#1 – Latest in League – Unbeaten seasons, Widnes, Salford and Toulouse.

Despite a valiant effort in the second half Wigan Warriors unbeaten start to the 2017 Super League season came to an end at the hands of Lee Radford’s Hull FC.

Just a week earlier Castleford’s perfect start to the season also came to a halt after Gareth O’Brien’s drop-goal saw Salford come away with the victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Daryl Powell said after the defeat: “People mentioned us going unbeaten for the season – well that’s put an end to that.”

Powell’s comment alongside Wigan’s defeat this past weekend got me considering the idea of an unbeaten league campaign in the world of Rugby League.

I’d almost convinced myself that Wigan would have achieved such a feat during their glory years between 1987-1995 however after some digging around I found out they hadn’t. In fact, no side has ever gone unbeaten in the top tier of British Rugby League.

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Wigan won the Challenge Cup on nine consecutive occasions but never managed an unbeaten season. (Photo: Wigan Warriors)

 

However, it has been achieved in Australia – but not since 1959. South Sydney managed to win every game (12 from 12) in their 1925 campaign while Balmain, North Sydney, East Suburbs, and St George all achieved unbeaten seasons with the East Suburbs managing it in consecutive seasons.

Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm are the only sides who still have perfect records in this year’s NRL however with the quality of the competition, the effect of the State of Origin games, and the golden-point rule it is extremely unlikely a side will ever remain unbeaten for a whole season again.

Hull KR still have a perfect record in the Championship this season with seven wins from seven and if they were to manage an unbeaten season they would match the achievement of their cross-city rivals Hull FC who won the second division in 1978-79 without a loss.

However, KR will have to compete in the qualifiers at the end of the season which means facing four Super League sides reducing the chance of an unbeaten campaign dramatically. Also, going unbeaten in the Championship is no easy task ask the Leigh Centurions who suffered one regular season defeat in each of their last three seasons – Doncaster (2014), London (2015) & Batley (2016).

Toulouse Olympique came close to an unbeaten last year in the Championship One however a defeat to Rochdale Hornets in the play-offs ended their run and emphasised the difficulty of an unbeaten season.

Dewsbury Rams managed to go through the 2009 season in the third-tier without a loss and it looks like it could be in the Championship One where we see an unbeaten season in 2017 with newbies Toronto Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack have already overcome to of the stronger sides in Whitehaven and Keighley as well as knocking Championship side London Broncos out of the Challenge Cup. Toronto could very well go unbeaten this season and it seems more likely that the Canadians will achieve the feat rather than KR.

As mentioned, Salford were the side who ended Castleford’s early season winning streak and they followed that up with a clinical destruction of Widnes at the Select Security Stadium on Friday night.

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Salford destroyed Widnes this past weekend in the Super League. (Photo: Daily Star)

 

A one-sided affair was an indication of the difference in recruitment and club management between two sides who I view as very similar in Salford and Widnes. Both are stereotypically lower-mid Super League sides who competed in the middle-eights last year – with Salford surviving by the skin of their teeth thanks to Gareth O’Brien’s unforgettable drop-goal against Hull KR.

However, Salford have recruited well in pre-season and have put faith in head coach Ian Watson and it is already proving a good decision with the likes of Ben Murdoch-Masila, Lama Tasi, Junior Sa’u and coach Watson all signing new contracts this week.

As for Widnes, it seemed that they thought signing several players to long-term deals following their fantastic start last season would see them through however poor recruitment in pre-season has singled them out as possibly the weakest side in the Super League. Tom Olbison and Tom Armstrong were their only additions over the winter and Dennis Betts failed to replace half-back Kevin Brown which was proved detrimental to the start of their season.

I personally believe Salford have finally got it right with their recruitment and management off the field after years of trying but failing to climb the table but for Widnes it could be a long season with the threat of relegation possible.

I’d like to finish my first ‘Latest in League’ piece talking about Toulouse Olympique who I had the pleasure of watching for the first time this weekend as they defeated Featherstone Rovers at the Big Fellas Stadium.

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Toulouse celebrate their promotion last year. (Photo: Ladepeche.fr)

 

Toulouse returned to British Rugby League at the beginning of last season and earned promotion from League One after winning the league leaders shield before victories over York and Barrow in the play-offs.

Sylvain Houles’ forwards were extremely impressive with the likes of Sebastien Planas, Andrew Bentley, Clement Boyer, and Tyla Hepi causing the Rovers defence all sorts of issues and consistently getting their nose through the defensive line. Olympique’s offload game saw them blitz Featherstone in the early stages going 16-0 up in as many minutes.

In Mark Kheirallah they have an extremely talented full-back, clever halves with Stanislas Robin and Johnathan Ford and the powerhouse winger that is Kuni Minga.

Toulouse, I feel, can fight for promotion in the coming seasons and it will be extremely interesting to see a Super League with two French sides and how that could develop in the future.

Warm-up games – 7/8 January

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Albert Kelly is likely to feature against his old club. (Photo: Hull FC)

 

The pick of this weekend’s warm-up games come at the KC Stadium as Hull FC host local rivals Hull KR in their first game since relegation to the Championship.

Albert Kelly, who recently signed for FC from KR, is in Lee Radford’s squad and the FC boss has revealed that Kelly will feature for at least thirty minutes on Sunday, per Hull Daily Mail.

KR could have numerous new signings on display such as Danny Addy, Jamie Ellis and Nick Scruton.Wakefield Trinity are the only other Super League side in action as they travel to the Tetley’s Stadium to face Dewsbury.

An all-Lancashire affair sees Swinton host Oldham as they both prepare for their second consecutive seasons in the Championship following survival last year. Featherstone Rovers, who featured in last seasons qualifiers, host Hunslet who struggled in League One in 2016.

Two National Conference sides feature in this weekend’s fixtures with Division One side Hunslet Warriors visiting League One Cup holders Keighley Cougars while Castleford Lock Lane host a Castleford Tigers Academy side.

Last seasons Championship runners-up London Broncos are looking to go one better this season and welcome the visit of the British Army in their opening warm-up fixture. The British Army will be using the game to prepare for their Challenge Cup tie with Egremont Rangers on 28th January.

This weekend’s fixtures in full:

Saturday 7th January

  • Castleford Lock Lane vs Castleford Tigers U19’s
  • London Broncos vs British Army

Sunday 8th January

  • Keighley Cougars vs Hunslet Warriors
  • Hull FC vs Hull KR
  • Dewsbury Rams vs Wakefield Trinity
  • Featherstone Rovers vs Hunslet RLFC
  • Swinton Lions vs Oldham RLFC

Hull KR 18-25 Leigh Centurions – Match Report

 

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Andrew Dixon celebrates his try. (BBC Sport)

The super-eights concept has raised the question whether a Championship side could realistically earn promotion via the qualifiers however Leigh have certainly eased the criticism and propelled their promotion push with an 18-25 victory over Hull KR.

Leigh’s victory mean they become the first Championship side to beat a Super League side away in a middle-eights fixture. The Centurions have now won all four of their middle-eights fixtures and have now defeated two Super League sides following their victory over Salford three weeks ago.

It was against Hull KR in last year’s middle-eights when Leigh let slip a 24-4 lead at half-time slip away and suffered a narrow 26-36 defeat at home which started their end of season dip in form.

Three tries in sequence in the early stages of the second-half allowed Leigh to take the lead. Andrew Dixon, Matty Dawson and Josh Drinkwater all scored. Sam Hopkins had crossed to pull the Centurions to within six points before half-time. A late Martyn Ridyard drop-goal confirmed victory.

KR did lead by twelve points after two early tries from Ken Sio and Josh Mantellato. Matty Marsh scored with fifteen minutes remaining but it wasn’t enough to force a comeback for the home side. Sio eventually left the field with an eye injury. Albert Kelly missed the game for the Super League side following a suspension from the club for arriving home from Australia late.

Leigh now sit in 2nd place in the qualifiers behind, the only other team with a 100% record, Leeds. As for KR they remain in 4th place which means they would have to compete in the ‘Million Pound Game’ currently against London Broncos.

Four Centurions defenders dumped Thomas Minns into touch with the very first tackle of the game and it looked as though it would sent the tempo for the visitors. However, Leigh conceded three consecutive penalties in the following defensive set and Hull KR gained control of the game.

Cory Paterson shoved Ben Cockayne to the floor which awarded KR their third penalty which gave them the opportunity to kick at goal which Mantellato took and converted.

A huge kick from Maurice Blair soon forced a goal-line dropout as Dawson couldn’t escape the chasing KR defenders. From the resulting set some quick hands out wide from the home side eventually found Sio on the bounce, the winger scooped up the ball and finished well after falling to his knees.

Drinkwater conceded a 4th Leigh penalty in ten minutes and KR crossed for a second when a looping pass was taken well by Mantellato. Mantellato missed the conversion but did sink a penalty goal following an obstruction six minutes later.

Despite all KR’s pressure they couldn’t score again before the interval. Leigh did force their way over when Sam Hopkins powered his way over Ben Cockayne and Mitchell Allgood. Ridyard’s conversion meant the Championship side only trailed by six points at half-time.

Leigh’s lightning start for the first tackle was repeated in the second-half but the Centurions managed to prolong their momentum by scoring three tries in five minutes. Dixon was the first to score as he collect Ridyard’s offload and raced to the line.

A high Josh Drinkwater bomb caused issues for Cockayne who dropped the ball in testing conditions Dawson reacted quickest and planted the ball down to give Leigh the lead. Drinkwater scored one himself just moments later when Paterson split the KR defence and then found the Australian half-back who finished under the posts.

But the game wasn’t over Cockayne stepped through the Centurions line and had half-back Matty Marsh in support who couldn’t be caught. Mantellato’s conversion pulled KR within four points of the visitors.

However Ridyard’s drop-goal four minutes from time sealed the victory for Leigh and means they head into the game against Huddersfield still unbeaten. Hull KR travel to London.

Hull KR: Cockayne, Sio, Minns, Thornley, Mantellato; Marsh, Blair; Tilse, Lunt, Allgood, Greenwood, Clarkson, Walker.

Interchanges: Mulhern, Larroyer, Donaldson, Lawler.

Leigh: McNally, Higson, Worthington, Brown, Dawson; Ridyard, Drinkwater; Hock, Higham, Weston, Maitua, Tickle, Paterson.

Interchanges: Hood, Hansen, Dixon, Hopkins.

Referee: R. Hicks. Touch Judges: A. Martin & C. Kendall. Video Referee: J. Child.

Sheffield Eagles 32-28 Dewsbury Rams – Match Report

The Eagles managed to fightback from a twenty-point deficit to win their first game in three weeks as they overcame the Dewsbury Rams 32-28.

Menzie Yere scored with the last play of the game as he broke down the left flank before cutting inside to round off the comeback.

This came on the back of four unanswered tries from the Eagles with Keal Carlile and Quentin-Laula Togagae crossing as well as Championship top try-scorer Rob Worrincy grabbing a double.

Nathan Conroy had scored early on in the second half to give the Rams a twenty-point lead after Luka Adamson, Dalton Grant, Etu Uaisele and Aaron Brown had all scored in the first half for the visitors. Mark Mexico scored just before the interval adding to Menzie Yere’s first.

Dewsbury crossed twice in the opening stages with Luke Adamson powering his way over from a few yards out after the Rams had kept the ball alive. The Eagles looked for an immediate response but QLT’s pass was intercepted by Dalton Grant who then raced the length of the field to extend the visitors early lead.

The Eagles did get on the board a few moments later though and this time QLT’s pass was perfect for Menzie Yere who caught the ball and burrowed his way over out wide.

James Glover had only converted one of the Rams two tries so when the opportunity to kick for goal arose Shane Grady added an extra two for the visitors.

Etu Uaisele was next to cross for Dewsbury as he took the ball from first receiver from a scrum and found a gap out wide before capitalising. This was soon followed by Aaron Brown’s effort as he hit the ball at pace on the angle and forced his way over from close range.

Mark Aston’s side did grab a try just before the break however as interchange Mark Mexico broke through the middle of the Dewsbury defence and made it to the line.

In similar fashion to the first half however the visitors crossed first when Paul Sykes sent Brown through a gap before Brown found Nathan Conroy in support who finished the move off.

With the Eagles now twenty points behind QLT initiated the comeback as he used his footwork to create an opening and dive over. Sheffield maintained their pressure as Michael Knowles and Menzie Yere linked up before finding Rob Worrincy who sped to the line out wide.

Hooker Keal Carlile was next to score for the Eagles as he managed to force his way under the Rams defence from behind the play-the-ball. Worrincy doubled his account for the evening when Cory Aston found him with an inch-perfect cross-field kick which the winger took and finished well under pressure.

With the last play of the game Yere collected the ball thirty yards out before racing down the flank stepping inside and diving over next to the sticks to give the Eagles their first win in three weeks.

Eagles: QLT, Worrincy, Yere, Tyson, Blackmore; Hewitt, Aston; Thorpe, Carlile, Stringer, Knowles, James, Minchella.

Interchanges: Fozard, Mexico, Neal, Wheeldon.

Dewsbury: Guzdek, Morton, Crookes, Uaisele, Grant; Glover, Kain; Adamson, Conroy, Hepworth, Hale, Grady, Farrell.

Interchanges: Brown, Teanby, Sykes, Trout.

Referee: J. Roberts. Touch Judges: T. Crashley & T. Hudson. Attendance: 441

Wakefield Wildcats 44-10 Sheffield Eagles – Match Report

The Eagles couldn’t progress to round six of the Challenge Cup following a 44-10 defeat at the hands of Super League club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Belle Vue.

Liam Finn and Tirinau Arona both grabbed doubles for the Wildcats whilst Tom Johnstone, Ben Jones-Bishop, Mika Simon and Mikey Sio also scored for the home side. Finn kicked six from eight conversions.

Menzie Yere scored both of the Eagles tries on the back of kicks. His first came from his own grubber through before he took advantage of Cory Aston’s kick later in the half.

Mitch Stringer returned to captain the Eagles after a few weeks out of the side and Dave Hewitt also returned in place of Rhys Jacks. However Duane Straugheir did leave the field for a concussion check in the second-half and didn’t return. Chris Chester made five changes to his Wakefield side including Captain Danny Kirkmond who missed out.

The Eagles actually got on the scoresheet first. A bad ball from Aston was about to hit the ground however Yere reacted poking the ball forward with a kick and managing to follow up and plant the ball down. Aston converted.

Wakefield levelled the score ten minutes later as Jacob Miller broke before finding Finn in support who crossed despite the best efforts of the chasing Eagles defenders. Finn converted.

The Wildcats took the lead soon after and again Miller was the creator as his looping ball found winger Johnstone who scored in the corner. Johnstone’s pace came in hand for Wakefield’s next try as he broke from the halfway line before throwing the ball inside to Craig Hall who then fired the ball to Finn to stroll over for his second.

Sheffield were creating opportunities and capitalized when QLT’s grubber kick was missed by Jones-Bishop before Yere got his hands to the ball to grab his second of the game and pull the Eagles back within four points.

But Wakefield would run in three tries in sequence before the interval to give them a comfortable lead at half-time. First quick hands out wide eventually found Jones-Bishop who dived over in the corner. This was followed by forward duo Arona and Simon both powering over from close-range in the final five minutes of the half.

The pace slowed down significantly in the second half with the Eagles defence keeping the Wildcats at bay for the most part. Sio did manage to evade a defenders before scoring ten minutes into the second half which Finn followed up with the conversion.

Injuries became a problem for both sides and Eagles Straugheir was taken from the field for a concussion check and didn’t return. As the game drew to a close Arona barged his way over his second of the game and Finn converted with the last kick of the game.

The result means the Eagles are out of the 2016 Challenge Cup and will return to Championship action against the London Broncos on Friday in their first home game in six.

Wildcats: Hall, Jones-Bishop, Gibson, Arundel, Johnstone; Miller, Finn; England, Howarth, Arona, Tupou, Ashurst, Sio.

Interchanges: Simon, Annakin, Yates, Walton.

Eagles: QLT, Worrincy, Yere, Tyson, Millar; Aston, Hewitt; Thorpe, Carlile, Stringer, James, Straugheir, Knowles.

Interchanges: Fozard, Minchella, Neal, Mexico.

Referee: B. Thaler. Touch Judges: S. Kilpatrick & P. Parker. Attendance: 2257

Oldham Roughyeds 21-20 Sheffield Eagles – Match Report

Lewis Palfrey’s drop-goal was the difference as Sheffield Eagles fell 21-20 to the Oldham Roughyeds at Bower Fold.

Palfrey’s late one-pointer came just a few minutes after Matt James had levelled the scores at 20-20 however Cory Aston missed the conversion which would have given the Eagles the lead.

Oldham scored two quick tries in the early stages of the second half with both Michael Ward and Kenny Hughes crossing. A try from Matty Fozard followed to keep the Eagles in touching distance.

Sheffield actually led at half-time after Fozard and Menzie Yere both benefited from low grubber kicks. Liam Johnson’s long-range effort put the Roughyed’s on the board before the interval.

Rob Worrincy returned to the Eagles side following Garry Lo’s injury last week against Bradford whilst Michael Knowles came back into the side starting on the bench.

The Eagles took just over five minutes to open the scoring when Rhys Jacks’ low kick was collected by Fozard who spun and planted the ball down. Aston followed up with the conversion.

Both defences were working hard keeping chances to a minimum but the Eagles did manage to extend their lead. Another dangerous grubber kick, this time from Aston, was chased down by Yere who managed to ground the ball before it went dead. Aston converted.

Oldham didn’t go into the break scoreless however as Johnson reacted quickest to Aston’s low kick taking it on the full before racing eighty metres to score under the posts just before half-time. Palfrey converted.

The Roughyeds took control in the early stages of the second half crossing twice in the space for three minutes. Ward managed to force his way over for Oldham following a Richard Lepori break from deep inside his own half. Palfrey converted from in front of the sticks.

Just moments later back-to-back penalties took Oldham to the Eagles line again and this time Hughes jumped from hooker and burrowed his way under the Sheffield defenders to put the home side ahead. Palfrey converted.

Fozard notched his second try of the game when he threw a dummy and went over from a few yards out after Lepori had fumbled Jacks’ high bomb. However Aston skewed his kick wide meaning the Eagles trailed by two.

Sheffield continued to push forward as Keal Carlile was held-up over the line but another penalty for Oldham would allow Palfrey to kick for goal and extend the home sides lead to four points. The Eagles followed this by keeping the ball alive and earning a repeat set which allowed James to crash over to level the game. However, Aston again sliced his conversion.

Mark Mexico would then knock-on from the kick-off which gave Oldham and Palfrey position to kick a drop-goal to sneak back in front. Sheffield had one last attack and they opted to kick wide for the victory instead of putting over a drop-goal of their own. The kick was collected by Jamal Chisholm who was tackled in the air and the Eagles came away with nothing.

Eagles: QLT, Worrincy, Yere, Tyson, Millar; Aston, Jacks; Thorpe, Carlile, Neal, James, Straugheir, Fozard.

Interchanges: Minchella, Blagbrough, Knowles, Mexico.

Oldham: Lepori, Clay, Gee, Johnson, Chisholm; Palfrey, Roper; Joy, Owen, Dickinson, Thompson, Middlehurst, Hope.

Interchanges: Burke, Ward, Hughes, Spencer.

Referee: Jonathan Roberts. Attendance: 724

Featherstone Rovers 28-16 Sheffield Eagles – Match Report

Sheffield suffered a third straight Championship defeat as they fell to a 28-16 against a Featherstone side who are still unbeaten at home.

Tries from Kyle Briggs and Jamie Cording late on secured the win for Featherstone after Briggs’ two penalty goals had edged them in front.

Rob Worrincy and Quentin Laula Togagae had given Sheffield the lead after Misi Taulapapa opened the scoring for Featherstone.

Cording’s first try followed one of from Andy Ellis which put the Rovers in front heading into half time but Keal Carlile snuck over in the final minutes which meant the sides went into the break level at 16-16.

Mark Aston had made changes to the Eagles side with Duane Straugheir started the game at centre in replace of an absent George Tyson, Scott Wheeldon started in the second-row and Mark Mexico was left out.

As for Featherstone they had four former-Eagles in their side – John Davies, Scott Turner, Kyle Briggs and Misi Taulapapa.

Featherstone capitalised on the first opportunity that fell their way as QLT dropped the ball from a Danny Craven kick. From the resulting play former-Eagle Taulapapa managed to fend off incoming challenges and forced his way over from close range.

The game was soon levelled when QLT turned provider for his own team as he found Worrincy who squeezed under the Rovers defence and scored in the corner. QLT was the man who finished the Eagles next try. Blackmore evaded two tackles to break from the halfway line before finding the Samoan full-back who raced in under the sticks.

Sheffield’s was soon cut short in an end-to-end half of Rugby. Ellis picked up the ball at Hooker before spinning and burrowing his way underneath the defence. Briggs missed the conversion however he slotted over a penalty around ten minutes later.

Blackmore was sin-binned for the second consecutive game after he had an altercation Taulapapa off the ball and the home side made the man advantage pay instantly. Second-rower Cording managed to hand off two Eagles defenders close to the line before crashing over. Briggs converted.

However, even with twelve men, the Eagles managed to score before half time when Carlile jumped from hooker and dived over the line. Knowles’ conversion ensured the teams were level at the interval.

As the second half progressed the game became more defence orientated with no side wanting to slip up. The Eagles turned away two opportunities to kick for goal and push themselves in front.

But the home side didn’t turn down the chance to develop a slender lead as Briggs slotted over a penalty with just over ten minutes remaining. Moments later he converted another penalty goal to extend the lead to four.

Featherstone grabbed control in the closing minutes crossing for two late tries. Briggs, who had given the Rovers the lead, furthered it when he stepped near the line and dived over before Cording finished off a Taulapapa break down the left hand flank. Briggs missed both conversions but it was still enough to consign the Eagles to defeat.

Featherstone: Hardman, Johnson, Tagg, Taulapapa, Turner; Briggs, Craven; Griffin, Ellis, Bostock, Cording, Davies, Spears.

Interchanges: Ormondroyd, Achurch, Baldwinson, Roche.

Sheffield: QLT, Worrincy, Yere, Straugheir, Blackmore; Aston, Hewitt; Thorpe, Carlile, Neal, Knowles, Wheeldon, Fozard.

Interchanges: Jacks, James, Minchella, Stringer.

Referee: M. Woodhead Touch Judges: J. Pullein & D. Bowmer.