent of their Grand Final display and Paul Wellens, despite a diminishing role, superbly steadied the ship in a half back pairing that ignored age and criticism to steadfastly guide Keiron Cunningham’s men home. And Atelea Vea could be one of the shrewdest acquisitions of the season. “It could be a big two points down the line,” said the statued-one.

The dual registration fiasco that seems to permeate the Championship hasn’t affected the crowds with all bar London – whose followers had to endure non-running tube lines necessitating a 20 minute walk – and Dewsbury, who were only 89 short, attracting four figures. Special mention too for Oulton who drew 1,200 for their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup derby against Normanton.

Brett Delaney wore number 43 for Hunslet but, by contrast, the success story for Bradford was Ryan Shaw who scored 28 points, including a hat trick, who came through the ranks under coach James Lowes at Warrington and is now looking the real deal. Maybe we can still develop talent.

A new strategy for the game here until 2021 was unveiled. Maybe this is truly new era territory for the sport – although we also remember Maurice Lindsay’s grandiose plans for ‘Framing the Future’ which succeeded only in gathering the dust. The published vision for growth has unveiled objectives to see crowds, revenue, viewing figures and participants increase and the small matter of England winning the 2017 World Cup – in the Antipodes.

The report doesn’t mention refereeing standards but rather than fans constantly calling for penalties, perhaps it would be better if their players learned how to defend them.

Sad note of the week, the departure of the ever-engaging, ultra-enthusiastic Joey Grima at London. You can’t have too many small, bearded, passionate men in rugby league.

The broadest smiles are in Leeds the morning after.

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