Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! The English weather wreaked havoc on the rugby league world this week. Remember when I said part of the reason for the Wolfpack’s weird schedule was so that they could avoid snow in February and March…oh well.
The Toronto Wolfpack
The Wolfpack entered the Challenge Cup this weekend and took on Kells ARLFC. As expected the Wolfpack won big securing a 56-6 victory to advance to round 5. Bob Beswick sat out the contest to continue nursing his knee injury. Andy Ackers replaced Beswick at the hooker position. Ackers had a solid outing. He was able to pick up his second try of the season on a nice run from dummy half to cap off the game. Liam Kay continues to dominate any team that has the displeasure of defending him that week. The Irish international winger picked up a hat trick that I’m certain was celebrated this St. Patrick’s Day. Gaz O’Brien was not in the line-up this so we will have to wait until next week to see the elite fullback make his debut in the black and white.
On Tuesday afternoon the Wolfpack found out their Round 5 Challenge Cup opponent would be the Barrow Raiders. The Raiders were the 2nd best team in League 1 last year and also earned promotion. The two clubs have built up a bit of a rivalry last year. After two try-less defeats in Toronto last year, Barrow insisted that no one, including the Wolfpack could beat them at Craven Park. Craven Park was basically a trench in their meeting earlier this season. The two clubs battled it out in a spirited 8-8 slugfest. A draw is not a loss though. The Raiders haven’t lost at Craven Park since 2016. The Wolfpack will need to change that to advance to Round 6.
The snow did not allow for a lot of rugby league to be played this weekend. Numerous games were cancelled ahead of kickoff. However, the Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Trinity staff and fans really put in the effort. They tried. They even busted out the neon orange ball to make it more visible in the snow. They played 27 minutes but ultimately the game had to be called off. Which is good for player safety, but kind of a bummer since rugby in the snow is a ton of fun. Ultimately, we still got some great images from the game (before the blizzard picked up).
Source: Richard Walker
In an early game of the year candidate, we had the defending champions versus the lone remaining undefeated team. In a highly entertaining and physical contest the Leeds Rhinos were able to end St. Helens perfect start to the season. The Rhinos rarely head into any game as an underdog. When you have won 7 Grand Finals since 2007, being an underdog doesn’t tend to happen. Alas, this was the case heading into the game against St. Helens. Leeds had run into injury trouble early so they had a depleted roster going into this one. They went blow for blow with the Saints as the two sides seemingly traded points all night. Ash Handley was once again a major difference maker in this one. St. Helens must dread seeing Handley’s name on a game sheet. The man straight up owns them. Handley had 2 tries in this game to give him 10 in 5 career matches against St. Helens. Justin Holbrook remains unable to solve the Rhinos as they remain the only team he has failed to defeat as the Saints head coach. The one negative in the Rhino’s game was that they may have lost their captain Kallum Watkins for an extended period of time. He took a huge hit while trying to score a try. Already slowed down by 2 Saints defenders, Watkins pushed forward until fullback Johnny Lomax closed in for a final hit. Unfortunately, as the 4 men tumbled to the ground Lomax appeared to have landed directly on Watkins’ head. The play was stopped and Watkins left the game.
The Catalans Dragons continued to struggle this week as they suffered a 26-0 loss to the Warrington Wolves. Catalans had 3 players with over 40 tackles. Benjamin Garcia (49), Brayden Wiliame (47), and Remi Casty (43) had a big defensive effort in this one. All 3 men also hit double didgits in marker tackles as well. The problem with those stats is that if 3 guys are combining for 139 tackles, you didn’t touch the ball all night. In total, Warrington ran for 1382 metres on the Catalans defense. Catalans is quickly becoming a team of interest for Wolfpack fans. If they continue in this manner, we could be seeing them at Lamport Field for a Super 8s qualifier in August.
Monday morning brought the biggest news of the week. After a 2 year hiatus to play rugby union for Sale Sharks, Josh Charnley returns to Super League! The elite winger has signed a 3 year deals with Warrington Wolves. Charnley is a highly skilled winger with a great finishing touch around the try line. Charnley’ resume speaks for itself. In his previous Super League stint with Wigan Warriors he scored 149 tries and 96 goals in 151 games. In 2012 and 2013 he led the Super League in try scoring in back to back seasons. In 2013, he won the coveted double with Wigan (Grand Final and Challenge Cup Champions). He also added one more Challenge Cup and Grand Final Championship. Ironically, the last time Charnley was on a rugby league pitched he helped Wigan defeat Warrington in the grand final. But that is in the past now. Warrington currently sit 5th, however they are actually below 500. Thanks to some cancellations and postponements due to the weather. All 4 teams above them have played less than the Wolves’ 7 games. The Castleford Tigers are tied with Warrington’s 6 points, but boast a 3-1 record. The signing of Charnley should help give them the boost they need to keep pace at the top of the tables.
Last week Johnny Thurston celebrated his 300th match. This week another living legend had his own celebration. Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater reached the 300 match milestone in a 10-8 loss to the Wests Tigers. The occasion was marked with plenty of debate as to whether Slater is the greatest fullback of all time. Yes, yes he is. You only need to look at the numbers.
Slater’s 183 (and counting) tries is the NRL’s all-time record for a fullback. In fact it is second only to Ken Irvine’s 212 for the most tries all time period. The Melbourne Storm jersey is the only one Slater has worn over his career. He has led Melbourne to 2 Grand Final Championship (officially, another 2 were stripped because of a later discovered salary cap breach). In 2009 he also took home the Clive Churchill Medal as the Grand Final MVP. He has won two Rugby League World Cups, which also weirdly includes being named MVP in the one World Cup he didn’t win (2008). Of course he also has won the Dally M Medal as league MVP (2011). Slater has also led Queensland to numerous State of Origin victories. I could go on, but realistically I do not have enough space or time. In some ways a measure of your career is how other legends feel about you. Wests Tigers’ Benji Marshall interrupted his post game interview to gather his Tiger teammates into forming a guard of honour as two Melbourne teammates carried Slater off the field.
Slater is surely a lock Hall of Famer, which is awesome since now there is a Hall of Fame. NRL announced that they will be establishing the NRL Hall of Fame. There will be a massive induction class in the first year. In 2008 the NRL celebrated their centennial season. To mark the occasion, the top 100 players of all time were announced. All 100 of those players will be in the first class. Additionally 6 new players will be added.
There will also be 2 new Immortals. The Immortals are simply the greatest to ever step on the field. Currently, there are 8 Immortals; Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis, Arthur Beeston, and Andrew Johns. The two new Immortals will come out of the Hall of Fame Class. They also announced some new rules for determining the Immortals. Previously, an Immortal’s career had to have started after 1946. Now Immortals can go back to the leagues inception in 1908. One candidate seemed to immeditaly jump out at everyone; Dally Messenger. Messenger is the man the MVP medal is named after. Cumulatively the NRL awards are called the Dally M Awards. This immediately should tell you something. He originally played rugby union but jumped codes and brought many others with him helping to solidify rugby league’s place in Australian culture. Personally my other pick is Ken Irvine. As mentioned above, Irvine is the all-time leader in tries. But the way he was able to score those tries was incredible. Irvine was a sprinter and in 1963 actually held the world record for 100 yard dash (91m). No one could catch him. If Irvine got the ball on the wing, good luck. He is second on Australia Kangaroos all time scoring list as well. Just two behind Danny Lockyer, another great Immortals candidate.
Play of the Week
Well St. Helens is no longer perfect, but they still pick up rugby league’s most coveted prize, the Layman’s Sports Play of the Week. I’m just gonna roll the film on this majestic try.
Wow! Alright, let’s break it down. St. Helens is on their last tackle so Danny Richardson puts a high ball towards the Rhino try zone. Adam Swift’s chase immediately puts pressure on the Leeds defender. Swift perfectly times his jump to knock the ball backwards, where Richardson scoops it up. Richardson charges down the sidelines and delivers the no-look pass to Tommy Makinson. Makinson draws in 3 Leeds defenders before finding Swift with a perfect offload and Swift finishes it off. Just a brilliant play all around! St Helens might not be happy with the loss, but at least they will have something to smile about when they watch the film.