Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

It appears that the fat lady – or should that be Jamie Ellis (great response to the taunters) – no longer knows when to sing.

Leeds posted 43 unanswered points in round four in Hull and, it must be something to do with the North Sea air, Hull KR outdid that, running in 46 without reply to come from 20-4 down against the usually flamboyant Catalans, who themselves recovered from a 22-point deficit at home to Salford – phew.

If the new era has done nothing else, it has ensured crowds stay to the end and have to more strategically plan their in-play toilet breaks.

Rovers became irresistible with the introduction of their new recruit Shaun Lunt, out of contract at the end of the season and of favour at Huddersfield but a proven winner as he showed when on loan with Leeds in 2012, which saw him collect a Grand Final ring.

Lunt again illustrated the importance of the man in midfield who gets his hands on the ball more than any other and dictates the speed and direction of play. With such a dynamic rake, Albert Kelly came alive and Ken Sio scored a hat trick – no coincidence.

Lunt’s strategic arrival coincided with the transfer of Michael Weyman’s wages to his bank account after the former St George bulwark announced his immediate retirement after failed knee surgery. 

Weyman’s tearful, emotional half time farewell to the Robins faithful clearly inspired his team mates, who dedicated the win to him.

The added bonus for the red and white part of the city was that their spectacular win condemned injury-hit Hull FC to bottom spot, while the punishment for the shell-shocked Dragons is to spend the week shuttle-running along the Humber Bridge as they take on FC on Friday night at the KC.

Only one side remains unbeaten after five rounds in Super League and the Championship. While Leigh’s march seems inexorable and no less commendable, busted St Helens have not had sufficient credit for not only overcoming the physical and, especially, psychological trauma of their World Club home hammering, but rolling with injuries to key players and still grinding out the wins.

Atelea Vea’s try in the first set after the break at Widnes set their momentum for 16 unanswered points in almost as many minutes and laid the platform for victory, without their guiding midfield hand James Roby. Finding a way to win with numbers down and not playing at your best is a sure-fire sign of a quality culture and something the defending champions got down pat last year with their against-expectations ultimate triumph.

Talk before, during and after Warrington’s deflowering of 2015 Leeds was almost exclusively about Zak Hardaker’s absence. The England full back was left out following revelations of an alleged incident at a student hall of residence just before season kick off, with the police investigating. 

Teenage potential sensation Ashton Golding performed creditably on full debut in Hardaker’s absence but Brian McDermott – who has done more than anyone else to back his seemingly errant custodian – cut a forlorn figure afterwards, not so much with the result but more, maybe, about the breach of trust in an ethics-led environment.

The Wolves were defensively superb led by Ben Westwood who, even pre-match in his tip-sheet, had his eye on the home sponsors posh speakers reserved for the man of the match, but the young Warrington second row of James Laithwaite and Joe Philbin caught the eye, making almost 60 tackles in combination – a glimpse of the promising primrose and blue future. Matty Russell was sensational too, currently reinventing himself as a winger while, on the other flank, Kevin Penny a continued revelation. Hardaker could do worse than study his story.

Castleford appear to have lost their inherent flamboyance. While Daryl Powell, in surely the most honest of post-match interviews, pulled no punches about his side’s lack of spirit and attitude, it seemed a remarkable transformation to go from scoring over 40 points against Wigan the week before to barely being able to select a decent pass.

David Collier said hello as the first CEO of the Rugby League International Federation, making all the right noises, the former cricket supremo’s appointment even creating a splash on BT Sport. His unveiling was kept secret, he appeared well-briefed – not least about the sport’s politics – and the global, internet press conference was a first. Presumably if he’s had to deal with a stroppy Kevin Pietersen, then getting the NRL clubs to release players for internationals should be a stroll in the park.

Tim Roby said goodbye, the ambitious 25-year old leaving the ranks of the RFL to take a shot in Australia. His departure questions whether the advent of full-time refereeing has been money well spent. There is not exactly a queue of obvious candidates to take his place.

Even more than refereeing standards, there was an obsession with the crowd figure at the Red Devils, more so than their win over the Wildcats. Yes, Salford United played at home up the road at the same time which must have an effect if we are trying to build games as events, but a winning team and, perhaps, less of the, ‘you really must come and support us’ guilt messages put out by the management will reap rewards.

Batley and Workington were tremendous in their resilience but heaven knows what Brian Noble made of London’s showing at Whitehaven as he decides whether to help steady their ship.

The relaxation on overseas spots in the championship was a concern before a ball was kicked and it is obviously disruptive to see hardly-heralded Halifax’s Matt Place and Sheffield’s Blake South already released to return home. And still no Reni Maitua.

More watched Leeds and Warrington on Fox in Oz than their own soccer competition and Souths came up with the weekend’s magic moment, Greg Inglis proving he could match anything Rangi might conjure when sending Alex Johnson clear for an astonishing length of the field try against the Roosters in a wonderful match.

Careless Manly have lost two half backs, Kieran Foran following DCE out at the end of the season, the Sea Eagles now linked with Catalans Todd Carney, after he had an unfair dismissal claim against Cronulla upheld, and Sam Burgess.

 

The broadest smiles are in Hull KR the morning after.