Saints within their rights

St Helens stand out as the rugby league club that has caused the most controversy by fielding weakened teams in league matches to keep their top players as fresh as possible. This time the outcry was not as pronounced as in previous years – possibly because we’ve all grown used to it – but some people were aggrieved at Saints’ perceived arrogance.

This time it was relegation-threatened Salford City Reds who took on the weak St Helens. In 2002 it was Bradford Bulls on Easter Monday ahead of a cup game; two years later the same again. Last year the Catalans were the beneficiaries, inflicting Saints’ biggest loss of the season (four points) against a side bereft of virtually all first-team players.

This year, however, it was different – different in that Salford did not get the win. It was a close-fought game for sure, but the Knowsley Road side still claimed a 27-26 win over the Reds. Perhaps it was the result that prevented other clubs near the engage Super League trapdoor from being more vocal in their opposition to this.

But most of the reaction from the game has been wondering what would have happened if Salford had sneaked a win. On the back of last week’s victory over Huddersfield it could have been the start of a Salford revival, sending Hull KR, Wakefield, Warrington or perhaps someone else down into National League One. So do Saints have the right to do that?

To be honest my view is that they do. If St Helens can afford to rest players – and still win by the way – then that is their choice. If they had decided to play all their players because letting Salford win wasn’t fair, that would have been cause for concern – they would have been taking an interest in the relegation battle that did not concern them.

Instead Saints did what every club is meant to do, and that is play to their strengths and do what suits them to get the most out of their season. It is not up to them to run the rule over the relegation battle. Every other club is meant to do the same. The way Super League is constructed then the odd loss here and there doesn’t hurt the big clubs, because they’ll still get into the play-offs.

If Salford had won and began climbing the table whoever went down wouldn’t have been able to point the finger at Saints. They were only doing what they felt was necessary to give themselves the best chance of success – the very same that whoever goes down will be doing in NL1 next season.

Ref gets it right

Huddersfield coach Jon Sharp was incandescent after his side’s 9-9 draw with Hull FC. The game had a controversial end when Hull’s Motu Tony appeared to knock on and Sid Domic, standing in front of him, picked the ball up. Domic appeared to be offside, but instead  of a penalty ref Ian Smith waved play on, and Domic booted the ball into touch.

Sharp felt his side had been robbed of a point, because the converted penalty would have given them the lead. He said he needed “three years to calm down” and that even the Hull coaching staff knew Smith had got it wrong. But, ironically enough, they were all wrong.

Granted the situation as Sharp saw it did deserve a penalty, but a look back at the video replay shows no knock on at all. In fact the ball travelled three metres back – a fact disguised by the way Tony had travelled back after knocking it up in the air. If the ball goes back then no offside can apply. The referee got it right, and a draw as a fitting result for the efforts from both sides.

Television growth for league

Celtic Crusaders will be back in front of the TV cameras this week after penning a deal with Welsh language channel S4C for four home games to be televised live this season. This is very good news for Cymru RL, and the rising profile of league in Wales. Getting more exposure for the Crusaders will probably do more for Cymru RL than Millennium Magic did.

In particular this will help league to be seen in new parts of Wales. Having matches broadcast with a Welsh commentary will help bring the Crusaders to the attention of the Welsh-speaking areas of north west and north Wales. Not, I suspect, that the language barrier will be too off-putting for those in the south (or those of us in the M62 corridor come to that) but this is an opportunity.

The deal also reflects the growth of rugby league on our television screens. The BBC’s ‘Super League Show’ and ’Rugby League Raw’ have improved and been rewarded with two awards at the RTS Television Sports Awards. Channel M’s ’Code XIII’ goes from strength to strength and it’s been great to see live National League games on Sky Sports.

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