Super League’s triumph gives cause for hope – on the field at least

The World Club Series wins of Warrington and Wigan over the weekend are being celebrated by British rugby league fans now and rightly so.

Both results on their own were impressive enough, with Warrington beating Brisbane Broncos 27-18, and Wigan winning 22-6 over Cronulla.

But what should interest keen eyed observers of the game is the way that both British teams went about their business.

Warrington and Wigan play contrasting styles of rugby, very much in the image of their respective coaches.

Wire coach Tony Smith is an urbane and laidback character, a man who favours creativity over completion rates, style over stubborness.

Wigan’s Shaun Wane, in contrast, is all about aggression and intensity from his players. His pre-match interviews often make plentiful use of words like ‘levers’ and ‘units’, reflecting an almost industrial type of approach which blends power with precision and planning.

Both their approaches found their ultimate justification at the weekend. There is no bigger challenge for Super League clubs than beating their Australian counterparts from the NRL, and both Super League clubs met the challenge superbly.

Yes, it can be argued that neither Aussie team was properly prepared, but that is really their problem, not Warrington’s or Wigan’s.

Super League is often derided for lacking both skill and intensity, of being both less entertaining and less organised.

Warrington showed that the competition has teams who can run and pass with the best of them, while Wigan showed that English teams do not lack ‘dog’, and can defend aggressively and with organisation for the full 80 minutes..

That is very comforting, after a very tricky period for the sport in this country, in which off-field ineptitude has dominated the headlines over the stuff that is carried out on the pitch.

But it seems that we can still produce players and coaches who can test and match anything from Australia on a given day.

It was also worth pointing out that Wire’s triumph had a touch of ‘Great Britain’ about it, with Super League’s only Scottish-born player, Matty Russell, and Rhys Evans, from Wales, in the line-up.

Russell looked like he could be on the verge of making the step up to becoming truly international class, taking his try with typical obdurate opportunism.

There was also a young British halfback, in the shape of Declan Patton, playing with maturity and wisdon beyond his 21 years. His drop goal was perfectly executed, and a great option to take at the time he slotted it.

Wigan’s team was also liberally seasoned with a core of locally raised youngsters, with George Williams another British halfback performing with maturity, judgement and fierce commitment.

Welshman Ben Flower added grit and resolve.

John Bateman, although a Yorkshireman by birth, epitomises the local pride and will-to-win of this Wigan team. It was absolutely delightful to see Bateman really taking it physically to NRL forwards, and even finding the time to pat them on the head in mock congratulation after sustaining a hit.

So maybe we aren’t in quite such dire straits as we thought in this country. Our rugby league players and coaches can produce world-class performances, full of elan, entertainment and effort.

Now it’s up to the adminstrators to match them.

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