Eye On Rugby League by Tony Williams
It's become something of a cliché to suggest that Super League is getting better and better, but I think it's true. The measure of how it has improved comes from how unpredictable the competition is. Okay, it may be a bit early to suggest that the gap between top and bottom is lessening, or that more teams than ever are capable of challenging for honours, but a quick look at the first three weeks of the season bears that theory out.
Salford City Reds are one team which started the season very impressively, with superb wins over Warrington Wolves and Catalans Dragons, conceding a solitary try in the process. However, that run was ended with a crushing defeat at the hands of Bradford Bulls, something which was very much against the script.
Bradford started their year being named World Club Champions, with an emphatic 30-10 win over NRL Champions Wests Tigers. However, their league form did not match their title, with a scraped win over Wakefield Trinity and a draw with Harlequins to show for their efforts. No-one expected them to crush the resurgent Reds in the manner that they did.
As for Wakefield and Harlequins, who would have expected the Wildcats to comfortably defeat the Quins 26-6, especially after the Londoners looked to have found their form with that impressive win at Odsal? Not many I'll bet.
Wakefield had also lost out to Hull, a team on the up. Not only did they see off the Wildcats but they also blitzed Castleford on the opening night of the season. Their 100% record however, was brought to an end by Warrington on Saturday, as the Wolves at last found the form which had carried them to fourth last season.
This victory is made all the more remarkable when you consider Warrington's start to Super League XI. Two very unconvincing displays saw the Wire lose their games against Salford and Huddersfield Giants, a game in which they somehow contrived to give away their lead twice.
The strange pattern in form can also be traced to Les Catalans Dragons. The Catalan side won their euphoric opening game against Wigan Warriors, and people were suddenly talking about them reaching the play-offs. Follow that with a 16-0 loss to Salford and defeat at the hands of Castleford Tigers and people might start talking about them being relegated – were that possible.
Castleford are most people's tip for the drop, and they surprised no-one with their loss to Hull on Super League's opening night, followed by a hammering by St Helens at Knowsley Road. But that win over the Catalans shows that the Tigers won't be giving up any time soon.
This pattern of unpredictability is evident in other areas of the game. Last season's National League One was too close to call, and with Widnes, Leigh, Hull KR, Whitehaven, Doncaster and Halifax all vying for a place in Super League, it's going to be closer again. It's the same story in NL2, were Dewsbury, Workington, Sheffield, Swinton and the wildcard of Celtic Crusaders are all in with a shout.
The same goes in the international game. Most of us hoped that New Zealand would defeat Australia in the Tri-Nations final, but who could have predicted the eventual outcome? How many people saw Wales reaching the Euro Nations Cup final?
At the moment in Super League, only one team is left with a 100% record – St Helens. Meanwhile, every single side has got off the mark, which means that how the teams will finish come September is still anyone's guess.
This situation can only be good for the competition, and is a glowing recommendation for the system as it is. With three very exciting, very unpredictable professional leagues, as well as two cup competitions which cause shocks at the best of times, it's going to be a very enjoyable year.
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