No certainties

Just when you think events in the engage Super League are settling into a fairly predictable pattern something comes along to change all that. Only a few games into the competition it was no clearer for the most part who would finish where, except that Leeds Rhinos were favourites to finish top and Castleford Tigers were favourites to finish bottom. So when the newly-crowned World Champions visited the struggling Tigers the outcome, surely, was a forgone conclusion.nnIt only goes to show that in a league as tight as Super League there are virtually no certainties. Only the most optimistic of Castleford fans would have predicted a win against the champions, but a magnificent effort from the home side did indeed win the Tigers their first two points of what will be a long campaign. The most optimistic of Rhinos fans may have been thinking about going the season unbeaten, but even less optimistic ones would never have thought they’d slip up at Wheldon Road.nnThe Tigers’ win means that every team in Super League has won at least one game and lost at least one game. It also means that Leeds are joined on eight points in the Super League table by Warrington, St Helens and � perhaps surprisingly � Harlequins. This goes to show the strength of the competition: that on their day anybody can beat anybody, and any team can string a few wins together and be in with a shout of a too-six finish.nnCastleford’s win could also be advanced as an argument that the removal of relegation in no way adversely impacts on competitiveness. Having lost four successive games the Tigers hit back and turned over the World Champions, despite the fact that their performances on the pitch mean relatively little as to whether they will be in Super League next year. However, it could also be advanced as an argument in favour of promotion, as without promotion Castleford wouldn’t have got their chance.nnThere could also be an argument to extend Super League to 14 clubs next year. Nobody knows whether the RFL will expand to 14 clubs, and this could depend on the strength of the franchise applications from outside Super League, but the Tigers may have shown that Super League is a close enough competition to admit two more teams without any serious damage being done to the levels of competition in the league.nnHowever, it’s early days yet, and Castleford’s win could just prove to be a one off. Super League is currently in a transitional phase, half-way between promotion and franchises, so anything good that happens in the competition could be attributed to either system. In any case though, it’s pleasing that Castleford have finally broken their duck, and in the best possible style. Hopefully this shows that the Tigers, along with every Super League club, will give their all throughout the year.nnNo magic in the cup?nnThe Carnegie Challenge Cup is often interesting in that it pairs professional sides against their amateur counterparts. I was watching Widnes Vikings take on Skirlaugh at the weekend, and the National Conference side did themselves proud, throwing the ball around with an air of confidence and as reward picking up three tries. Of course there was no real doubt as to who would emerge victorious in this encounter, but at times Skirlaugh more than equalled the Vikings in terms of performance. nnUnfortunately for the amateur sides this year not one managed to topple professional opposition, although a number can be very pleased with their attempts. The National League sides were just too good this time around and not one amateur team will be taking a place in the draw for the next round.nnPerhaps that’s the only problem with pitting amateur against professional: upsets are very rare indeed. It’s a different situation to soccer’s FA Cup where a non-league side can put ten men behind the ball and score on the break. That’s why three lower league sides have made it to the semi-finals, and teams like Havant and Waterlooville can give the likes of Liverpool a genuine fright. Nonetheless, it would be a great shame to deny amateur clubs the opportunity to take on the professionals at this stage of the cup.nnWhat rugby union gives a playernnIt’s hard to remember the last time I sat through as tedious and frustrating a spectacle as England against Scotland in rugby union’s Six Nations. Having actually made the effort to watch this year’s tournament due to the involvement of Lesley Vainikolo I’ve discovered that, unlike league, a low-scoring game of union is terribly dull, full of rucks, mauls, line outs and various other ploys to grab a penalty. A one-sided game on the other hand can sometimes be exciting, as one team actually passes the ball about and scores tries.nnVainikolo didn’t have the best of games up in Edinburgh it’s true, but watching England you sometimes wonder whether the players are allergic to sending the ball out to the wing. In the win over France England were involved in a loose scrum on the French line with Vainikolo standing just a few metres away from the try-line. These were tries he scored for fun in league but nobody thought to give him the ball. In the end Wigglesworth got over and everyone was happy, but you had to wonder what the England players were thinking.nnAlso in that game, on one of the rare occasions Vainikolo was able to make a run, the Volcano held off his tackler and sent out an offload to England stalwart Jonny Wilkinson. The greatest rugby player the world has ever known dropped the ball in panic not knowing how to deal with the situation. But the saddest thing of all was that with England six points down to Scotland and just a couple of minutes on the clock, Vainikolo got the ball with a few metres between him and the nearest potential tackler … and tried to kick it into touch.nnKeep Your Eye on Rugby League

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