THE Stobart Super League threw up some pulsating matches last weekend, resulting in several upsets for some of the league’s title contenders.
Despite being reigning Super League champions, Leeds Rhinos Friday evening victory over Warrington Wolves still came as something of a surprise and set the tone for many of the weekend’s matches.
Warrington have, for a couple of seasons now, been considered the strongest team in the competition, a sentiment they went some way to proving last term by securing the League Leaders’ Shield for finishing the regular season at the top of the league.
However, they have never quite been able to translate that league form into the play-offs and remain searching for a first Grand Final appearance, let alone a Super League title.
Other notable matches, culminating in surprising results were that of Widnes beating Wigan (see Ratcliffe’s review), Hull FC emerging victorious over Saints at Langtree Park, and Bradford showing glimpses of their former glories to overturn a 24-8 deficit, thanks in no small part to Jason Crookes’ hat-trick, and securing their third victory of season 36-24 at Craven Park.
What these matches proved is that the Stobart Super League is not a forgone conclusion, that the so-called big four of Warrington, Wigan, Leeds and Saints, will have to fight tooth and nail to retain their status as the game’s powerhouses in the Northern Hemisphere, and that maybe, just maybe, the RFL’s decision to implement a Super League licensing system may well be paying dividends in producing a hugely competitive competition.
The emergence of current Super League leaders, Huddersfield Giants and Catalans Dragons, teams now arguably considered to be genuine title threats, also points to a system and competition in rude health.
Of course, this season is still in its infancy but the indications are extremely positive for a highly entertaining Stobart Super League season.
An odd case for the RFL disciplinary committee to preside over this week resulted in Ryan Bailey receiving a three-match ban and his Leeds Rhinos team-mate, Brent Webb, receiving a verbal warning and £300 fine, both for the same charge of making deliberate contact with an official, after appearing to push referee Richard Silverwood, during Friday’s victory over Warrington – Bailey’s harsher penalty a result of his previous disciplinary issues.
In this instance I do have some sympathy with the Leeds’ players who were defending their own goal-line at the time of the incident, during a passage of play which ultimately resulted in Warrington’s second and equalising try. In situations such as this one, an attacking tap-penalty, referees must be fully aware of their position in relation to the defensive line so as not to impede any player.
In my opinion on this occasion Mr Silverwood was guilty of impeding the defenders and in that situation I feel that both Webb and Bailey were entitled to move the referee out of their way in order to fulfil their defensive duties, as a player I would have done the same thing.
Spare a thought for one of the toughest front-rowers of the modern era, Nick Fozzard, the former St Helens and Great Britain prop, who was forced to retire from the game this week aged 35.
Foazzard had been plying his trade recently with Dewsbury Rams in the Championship, however, after seeking medical advice following a rotator cuff injury to his shoulder, he has decided to end his illustrious career which included both Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge victories.
Finally, it was great to see Leeds Rhinos’ Danny McGuire in attendance at the Mayor’s Sports Dinner, headlined by the irrepressible Dennis Taylor, at Scarborough RUFC at Saturday evening.
I played both with and against Danny many years ago and it was a pleasure to catch up with him and discuss his future plans for his forthcoming testimonial year, some of which involve the use of the Silver Royd facility.
Sadly those plans don’t, as of yet, include pulling on a jersey and putting me over for a few tries, despite my best efforts to convince him otherwise!