I do always enjoy the Easter campaign. Regardless of what Australian coaches tend to say about it, as a rugby league fan it is a fantastic time of year!
The second round of weekend fixtures usually bring some eye catching results and there was none more so than St Helens beating Castleford.
The Tigers have rarely been bettered all season but found a committed St Helens eager to make up for Good Friday defeat to Wigan.
In a close game Saints ran for 110 metres more, had 23 more carries and produced more offloads than the Tigers. Key to their win for me was restricting Castleford line breaks to just three all game, this despite making 261 tackles compared to 355. This suggests that St Helens were more economical in defence, not having to commit as many men to the challenges.
Regan Grace is the talk of Super League at the moment following a brilliant debut at Wigan and the young winger prodced the goods again with a smart try and two line breaks. Despite not being as prolific in making metres, his average carry achieved 7.10 metres.
It is noticeable that Mark Percival’s stats have picked up since agreeing his new contract. Here he made 17 carries for 106 metres while being squeaky clean in eleven tackles. Credit must also go to Luke Thompson (35) and Zeb Taia (30) who led defensive duties. It was a busy game for Taia in particular – he was also top carrier with 18 and one of five players to make over 100 metres.
For Castleford only Greg Eden, Zak Hardaker and the ever consistent Junior Moors made over 100 metres and the real difference is the number of tackles amassed by the Castleford forwards. Paul McShane (43), Moors (31), McMeeken (39) and Adam Milner (37) seemed to be picked out. This isn’t much of a surprise. McShane and Milner are smaller players and were probably on Saints tip sheet while Moors and McMeeken have been very effective ball in hand. Matt Cook and Grant Millington also missed 5 tackles each from the Tigers 31 misses. Saints only missed 17 tackles all game.
I’m sure the interim coaching team will have been grinning from ear to ear.
After a grueling derby, probably the last place you want to go is Wakefield but that is what Wigan were faced with this time. It certainly looked like a tough old game, but again the work done by the Wigan backline helped set foundation for victory. Sure there were the usual efforts of Liam Farrell (151 metres from 17 carries), and Frank-Paul Nuuausala made 110 metres, but early ball out wide and some intelligent dummy half scoots saw Liam Marshall (one try, 13 carries, 134 metres), Anthony Gelling (18 carries, 143 metres) and Tom Davies (18 carries, 158 metres). I’m also going to mention the Wigan halfbacks here. Both carried the ball to the line (13 times in George Willims case) andran for just shy of 130 metres. Many halfback stats I have looked at this season see the main men barely running 30 metres sometimes although Williams is the exception.
Wakefield shared the work around with Anthony England and Tinirau Arona having busy games while Mason Caton-Brown and Arona made over 100 metres. Jacob Miller and Ben Jones-Bishop were the leading break makers for Trinity with two each. In defence Wakefield were well served by Kyle Wood (44 tackles) and Danny Kirmond (39) but ultimately Wigan edged it.
There was an impressive debut for Dave Thompson at Leigh (18 carries, 144 metres) while Dayne Weston looked back to his best (14 carries, 138 metres). Matty Dawson drew praise from his coach for moving into the centres and Liam Hood (41 tackles) seemed to be everywhere but overall the Hull big guys stepped up. Mahe Fonua was tremendous, making 216 metres from 24 carries, Carlos Tuimavave added real cut and thrust with two tries, thirteen carries and 147 metres while Liam Watts (136 metres) and Scott Taylor (132 metres) got forward. Most of the damage was done in the first half when the visitors took an 18-0 lead to half-time and despite the Centurions rally, Hull completed the job 24-10.
Mitch Garbutt was again the pick of a Leeds pack that also featured a heavyweight performance from Keith Galloway. Garbutt is in a rich vein of form and made 156 metres. He also chipped in with 33 tackles. A similar set of stats (155 metres, 32 tackles) was produced by Widnes Jack Buchanan but overall the Vikings could never fully recover from a disastrous first half that saw them 30-6 behind. It finished 42-22 to Leeds. As a team Leeds missed 17 tackles while just the Widnes backline (18) eclipsed this while the team amassed 39 altogether.
Ashton Sims and Chris Hill stepped up again for Warrington against Huddersfield while Stefan Rtchford proved crucial, but as if to illustrate my point about the importance of Declan Patton, he set up two tries to help ensure a second win over Easter for the Wolves.
It was a better effort from Huddersfield with Jermaine McGillvary (169), Kruise Leeming (128) and Sebstien Ikahihifo (108) the big metre makers, but they were ultimately just edged out.
I’ll be back after the weekend to review another truncated Super League round.