Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Jet’s first rugby league weekend recap. In this column every Tuesday I will break down some key moments and storylines from the past weekend’s rugby league action. I will be breaking it down into 4 part. You get 4 points for a try so, I figured 4 was a good number to start with. Perhaps it will expand. The 4 part will be a recap of the Toronto Wolfpack’s week (this site is based out of Toronto after all), followed by a breakdown of Super League, the NRL, and finally a “play of the week”.
The Toronto Wolfpack
Prior to the game against Sheffield, the Wolfpack announced that Quinn Ngawati and Ryan Burroughs were going to be loaned to League 1’s London Skolars. This is a move that will help both the Wolfpack and the individuals immensely. Due to the nature of the Championships’ elevated level of competition, Ngawati has had a difficult time drawing into the line-up. The 19 year old future of Canadian rugby, will greatly benefit from more game time. Burroughs is coming off an injury, and a chance to get his feet back under him in League 1 could be beneficial. Burroughs is primarily a winger who can also play centre. On the wings, there is no replacing Liam Kay and Jonny Pownall. The centre position has been reinforced with the signings of Jake Butler-Fleming as well. As a result it is unlikely that Burroughs would be drawing into the lineup very often. Therefore, it’s a great move just to get him some playing time. It’s always better to have guys playing than sitting in a press box. The benefit for the Wolfpack is that it opened up roster spots. One spot was promptly used to pick up fullback Gareth O’Brien from Super League’s Salford Red Devils. League Express reported that -The Wolfpack outbid both the Castleford Tigers and Leigh Centurions (those poor bastards) for O’Brien’s services. O’Brien is a premier fullback in Super League, so to say this is a massive signing is an understatement. Quinten Laulu-Togaga’e (QLT) has been one of the best player’s for the Wolfpack this season and it’s kind of crazy that the Wolfpack have just upgraded at that position. The signing just got finalized on Monday afternoon, so it will be interesting to see what the lineup looks like against Kells HR in the Wolfpack’s first Challenge Cup match of the year (more on this in a post later this week).
On the field this week. The Wolfpack dominated the match with Sheffield winning 44-10. Despite the score line the Wolfpack were unhappy with their overall performance. At the half QLT said they were trying to do too much and that they needed to compete harder. At the conclusion of the game assistant coach Simon Finnigan said the game was “League 1 standard” not just from the Wolfpack, but from Sheffield and the refs. He felt the game was poorly paced and that both teams were very stop and go.
The one area that seemed notable for the Wolfpack was the inability to finish. Yes, I know they scored 44 points, but 80% of this game was played within the Sheffield 22 and there were plenty of chances for more. The Sheffield try line defense did come up big in a number of situations. However, there were plenty of instances where simple ball handling errors gave the ball away. As Finnigan eluded too with his “League 1 standard” comment, some of the Wolfpack tries weren’t really generated by the Wolfpack. Rather were the fortunate result of a Sheffield mistake. Pownall had a walk-in try just because Sheffield missed a pass by 5 feet, and another seconds after a Sheffield knock on.
This game was reminiscent of plenty of the Wolfpack’s League 1 games from last season. The Wolfpack thoroughly dominate, yet are still disappointed by their performance. I suppose this is just part being on a team loaded with talent used to playing at a higher level. Very few teams are disappointed in a 34 point victory, but the Wolfpack are. The scary this is that the O’Brien signing does make them better. After 6 rounds it has become clear that the Wolfpack’s mindset is Super League or bust this year.
The other noteworthy event was hooker Bob Beswick leaving the game after 8min with a knee injury. We are still awaiting word on whether or not he will draw into the lineup on Friday.
St Helens continues their dominant start to the season. St Helens improved to 5-0 to begin the year. Coach Justin Holbrook was quoted (by Dustin Darbyshire) saying he was “really happy” with his club’s start to the season. So we have an early candidate for understatement of the year. Through 5 games St Helens has outscored opponents 157-44 for an insane 113 points differential. To put that in perspective only one team, Widnes Vikings, have scored more than 113 points (they have 117). So you can probably be more than just “really happy” right now Mr. Holbrook.
Of interest to the Wolfpack, Catalans Dragons picked up their first win of the season by defeating Hull Kingston Rovers. This has effectively created a bit of an early log jam at the bottom of the standings with Catalans, Hull, SLFORD Red Devils, and Huddersfield Giants all tied with 1 win. This is always important for the Wolfpack to keep an eye on since Super League teams 9-12 would be their opponents should the Wolfpack qualify for the Super 8’s at years end.
Finally, a special congrats to Tara Jones who became the first female on field ref in Super League this weekend!
The NRL season officially kicked off this week and got off to an entertaining start. The legend Johnny Thurston hit a huge milestone competing in his 300th NRL game. His Queensland Cowboys were able to pick up the win over Cronulla sharks. Thurston was once again a major factor in the game helping to directly set up two Cowboys tries. The legend was in great spirits following the game as he watched his kids run around the pitch as he tried to do post-game interviews.
Perth made a really strong argument to get an expansion team this this weekend as 38,824 fans packed Optus Stadium for an opening weekend double header. The Perth faithful were treated to two terrific matches. Up first, the New Zealand Warriors played a strong game against South Sydney Rabbitohs claiming a 32-20 victory. The main event saw the defending champion Melbourne Storm get their 2018 campaign off to a terrific start by doubling up Canterbury Bulldogs 38-16. The turnout and success of the weekend bodes well for Perth who are schooled to host 2019 Sate of Origin games as well as future NRL games. All of this is being done in hopes that NRL rugby will return to Perth on a full time basis.
Play of the Week
Each week I’m going to highlight one play as the “Play of the Week”. This play could be anything from a dazzling try, to a bone crunching hit, to a phenomenal kick, or even something that just makes me laugh. This week’s entry falls under the phenomenal kick category. What a game between Manly Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights! Tied 18-18 after regulation, we needed a little golden point to solve this one. The two sides trade drop goal unsuccessful drop goal chances, long time Sydney Rooster Mitchell Pearce steps up…
Not a bad way to endear yourself to your new fans in your first game with a new club right? With the drop goal Pearce pick up his first points in a Knights uniform after playing a decade for the Roosters. The drop gaol was celebrated across NRL fan bases this weekend as it helped everyone’s second favourite team defeat everyone’s 16th favourite team (the NRL only has 16 teams).