Forty-20 Column: The Morning After

Easter was always going to be the first defining signpost for the way the new era was heading and, going into the league equivalent of a triathlon, only one side in the top two divisions are unbeaten; the remorseless juggernaut that currently is Leigh Centurions, and only Doncaster have yet to raise their colours.

While Paul Rowley’s men created a club record with a 17th consecutive victory, a 60-0 shellacking of Whitehaven, even they would doff their hats to Hull KR who dominated the headlines at the end of a weekend that, overall, felt a little flat – pre the Lord Mayor’s parade, perhaps.

The Robins not only dented St Helens’ unbeaten run, the faithful at the KC Lightstream Stadium collectively willing former hero Travis Burns’ late conversion wide that would have salvaged the champions a flattering draw, but they also lost and gained a former Leeds prop.

To no one’s real surprise, Ryan Bailey has moved out after playing half a try-scoring game while coming in for next season, in an inspired move, in the newly created role of football manager, will be Super League’s most decorated player Jamie Peacock, as soon as he has untied his bootlaces for the last time.

Not only will Peacock bring the organisational practices from one of, if not the, best-managed clubs in the sport, but he has also undertaken an MA in Sports Business Administration so has the academic acumen to underpin the implementation of his way.

It’s a win-win, the former Great Britain prop, whose return was a major factor in the Rhinos’ second half domination in Perpignan that took them to the top of the league, gets the blank sheet of paper and new challenge he thrives on; a major personality and important mouthpiece stays in the game and begins a progression that could see him eventually become the Performance Director at Red Hall; and Rovers will get an extra layer of ultra-professionalism within a building organization.

It is such good news for them, the only surprise was that they very nearly buried it by announcing it at 6pm on a Friday night prior to kick off of one of their biggest and, as it turned out, best home games of the season – Saints taking a further dislike to the North Sea air, now unable to win there on their last eight trips.

Keiron Cunningham’s men still nearly got something out of a game in which the coach graciously accepted it would have been a travesty if they had, James Green – who was immense – lucky not to suffer further censure after an early shoulder charge that re-arranged Burns’ face and Albert Kelly’s pickpocketing skills rather than a breakdown in defensive structure the ultimate difference.

Not that it should have been that close, the late St Helens revival coming on the back of a pass so blatantly forward that the ignoring of it very nearly bought the game into disrepute.

Even if the on-field referee and touch judge had, perhaps, thought Burns’ round-the-man legerdemain to Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook had hit the back of a defender, surely a little word from the eye in the sky could have put them right.

The debate about the turnaround for Thursday night games flared with Widnes lacking a pivot (but not being able to cover like Saints do) and consequent creativity, going down to resurgent Salford – well for this week anyway – on the back of a four day preparation.

Again, whatever the structure, if there is a disparity in cap spend, squad size and junior production that, more than anything, is going to tell in such cases, as Wakefield found at Wigan – Trinity very nearly calling up their coach driver – such is their injury glut and thinness of resources. 

That’s also the issue with the likely implementation of the marquee player rule in June; that the gap between the haves and have-nots becomes wider and operates against the ethos of the new era.

It is hard to see the Wildcats in the market for Sam Tomkins should he, as reported, wish to return, Ian Lenegan now in favour of such a move – presumably when he heard his local hero might be back on the market but at the cost of about half a squad.

Similarly, it is perhaps no coincidence that, with Jamie Peacock’s management role covering recruitment and, potentially more money available for a star capture, that Rovers have been linked with David Shillington.

It’s great and right that, as an entertainment industry, we retain and entice the star names but it will not be an even distribution of wealth.

Because of the run up to Easter, there were no Sunday SL games which, with the move to Thursday now for TV – and please, Sky, can we have a split screen when conversions are being taken or video playbacks over-run real time play – has been mooted as the norm.

That must surely be a good idea and benefit the championship, all of their previously holy day matches attracting four-figure gates.

The only one that didn’t slipped under the radar, but Saturday afternoon saw a big win for London against likely top-four contenders Halifax to maintain their unbeaten home record, the last time the Broncos winning three on the bounce in the capital being in late 2012.

What we have already seen is that the event games are attractive, over 30,000 combined for Leeds versus Wigan and Saints against Warrington last week and the Wigan/Saints and Hull/Hull KR Easter derbies heading towards sell-outs.

In a week that Stephen Kearney had his contract with New Zealand extended, the RL International Federation announced that more recognised internationals will be played by an increasing number of nations than ever before in 2015, with the likelihood being that more than 30 will have sung anthems come the calendar turn.

International rugby was the collateral damage paid for the Super League war in Australia which celebrates its 20th anniversary. It has taken time but, maybe, the icing is back.

 

The broadest smiles are in Hull KR the morning after.

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