#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.

Super League Team of the Week: Matchday 6

Castleford returned to winning ways this weekend as well as climbing back to the top of Super League following Wigan’s loss to Hull FC.

There were wins for Salford, Wakefield, Saints and Leeds while Widnes and Warrington’s winless streaks continued for another week.

But, who made my Super League Team of the Week?

Full-Back: Jamie Shaul (Hull FC)

Hull FC managed to pull of what could turn out to be a crucial victory in the chase for the League Leaders Shield as they overcame an injury-ridden Wigan side at the DW Stadium. FC had many standout performers but full-back Jamie Shaul was key.

Shaul was a constant threat in the final third having a hand in a couple of Hull’s tries as well as crossing for one himself. The full-backs try four minutes into the second half turned out to be the difference between the sides following a late Wigan fightback.

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Shaul calling the shots for FC. (Image: Sky Sports)

 

Winger: Greg Eden (Castleford Tigers)

Castleford bounced back from their first defeat of the season as they came from behind against Catalans Dragons. The Tigers style of play this season has led to their wingers featuring in many ‘Team of the Weeks’ and this week is no different with Greg Eden occupying a spot on the flank.

Eden’s first came from Castleford earning the ball back from a Catalan scrum and the winger chasing down a Ben Roberts kick. The former Brisbane winger sealed victory for Tigers as he broke through the Dragons defence with fifteen minutes remaining.

Centre: Kris Welham (Salford Red Devils)

Ian Watson’s Salford Red Devils were on fire on Friday night against a struggling Widnes side with nine different try-scorers helping them to a comfortable 10-46 victory at the Select Security Stadium.

Kris Welham was one of those scorers crossing in the first half as well as helping Greg Johnson go over on the same flank. Welham could prove to be a very strong addition to the Salford side.

Centre: Jake Connor (Hull FC)

A fantastic first half display from Lee Radford’s side saw them blow Wigan away with their attacking play too much for the Warriors. Centre Jake Connor had one of his better games in the black and white of FC.

Connor managed to score on the back of a magnificent ball from Sika Manu as well as causing problems for the Warriors defence alongside Mahe Fonua.

Winger: Adam Swift (St Helens)

Friday night’s Sky game saw Saints earn a comfortable victory over Warrington after a difficult opening thirty minutes. Winger Adam Swift went over twice for Kieran Cunningham’s side who are slowly beginning to climb the Super League table.

Mark Percival put Swift over in the closing stages of the first half and the third try in five minutes really dampened Warrington’s spirit going into the interval. The winger managed to grab his double midway through the second half and confirm victory for the Saints.

Scrum-Half: Jacob Miller (Wakefield Trinity)

Wakefield stuttered through the early stages of their game against Leigh on Thursday however once their forwards snatched control of the game half-back Jacob Miller was allowed to play and created numerous opportunities for Trinity.

Miller combined well with Sam Williams opening up the Centurions defence on the back of some quick play-the-balls. Miller was also the man to level the scores at 24-24 when he got on the end of Liam Finn’s low kick.

Stand-Off: Matty Smith (St Helens)

For weeks now we’ve heard Saints coach Kieran Cunningham point out the difference off-season signing Matty Smith would make when he returned to the side and Cunningham’s wasn’t wrong as Smith played a pivotal role in Saints 31-6 victory.

Smith controlled the game for large periods and added an organisation to St Helens that we had yet to witness this season. Cunningham will be hoping the England international’s impact carries on in the coming weeks.

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Matty Smith returned to action for St Helens. (Image: Getty Images)

 

Prop: Keegan Hirst (Wakefield Trinity)

Wakefield made some very astute signings in pre-season and one prospect was Keegan Hirst who arrived at the Beaumont Legal Stadium after two (?) solid seasons with Championship side Batley Bulldogs.

Hirst debuted this weekend and made an impact from the bench in Trinity’s victory over Leigh. Wakefield managed to claw themselves back into the game by winning the forward battle something which Hirst was central to.

Hooker: Matt Parcell (Leeds Rhinos)

For the second week running Matt Parcell sits in the role of hooker in my Super League Team of the Week after another great performance in Leeds’ 12-28 win over Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday night.

Parcell has injected this Rhino’s side with something different in the final third and is proving to be one of the best Super League signings of 2017 already. Parcell was quickest to react to Carl Ablett’s low kick in the first half which extended Leeds’ lead.

Prop: Lama Tasi (Salford Red Devils)

Salford followed up their surprise victory over Castleford last weekend by signing a handful of players to new contracts with one of those being prop-forward Lama Tasi. The Kiwi displayed his commitment to the cause with an excellent performance in the Red Devils hammering of Widnes.

Ian Watson’s side, much like last weekend against the Tigers, completely dominated the ruck with forwards such as Tasi and Murdoch-Masila. Tasi powered his way over to open the scoring before eight other Red Devils would cross for tries of their own.

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Lama Tasi in action for the Red Devils. (Image: Sporting Life)

 

Second-Row: Junior Moors (Castleford Tigers)

Daryl Powell’s expansive brand of Rugby League draws a huge amount of attention to his backs however it’s Cas’ powerful pack that lay the groundwork and Junior Moors is a consistent performer for the Tigers.

Moors, who was a handful for the Dragons defence throughout Sunday afternoon’s game, also found himself on the scoresheet just five minutes into the second half as he strolled through the Catalans defence.

Second-Row: Carl Ablett (Leeds Rhinos)

Carl Ablett was sent to the bin in Leeds victory over Huddersfield for an altercation with Danny Brough. However, the experienced second-rower had already made the positive impact necessary for the Rhinos in the first half and that’s why he made my Team of the Week.

Ablett pounced on a loose ball to put Leeds ahead in the first half and he turned provider a few minutes later as his grubber kick was planted down by Matt Parcell.

Loose-Forward: Jon Wilkin (St Helens)

With Matty Smith sidelined we’ve seen Kieran Cunningham experiment with youngster Danny Richardson at half-back as well as moving Jon Wilkin into the halves. While Wilkin has produced solid performances, he was back to his best this weekend as he returned to the pack.

The veteran forward looked to have a weight off his shoulders with Smith at half-back and excelled in both defence and attack for Saints.

 


 

Super League Team of the Week: Matchday 5

Another enthralling weekend of Super League action saw Castleford and Wigan fail to win for the first times this season. However, Wigan’s draw keeps them top of the Super League table.

Hull FC and Leeds continued to chase the pacesetters while Warrington and Widnes remain winless.

But, who made my Team of the Week?

Full-Back: Morgan Escare (Wigan Warriors)

Morgan Escare arrived at the DW Stadium in the off-season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders being tasked with the role of filling in for an injured Sam Tomkins however he has adapted to life at Wigan extremely well.

The French full-back crossed in the first half to level the score for the Warriors before kicking two goals including a crucial late penalty goal which earned Wigan a point and meant Shaun Wane’s side are now alone at the top of the Super League table – one point clear of Castleford, Hull and Leeds.

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Morgan Escare kicks a late goal for Wigan. (Photo: Stephen White – CameraSport/Getty Images)

 

Winger: Jack Owens (St Helens)

Since signing from Widnes at the beginning of the 2016 season Jack Owens is yet to set the world alight at St Helens but this weekend his try earned them an important two points in the south of France.

While Theo Fages’ sublime offload made the try Owens was in support to earn Saints’ second victory of the season and inflict Catalans’ first home defeat in 2017.

Centre: Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)

Leeds made it back-to-back Super League wins with a controlled performance over an in-form Wakefield Trinity side with centre Kallum Watkins scoring twice for the Rhinos.

The Englishman climbed highest from a cross-field kick to open the scoring at Headingley before taking advantage of some neat play from Matt Parcell for his second of the game. England fans will be hoping he can return to the kind of form he displayed in 2015 particularly with the Rugby League World Cup at the end of the season.

Centre: Ben Crooks (Leigh Centurions)

Ben Crooks has been a victim of Castleford’s ever-growing success and has slowly been ousted from the Tigers side however he has shown the quality he possesses since signing a loan-deal with Leigh.

Crooks was solid in defence throughout Leigh’s first victory against Warrington in over twenty years and scored the Centurions second try of the game which really got them moving. The centre took advantage of the free-play rule before collecting his own kick and sliding over.

Winger: Mahe Fonua (Hull FC)

After a slow start against the Vikings it turned out to be a relatively comfortable victory for Hull FC at the KC Stadium and winger Mahe Fonua was on the scoresheet for Lee Radford’s side.

Fonua began the evening as provider taking Marc Sneyd’s cross-field kick well before offloading to Albert Kelly. The roles were reversed later when a neat pass from half-back Kelly found Fonua on the flank and the wideman finished well giving FC an eight-point lead going into the break.

Scrum-half: Albert Kelly (Hull FC)

Albert Kelly’s move across Hull from KR to FC turned some heads in the off-season but he is already proving to be a great addition for the 2016 Challenge Cup winners and was central to their victory over Super League strugglers Widnes this past Friday.

Kelly crossed for two tries in a game which Lee Radford’s side dominated. The half-back’s first came on the back of some good work from Fonua before Kelly again crossed in the second half powering his way over from close-range. Kelly was the most dangerous man on the field for FC scoring twice and earning an assist.

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Albert Kelly celebrates vs Widnes. (Photo: Hull Daily Mail)

 

Stand-Off: Gareth O’Brien (Salford Red Devils)

Salford Red Devils half-back is continuing to turn heads in the world of Rugby League ever since his drop-goal in the Million Pound Game and O’Brien again stepped up this weekend with a one-pointer to consign Castleford to their first defeat of the season.

O’Brien kept his cool late on kicking a penalty goal, after missing an earlier conversion, to draw the sides level before slotting over a drop-goal with just over two minutes left on the clock.

Prop: Gareth Hock (Leigh Centurions)

A remarkable 22-8 victory for Super League newbies Leigh over Warrington was fuelled by prop-forward Gareth Hock who rolled back the years with a terrific performance at the Leigh Sports Village.

The former Wigan and Salford forward was solid in defence and took the ball up well but it was actually his try-scoring which propelled Leigh to victory this weekend. Hock powered over to open the scoring inside the first ten minutes before crossing again in the second-half to help Leigh reach their highest ever Super League points tally.

Hooker: Matt Parcell (Leeds Rhinos)

The departure of James Segeyaro at the backend of the 2016 season left a void in the Leeds Rhinos camp however the arrival of Matt Parcell from NRL side Manly has proved to be a fantastic signing for Brian McDermott’s side.

Parcell was pivotal to everything the Rhinos did going forward in their comfortable win over Wakefield with McDermott saying post-match “My man of the match would be Matt Parcell – I thought he was outstanding.”

Prop: Adam Cuthbertson (Leeds Rhinos)

Leeds prop Adam Cuthbertson is renowned for his offloading prowess but this weekend he added try-scoring to his attacking game as he helped his side to victory against Leeds.

Cuthbertson forced his way under the sticks in the second half against the Wildcats all but sealing victory for the Rhinos.

Second-Row: Ben Murdoch-Masila (Salford Red Devils)

Last weekend Salford were left ruing missed chances in their narrow defeat at Wakefield and nobody would have felt as responsible as Ben Murdoch-Masila who failed to ground the ball correctly in the final minute costing his side the victory.

However, he made up for it this weekend as he twice crossed helping Salford become the first side to beat Castleford this season. Murdoch-Masila was too much for the Tigers to handle on their own line with the big man proving too strong for full-back Zak Hardaker.

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Ben Murdoch-Masila in action for Salford. (Photo: Sky Sports)

 

Second-Row: Anthony Mullally (Leeds Rhinos)

Anthony Mullally has been a fringe player at Headingley over the past few season spending time on dual-registration with Championship side Featherstone Rovers however an injury crisis at Headingley has given the 25-year-old an opportunity and he has taken it with both hands.

Mullally was on the scoresheet this past weekend for the Rhinos powering his way over on the back of a clever inside ball from hooker Parcell. Mullally will be hoping he can cement a permanent place in McDermott’s side.

Loose-Forward: Joel Tomkins (Wigan Warriors)

Joel Tomkins seems to get overlooked a lot recently with the exploits of brother Sam and Wigan’s strength in the forwards but this weekend he looked back at his best for the Warriors.

Tomkins as ever was strong in defence and a real threat going forward for Wigan and helped to inspire a Warriors pack ravaged by injuries.

Super League-Premier League club comparison

After Widnes’ 12-18 victory last Thursday ended Wigan’s 21 month unbeaten Super League run at the DW Stadium comparisons between the Vikings and Leicester City have only continued to grow.

Even with Dennis Betts playing down similarities between his side and Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester the likeness does make you think if each Super League team where a Premier League side who would they be?

Castleford Tigers – Stoke City

Previously looked at as the ‘plucky underdog’ both Castleford and Stoke are trying to adjust to expectations following their recent success. In recent years Stoke have reached an FA Cup final and have played in Europe whilst Castleford earned a place in the Challenge Cup final in 2014 and competed in the ‘Super 8’s’.

However much like Stoke Castleford are bringing the best out of some very talented players. Luke Dorn, Ben Roberts, Luke Gale and Denny Solomona are all shining under Daryll Powell’s leadership and their continued success could see them bring in more high-profile names like the Potters have done in the Premier League.

Cas have been hit with a lot of injuries early on and they will have to show they have some squad depth and more than just a solid first seventeen something Stoke have struggled with at times.

Catalans Dragons – Everton

It seems everyone looks at Everton as if they have had a good season however inconsistency as seen them fall away from the European places and it always feels the same with the Catalans Dragons. Heading into the 2016 campaign many predicted the French side to do well this season but they’ve had a mixed start which has seen them struggle at home but win as many away games as they did all last season.

And while the Dragons home form will probably pick up it will only act as a cover for what will likely be another average season considering the names they’ve brought in. Names like Glenn Stewart, David Taylor and Willie Mason will take away from the results if they are poor.

Somehow I’m sure Catalans will lead us into believing they’ve had a hugely successful season when they finish just inside the top eight.

Huddersfield Giants – Crystal Palace

The Giants have been flying over the past few seasons but their significant slump in form at the beginning of this season is reminiscent of Palace’s fall down the Premier League table since the turn of the year. Paul Anderson’s side find themselves pinned to the bottom of the Super League table after only mustering one win from their first six games of the season.

Huddersfield have been plagued with injuries early on this season and really struggled when playmaker Danny Brough was out for two games. Brough’s absence in the Giants side leaves a noticeable gap in their attack something that Crystal Palace have had to come to terms with this season with striker Yannick Bolasie out for a large period of time.

It is still yet to be seen as to whether the Giants can turn their season around.

Hull FC – Manchester United

How many times over the past few pre-seasons have we heard “Hull FC are the team to watch this season”? Almost every time. Ever Since Fergie left Old Trafford we’ve heard the same about United “This will be the season they turn back to the United of old.” That has still yet to happen.

Hull FC have made many marquee acquisitions over the past few seasons with Hull bringing in Gareth Ellis, Leon Pryce and most recently Frank Pritchard but much like Angel Di Maria, Falcao and Memphis Depay none of them have made a huge impact. Much like United fans the Hull FC fans seem to be growing more and more frustrated with their failure to live up to expectations.

Already FC have shown inconsistency in the early weeks of the season it may just be another underwhelming season for Lee Radford’s men.

Hull KR – Newcastle United                          

Hull KR seem to be the side that season-by-season, week-by-week are slowly sliding into trouble just like the Toon have in the Premier League in recent times.

Since KR came up to the Super League their side has slowly begun to involve less and less home-grown talent and revolved around imported players in a similar fashion to Newcastle’s French overhaul. Both clubs seem to be in serious denial of the trouble they’re in and if they continue the way they are going they could well be playing in a different league come next season.

Rafa Benitez and James Webster have been brought in to steady the ships in recent weeks but it could be too much of a task for both men.

Leeds Rhinos – Chelsea

Well, I think the comparison here is easy to see. Leeds Rhinos were last season’s treble winners hailed as one of the best sides to ever grace Super League and much like Premier League champions Chelsea they’ve suffered a rapid fall from grace.

The Rhinos have struggled to come to terms with the departures of Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluia as well as injuries to key players such as new captain Danny McGuire. This has led them to have an extremely stuttered start to the season much like Chelsea suffered under Jose Mourinho when players like Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard weren’t performing.

The arrival of Guus Hiddink has turned things around at Stamford Bridge and while it is highly unlikely that Brian McDermott will lose his role at Leeds he has a lot of work to do if the Rhinos are to retain their title.

Salford Red Devils – Liverpool

This comparison has very little to do with success and fan-base but more to do with absurd spending and transfer policies in recent times. When Dr Marwan Koukash came in and starting throwing his financial weight around most Red Devils fans thought it was the start of a new era and instead what they got was a bunch of players past their prime on a lot more money than they should be. As for Liverpool’s signing history just see – Andy Carroll, Dejan Lovren, Cristian Benteke.

Jurgen Klopp has already begun to make changes for the future at Anfield and this season Salford’s acquisitions also seem to be more targeted towards the future. Players like Robert Lui and Ben Murdoch-Masila are trying to make a name for themselves and could help Salford climb the Super League table.

Heading down a more youthful path may not work for the Red Devils immediately but it certainly gives them a better foundation than in previous seasons.

St Helens – Arsenal

Saints haven’t had a bad start to the campaign but as always it feels like they are missing something, nobody can put their finger on it, but there’s something not there. Another team who has been labelled with the same criticism is Arsenal who seemed to have bottled their best chance at winning the title in almost a decade.

Both sides have quality players but always seem to be hampered with injuries. Saints’ injury list over the last 4-5 seasons would most likely be longer than most Super League clubs combined, they almost have a squad of Abou Diaby’s. Kieran Cunningham is a St Helens legend much like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but you feel with Cunningham doesn’t start to get it right he could follow in Wenger’s footsteps and the love from the fans could slowly fade away.

However I think it would be fair to say Saints stand a much better chance than Arsenal of winning some silverware at this stage.

Wakefield Wildcats – Sunderland

Wakefield were the first side to lose their coach this season when Brian Smith walked out and this has become something the Wildcats are all too familiar with James Webster also leaving last season.

One Premier League side who are accustomed to a managerial change or two are Sunderland who it seems every season bring a new man in and just about survive. Wakefield only just managed to win the Million Pound Game last season and in all honestly their squad hasn’t really improved much like Sunderland’s. Both sides have spent the last few seasons down the wrong end of the table and its only a matter of time before your luck runs out.

Both Chris Chester and Sam Allardyce are tasked with keeping their sides in the top flights of their respective sports but it could be a lot easier said than done.

Warrington Wolves – West Ham

Tony Smith’s side had a very difficult 2015 which saw them never really find any prolonged good form however this season they’ve come out flying winning all of their Super League games so far including an opening weekend win over treble winners Leeds Rhinos.

So why West Ham? Well West Ham did well last season but were also subject to some inconsistency. However this season they have improved under Slavan Bilic and they started the season in unbelievable form knocking off Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal all away from home. The Hammers flair players have stepped up when needed this season and this is something that Chris Sandow and Kurt Gidley have managed up to now for the Wolves.

West Ham look to be on the precipice of Champions League football for the first time in their history and a top four finish for Warrington would definitely be an improvement on last years campaign.

Widnes Vikings – Leicester

The fairy tale season that Leicester City have had thus far in the Premier League seems to have inspired Dennis Betts and the Widnes Vikings as they lead the Super League winning six of their seven games so far this season.

Kevin Brown has taken on the Riyad Mahrez role in this Widnes side providing the creativity and spark going forward which has resulted in numerous assists already. With Brown imitating the Mahrez role then winger and Super League top try-scorer Cory Thompson is Jamie Vardy. Thompson has already crossed for ten tries this season after going under the radar from all pundits and fans in pre-season.

Whether Widnes can maintain this form for the length that Leicester have is a different story however.

Wigan Warriors – Tottenham

Now I’m sure Wigan fans will question this comparison with “Tottenham, they’ve never won the Premier League?” Yes, I’ll accept that one main difference is the fact that Wigan have won the Super League on several occasions and Spurs are yet to win a Premier League but there is still a chance for them this season.

A solid campaign for Spurs has been centred on great defence and a fantastic home record which is identical to Wigan even if Widnes did end their unbeaten home Super League run last weekend. If you look at both sides they both possess a lot of talented English players with Wigan boasting Sam Tomkins, Michael McIlorum, Oliver Gildart, George Williams and many more. Spurs, likewise, like to use their home-grown talent in the form of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Danny Rose.

Tottenham may be pipped to the league title by Leicester but they have sustained a solid challenge all season and that is something Wigan would like to emulate.

Super League 2016 Preview – Part Two

Salford Red Devils

Over the past few seasons there hasn’t been many Rugby League teams who have been at

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Salford’s new signing – Justin Carney
the forefront of the media spotlight than Salford. Since Dr Marwan Koukash came on board his controversial yet innovative stance on Rugby League has captured the attention of all involved. Again this season he has splashed the cash bringing in thirteen new faces.

 

Daniel Vidot was Salford’s biggest signing however he has picked up an injury and is ruled out for the majority of the season which could be a big blow for the Reds. However Justin Carney is fit after leaving Castleford in controversial fashion and he will give Salford a lot of pace and power out wide which will definitely benefit them in attack. However with the loss of both Theo Fages and Rangi Chase a lot of pressure will be on Michael Dobson to provide the creative spark for Salford.

The Red Devils are still aiming to finally secure a place in the top half of the table after their struggles over the past few seasons. The expectations of Salford may have been too much in recent times however unfortunately expectations are high again for the Red Devils and it will be difficult for them to reach the super eights stage. If they do miss out on a top eight spot again it remains to be seen how long Dr Koukash will stick around for.

Key Player: Michael Dobson – Dobson will be in charge of everything Salford do on the field with Chase gone.

One to watch: Justin Carney – The powerhouse will be crucial to Salford’s attack and scoring all season.

New Signings: Mark Flanagan, Gareth O’Brien, Craig Kopczak, Phil Joseph, Robert Lui, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Matt Haggarty, Justin Carney, Daniel Vidot, Logan Tomkins, Matt Sarsfield, Jordan Andrade, Josh Jones.

Prediction: 9th

St Helens

Saints spent the majority of last season chasing Leeds and the rest of the pack. This wasn’t helped by St Helens being ravaged by injuries again with their key playmaker Luke

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Saints hooker- James Roby
Walsh out for large parts of the season. Kieron Cunningham recently signed a new contract as coach of Saints and he will be looking to continue to instil his imprint on the side and with a fully fit side for the majority of the season Saints could be a real threat.

 

If Luke Walsh can stay fit for the whole season he will be like a new signing for the Saints and with the addition of Theo Fages the Saints now have three half-backs to choose from and an ability to mix things up in attack. As always James Roby will be pivotal to their campaign his technique and speed in attack combined with his control over his powerful pack will allow Saints to really kick on this season.

Cunningham’s clan will be aiming to better their semi-final appearance last season and get all the way to the Grand Final and earn back the title they lost in 2015. However it always seems that St Helens struggle with injuries and it is unlikely that this will change this season.

Key player: Luke Walsh – Walsh is an organiser for the Saints and controls the game from start to finish.

One to watch: Theo Fages – New half-back from Salford who showed spells of genius for the Red Devils last season.

New Signings: Lama Tasi, Dominique Peyroux, Theo Fages, Jack Owens.

Prediction: 2nd

Wakefield Wildcats

Wakefield managed to retain their Super League status last season with a 24-16 victory

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Young winger – Tom Johnstone
over Championship side Bradford Bulls in the ‘Million Pound Game’. Coach Brian Smith managed to slow down the Wildcats freefall towards the end of the season and they won the most crucial game in the clubs recent history. Wakefield will need to improve in the early stages of the season this time around if they expect to avoid the middle eights stage.

 

Irish half-back Liam Finn is Wakefield’s most intriguing transfer in pre-season from local rivals Castleford. Finn performed extremely well in the World Cup and last season when given a chance for the Tigers and he could be the one player who helps the Wildcats organise their play on the field. Scott Moore, also from Cas, brings a bundle of Super League experience whilst Ben Jones-Bishop gives Wakefield a threat on either wing along with young Tom Johnstone.

Smith will be aiming to improve Wakefield’s home form in order to give them a base to work and build on from last season. If the new signings manage to hit the ground running the Wildcats could manage to improve on last season but it is very unlikely that they will earn a place in the top eight.

Key Player: Liam Finn – New signing from Castleford who will be looking to give Wakefield that added edge going forward.

One to Watch: Tom Johnstone – The young winger impressed last season and his tries could help the Wildcats move up the league.

New Signings: Anthony England, Ben Shulver, Sean Morris, Liam Finn, Ashley Gibson, Bill Tupou, Anthony Walker, Anthony Tupou, Tinirau Arona, Ben Jones-Bishop, Scott Moore, Jason Walton.

Prediction: 11th

Warrington Wolves

Warrington were last season’s real disappointment finishing in 6th placed there lowest finish since 2009. Throughout the season the Wolves couldn’t find any real form with a double over Leeds being there only real high point of the year. However Tony Smith has addressed this problem in pre-season and spent money to improve the team.

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Kurt Gidley in Warrington colours

Warrington’s new half-back combination of Kurt Gidley and Chris Sandow has a huge amount of potential and could really make the Wolves a serious force this season. Joe Westerman is also a very solid signing and youngster Tom Lineham could really light the league up if he is given the right service from Gidley, Sandow and co. Warrington’s strong pack – Ashton Sims, Ben Currie, Chris Hill and Ben Westwood will allow the flair players to express themselves and also give Wolves a sturdy backbone in defence.

It seems almost guaranteed that Smith’s side will improve this season and will push for a final play-off position come September. Whilst the Wolves will be back up their this year it is hard to see them directly challenging Wigan, Leeds and Saints and instead maybe being stuck in a battle for 4th spot with Castleford and Huddersfield.

Key Player: Ben Currie – The forward will be trying to build on an impressive breakthrough season last year.

One to watch: Kurt Gidley – Warrington’s new half-back is sure to bring some NRL class to the side.

New Signings: Kurt Gidley, Tom Lineham, Jack Hughes, Mitchell Dodds, Benjamin Jullien, Joe Westerman, Jordan Cox, Ryan Bailey.

Prediction: 4th

Widnes Vikings

The Vikings managed to finish 9th last season and survived in the middle eights stage

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Widnes’ Kevin Brown
with ease at the end of the campaign. Coach Dennis Betts has said that he can see Widnes making the top eight this time around. However too often last season the Vikings put in valiant performances but came out on the wrong end of the scoreline which eventually cost them a real play-off challenge.

 

Betts’ biggest transfer has been the acquisition of Chris Bridge from rivals Warrington Wolves. Bridge has experience at the top clubs and top level in Super League and along with Danny Tickle and Kevin Brown can help bring through the younger members of the squad like fellow signing Connor Farrell. Of course Kevin Brown will be the main man again at Widnes and will be crucial to any success they have.

Widnes’ recruitment hasn’t been as strong as other sides such as Wakefield, Salford and Hull FC and this could mean they’ll struggle. Much like last season it seems like Widnes will run teams close, especially at home, but fall short and it could turn out to be a very long season for Betts’ side.

Key Player: Kevin Brown – Brown is Widnes’ go-to man in attack and will likely be involved in the majority of the Vikings try.

One to watch: Chris Bridge – The centre will bring some more experience to the Vikings camp.

New Signings: Chris Bridge, Setaimata Sa, Corey Thompson, Chris Houston, Connor Farrell, Sam Brooks.

Prediction: 12th

Wigan Warriors

Wigan narrowly missed out on the Super League crown last season losing the Grand Final against Leeds 22-20. The Warriors led up until the 64th minute but Sean Wane’s men couldn’t see the game through. They will be hoping to go one better this season and

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The returning Sam Tomkins
secure the Super League title.

 

The return on Sam Tomkins will be not only be pivotal for the Super League but will be crucial to Wigan’s challenge for the Super League crown this season. Tomkins brings another dimension in attack for the Warriors with both his pace and timing he is sure to run a lot of defences ragged this season. New Signing Willie Isa will also add some extra steel in the pack for the Warriors.

Wigan impressed in large parts last season with young winger Dom Manfredi scoring over twenty tries in his breakthrough season and he is sure to get more this campaign with Tomkins’ added service. Wigan will almost definitely be the team to beat this season and if they keep players such as Sean O’Loughlin fit for the whole season they will be very tough to beat.

Key Player: Sam Tomkins – Returning from his spell in the NRL Tomkins will be looking to continue where he left off in 2013.

One to watch: Dom Manfredi – The young winger will have to carry on his scoring form especially with the loss of Joe Burgess.

New Signings: Sam Tomkins, Willie Isa, Greg Burke, Rhodri Lyod.

Prediction: 1st

Gareth Hock: The biggest wasted talent in Rugby League?

On Tuesday night Gareth Hock and the Salford Red Devils both confirmed that Hock would leave the club with immediate effect.

His tweet read “I av now left Salford from today I would like to thank the club & Marwan for the support & help and the fans wish them all the best.”

His departure has come in light of a recent six match ban being handed to him for a use of his knees on two occasions during

Gareth Hock playing for Salford
         Gareth Hock playing for Salford

the recent hammering against St Helens. In addition his Twitter account was also being looked at for alleged homophobic abuse.

Hock signed with Salford at the beginning of 2014 as a part of Dr Koukash’s hefty investment which has also seen players such as Rangi Chase, Kevin Locke and Francis Meli come in.

However it hasn’t gone to plan for either Salford or Hock in the t few seasons. Salford failed to make the play-offs last season which was their aim whilst Gareth Hock had a very inconsistent season which again involved a hefty ban.

Hock’s disciplinary record in recent times really is something to behold, and not in a positive way.

A list of Hocks major bans:

  • July 2008 – Handed five game ban for grabbing referee Ian Smith
  • July 2009 – Given two year ban for testing positive for cocaine
  • September 2011 – Given five match ban for gouging and punching Warrington’s Ben Harrison
  • May 2013 – Received four match ban for deliberate contact with official George Stokes vs Workington
  • October 2013 – Thrown out of England World Cup squad for several breaches of discipline
  • July 2014 – Handed seven match ban for deliberately colliding with official Matt Thomason vs Hull
  • February 2015 – Received six game ban for use of knees vs Saints

He has missed a total of fifteen games through coming into contact with officials in a Sport which prides itself on its respect for referee’s and touch judges. As well as a serious two year ban for drug abuse.

Hock since 2008
                  Hock since 2008

All of these, added with the occasional reported incident or red card, have led Hock to miss a total of 102 games since 2008. He has only managed to get onto the field 110 times in the time frame. A truly unbelievable statistic.

However there is no denying his ability on the field. A hard-hitting in your face forward who won’t take a back step which every side in Super League needs and thrives upon. What side wouldn’t want a man that stands at 6’3 and weighs around 16 stone in their pack?

In his return to the Wigan after his two year suspension he arguably stole the show against Huddersfield with his dominant performance. He seemingly was continuing where he left off when he was one of the top forwards in the Wigan side and in Super League.

One huge talent he has are his offloading capabilities. Often Hock will break a tackle and get rid of the ball onto a onrushing back which would be ideal at Salford with the likes of Rangi Chase, Kevin Locke and Theo Fages. Unfortunately however he just hasn’t shown this enough in front of the Red Devils supporters.

The big second-rower also has a solid try scoring record. He managed an average of one every four games for Wigan. Whilst at Widnes he crossed the line 10 times in only 18 appearances followed by 6 tries in 16 appearances for Salford.

With all this in his favour its no wonder he has made 4 appearances for Great Britain and 5 for England, respectively. He was also included in the 2013 World Cup squad before managing to get himself kicked out. Every time he has slipped on the red and white of England he has performed well but he is a liability.

His career did seem to be going in the right direction up until his ban for cocaine at Wigan. Since then it has been relatively unsuccessful spells at Widnes and Salford where he has let himself down. A move to NRL side Parramatta was rumoured and could have re-ignited his career however this fell through.

Hock played for amateur side Wigan St Judes before signing for Wigan Warriors. Possibly the move away from Wigan, his hometown where he’d played all his Rugby, has turned out to be more difficult than he expected? Only Gareth Hock knows this and can prove us wrong.

It would be a gamble for any side who brings in Gareth Hock now, he has almost become the Mario Balotelli of Rugby League. However Championship clubs Bradford and Leigh are rumoured to be interested along with a few Super League clubs who may take the risk hoping he comes good. He could also make the switch to Rugby Union.

I don’t think there is one Rugby League fan who would deny Hock’s innate Rugby League ability. However it seems his career will be remembered for controversy and incident rather than his talent.