The Morning After: Leigh provide hope for us all, the Hardaker conundrum & testimonial talent

Zak Hardaker (3) of Wigan Warriors celebrates his try

It’s the first morning after of the season, as we look at some of the talking points coming out of last night’s matches.

Hardaker at his best

Just how Wigan ended up signing a full-back of Bevan French’s calibre when they already had Zak Hardaker remains a mystery.

Perhaps they anticipated the Australian would play in the halves. Who knows. But what is clear, is that Hardaker’s best position is at the back, and he would likely get in every other Super League team at number one – perhaps with one exception (you can fight amongst yourselves who that is).

Now with their injury problems mounting – Jai Field expected to be out for six weeks with a hamstring injury – there’s going to have to be a re-shuffle.

Given Wigan’s shortage of outside backs, Hardaker looks destined to be stuck in the centres. But maybe after last night, French’s re-introduction to Super League action should be on the wing.

Saints still a level above

My prediction that Wigan would pip St Helens to the title in 2021 got a rather unfriendly response from a Saints fan who clearly shares a different opinion.

He may well have a point, and only time will tell. But St Helens looked ominous, even in what was quite an arm wrestle with Salford, and even without Lachlan Coote at the back, reading the team news ahead of the game made your eyes widen.

James Roby is like the best wine you’ve ever tasted, yet somehow continues to get even better. That was a tough match with Salford, yet Saints still managed to win by 23 points.

They lost a few games at the start of last season and of course lost a league leaders’ shield decider to their Derby rivals – but there are sure signs that their quality, class and dominance may well be as prominent as it was in 2018 and 2019.

REPORT: St Helens 29-6 Salford: Champions kick-off new Super League season with win

Leigh provide hope for us all

We’re being told not to talk about men in suits, and Leigh provided a damn good reason why we shouldn’t.

New interim Super League chief Ken Davy tells us that the current top flight clubs are the “jewel in the crown” of rugby league. He’s wrong. They’re just the chosen ones, the lucky few who have the power to call the shots.

Leigh have come in at the eleventh hour, on much less central funding, and managed to chuck in a hell of a performance on opening night against one of the best teams in the competition.

Their owner Derek Beaumont has put his money where his mouth is to get them where they are, and even if it does end in relegation, you can be sure based on last night’s effort that they’ll give it a bloody good go.

The point is that there are plenty of teams who aren’t fortunate enough to be at the top table right now – like Leigh previously – who are more than capable of being “jewels in the crown” themselves, if they earn a place in Super League and are given the equivalent central funding.

There is life beyond just 12 teams in the top league.

REPORT: Leigh 18-20 Wigan: Brave newcomers denied by Wigan comeback

Testimonial talent

Two of the best players on the pitch in that first game are both celebrating testimonial years in 2021 – Tommy Makinson and Kevin Brown. They weren’t the only ones too, because Salford captain Lee Mossop is too.

It’s a great shame that players with this sort of service are having to get by without a proper celebration due to COVID.

It’s also a shame that there are so many this year. I get you can’t help when your decade anniversary is, but it would be nice if these long-serving players who have achieved so much, got a bit more of the attention they deserve.

A word on Brown too – he said pre-season that he will wait until mid way through the year to see if he will play on in 2022. Based on that first showing, I’d put good money on him being Super League’s oldest player next year too.

As for Makinson, he’s almost the automatic choice for England at the World Cup.

More reaction

Saints coach updates on Mark Percival, Agnatius Paasi and Lachlan Coote injuries

John Duffy devastated but proud after Leigh defeat

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