Well the play offs certainly did finally present some great rugby league last weekend with a big, and not so big, upset and I can’t decide if it’s good or bad for the game. Warrington aren’t the first team not to make the grand final from top spot, but third versus fifth doesn’t quite seem right somehow. It’s not to take anything away from either of those teams, at the end of they day to get to Old Trafford they’ve beaten the first and second placed teams.
But does it take anything away from the season? You can’t argue that over the course of the season Warrington and Wigan have been the far superior teams and it seems a little weird that neither team will be honoured for their Super League efforts with more than the big shiny plate that people don’t make too much fuss about. You get to the end of the season and it matters very little what you’ve done for the preceding months as long as you’re in the play off spots. Leeds for example have been pretty pants for most of the season, at one point there was every chance they wouldn’t even make the play offs yet they’re now in the final.
On the other hand though this is the very joy of playoff rugby – this is the point – this is what the play off system is all about. You qualify and then you have to beat whatever is in front of you whether that be the team who were top or the team who were eighth. It’s a finger up to the arrogance of Wigan and Warrington who assumed they would be at Old Trafford without playing the games to get there.
On Sunday morning I got up to watch the NRL grand final to watch second placed Manly take on the fifth placed Warriors. As a Warriors fan I was obviously pleased to see my team in the final and I realised at the end of the day everyone knows the competition, you have to be wining at the end of the season, nobody moved the goal posts. I get the feeling the minor premiership though has a bit more prestige in the NRL.
Watching the rugby world cup as well also held some resonance, to win a world cup in any sport (including football) the team who peaks early in the group stages is rarely the victor, it’s often the team who get into their stride coming into the knock stages who win it.
But I guess that’s what I can’t reconcile, this is what play off rugby is all about but should it be what the Super League is about? Should Super League be celebrating the team who played well at the end of the competition or the team who played well throughout? More emphasis on the league leaders shield would help but it wouldn’t quite settle it. At the moment though we know the competition, it isn’t going to change so I guess we can’t complain when it pans out like it does.
Too many commentators playing devils advocate
I’ve had complaints for moaning about commentary before but as ever there were various grumbles about the commentary on SKY at the weekend.
But one of the big bug bears that I noticed at the weekend is that everyone plays devil’s advocate, they all seem to take a contradictory stance just for the sake of taking a contradictory stance, asking stupid questions about an incident just to ask a question.
At one point Kevin Sinfield put a kick in which was charged down – Sinfield kicked forward and the ball came off a Warrington player and ended up bouncing off behind Sinfield. On the replay Eddie remarked that the Saints player had played at the ball, before Stevo chipped in “but did he make contact Eddie?” – of course he did Stevo otherwise the ball would have been 40 or 50 yards in the other direction. It’s unnecessary, it’s like everyone wants their bit of airtime rather than trying to ask relevant questions they just seem to be wanting to talk, and another annoyance, they often don’t wait till the other person’s finished talking to chip in.
Another interesting point I read in Forty20 magazine was to do with Eddie both anchoring and commentating, it may well be worth considering having him do one or the other.
But now onto a very big talking point from this week – Mr Rangi Chase, Man of Steel. Now first of all I’ve heard various comments about the winner of the Man of Steel award not being English – why should he? Anyone who plays in Super League is rightly eligible for the award, it shouldn’t be biased towards players from the UK.
Now that, as it turns out, is actually a problem quickly solved as Rangi Chase is English. Unless you’ve been oblivious to rugby league news this week you’ll have heard that he has been selected for the England squad by coach Steve McNamara, qualifying under residency rules.
So the bloke who not so long ago was declaring his ambitions to play for New Zealand will now be turning out for England having been here for 3 years. At the end of the day he qualifies and he’s a good player so I can see why he was picked but quite simply he shouldn’t have been eligible. 3 years is far too short a term to qualify on residency and it certainly doesn’t compare to a number of other players England have pursued who have family ties or were born here before moving away.
Residency should only be a qualifying option if you’ve grown up in a country or spent a lot longer time than 3 years there.
There is a great back and forth between Garry Schofield (@GarrySchofield6) and Martin Offiah (@MartinOffiah) on twitter on the subject. At one point Offiah argues in favour of the move on the basis that “everyone else is doing it” – this is more certainly not the argument you want to be using. It’s the kind of daft justification people used for looting shops during the London riots.
It does point though to other England teams (union, cricket) and also to the Australian and New Zealand rugby league’s themselves. But the practice cheapens the national game – if we’re to grow the national game then we need to stamp it out, the qualification rules should be tightened or we can never expect smaller nations to grow and it is an agenda that should be pursued regardless of any damage it will do in limiting our own selection opportunities.
At the end of all this though Chase will help boost the squad, he is a good player, but he is now taking the place of a proper English player who is now missing out on valuable international experience. I would much rather see an upcoming English player like Jonny Lomax getting some time out there during the four nations than have Chase run out on the pitch.
The Grand Final
And finally onto the game this weekend. Having realised I’ll have to listen to the first half on the radio driving home from work I’m a bit annoyed but I should catch the second half.
Regardless of what you think about the positions the teams have come from they both deserve to be there after their play off campaign. Both team are coming in with momentum from recent weeks and it is a very hard call. Saints are the bookies favourites but have lost to Leeds quite a lot in grand finals.
Still I’m going for Saints.
Enjoy the game!