#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

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