Rugby League Recap

Before I get into the recaps of the Wolfpack, Super League, and NRL I thought I would touch on the story that kind of spreads across the rugby league world as a whole. In a previous post I discussed some of the ways that I felt the NHL could help grow the game of hockey. In that article I mentioned a rugby league game between England and New Zealand in Denver as a great example of how international games in non-traditional markets can help grow a sport. Unfortunately, I may have spoken too soon. It appears that the NRL may not release players for that game. The NRL is the club home to many New Zealand and England players so this decision could cripple the rosters for both nations. On the surface this may seem similar to the NHL not wanting to go to the Olympics. However, it’s not. Mainly because the NRL’s reason behind it is ridiculous. The NRL is claiming that the player’s safety is the reason behind this decision. Specifically, the long travel and the altitude. Of course athletes never travel far distances for international events. There also isn’t six professional sports teams that regularly play home games against teams that aren’t used to the altitude. To me it just seems like the NRL looking for excuses not to go. England’s doctors have already done press interviews basically saying “what the fuck are you talking about” in politer terms. My personal favourite quote comes from Chris Brookes, the head of England’s national team’s medical staff. After stating that there is no scientific evidence that suggest it is dangerous to play rugby in Denver Brookes adds “most Super League teams and the national team use altitude chambers…to gain a physiological advantage”. So yes, the NRL is saying it’s dangerous and England is saying they train in it. English NRL players have also put out a statement saying that they want play. The other big talking point that has been floating around social media (and mentioned by Brookes) is South Africa. Despite not being a great rugby league nation, South Africa is a dominant rugby union force. The country hosts teams that play in both Super Rugby (union completion featuring South African, New Zealander, Japanese, Argentinian, and Australian teams) and the Pro 14 (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy). Both UK teams and Australian teams routinely travel to South Africa to play rugby. Johannesburg has a higher altitude than Denver. England actually used Johannesburg as a training site prior to a Rugby League World Cup. The bottom line is that it is safe. If the NRL truly doesn’t want, they need to come up with a better reason.

Toronto Wolfpack

Well this was a weird one. The Wolfpack were just barely able to squeak out an 18-17 victory over the Rochdale Hornets on Friday night in what was probably their second worst game of the year (it’s going to be tough to top the London game). The weirdness started early. Adam Higson was injured in warm-ups. QLT who was originally not going to play as Gareth O’Brien made his Wolfpack debut. The Wolfpack’s defence were victimized early as Rochdale gathered their own kickoff and ran across the line for a 6-0 lead 70 seconds into the game. Oh, and Gary Wheeler, making his season debut after recovering from a series of injuries, torn his bicep on that play. So it was rough start. It didn’t get too much better from there as the Hornets dominated play for most of the game. Despite, the poor performance, Coach Paul Rowley seemed pleased with the team’s resilient victory. Mainly, the fact that the injuries forced 6 props on the field at once. This included Jack Bussey playing at the centre position. It’s a real testament to Bussey’s versatility that despite playing so far out of position, he was still the best Wolfpack player on the pitch. Realistically, the Wolfpack’s victory comes from capitalizing on two bizarre penalty calls and one amazing tackle. In the 64th minute a fight broke out after Lewis Palfrey tackled Gareth O’Brien. The two exchanged shoves before O’Brien lands a solid right hook and everybody piles on after that. When the dust settled, 3 yellow cards were assessed. Palfrey, O’Brien, and Liam Kay were all sent off for 10min. Despite 2 Wolfpack players and one Hornet getting sent off, the Wolfpack were somehow awarded the ball. Reni Maitua was able to score under a minute later. QLT, now playing fullback because of O’Brien’s yellow card, made a try/game saving tackle as he was the last man back after Rochdale broke through the Wolfpack line. The decider ended up being a questionable offside call that allowed Ryan Brierley to have a dead straight kick at goal where h made no mistake. Following a Wolfpack penalty, Palfrey had his own chance to win the game, but his kick fell (way) short. If he makes that kick, maybe we are taking about the biggest upset of the Championship season so far this year. Yes, the Wolfpack were resilient. They battled through injuries and the worst possible start. However, Rochdale could have easily won this game and probably deserved to.

The injuries will be a big factor heading into this weekend. The Wolfpack play Featherstone Rovers on Friday night before traveling to France to take on Toulouse Olympique on Monday. Two matches on such a quick turn around and an already growing injury situation should really test the Wolfpack’s depth.

Following the Rochdale match, the Wolfpack announced the signing of Chase Stanley. Stanley comes to the Wolfpack from the Canterbury Bulldogs of the NRL. The 28 year old outside back’s career has been plagued by injuries. He made his NRL debut in 2007 and has only played in 110 games (the NRL plays 25 game seasons). Stanley said he was excited about the new opportunity. It could be a chance for him to turn over a new leaf and leave the injury plagued past behind him.

Super League

If you believed the pre-game marketing, Leeds Rhinos vs Castleford Tigers was going to be the can’t miss match of the week. And, WOW, did it ever deliver. Castleford stormed out the gates putting up a massive 24-0 after only 23 minutes. The Rhinos were undeterred and slowly started plugging away at the lead. They got it to 24-10 just before the half, but at the half Luke Gale did this…

It should say something for how good the Play of The Week is that this didn’t win! Luke Gale drops the monster 45m drop goal at the half to send the Tigers to the locker room up 25-10. To me the most impressive thing about that drop goal is where it lands. Gale could have kicked that from 55m and it would have cleared. The kick proved to be vital. Leeds dominated the second half, but ultimately fell short losing 25-24.

The axe came down on the first coaching casualty of the season Tuesday morning. The Huddersfield Giants have fired head coach Rick Stone. Stone arrived at “the birthplace of rugby league” part way through the 2016 and helped the club avoid relegation after a poor start. In 2017 Stone led the Giants back to the Super 8s. Ultimately the team finished 8th overall. This season the Giants have struggled again. They hold a 2-5-0 record, sit 11th spot in the standings and seemed destined to have to fight to stay in Super League in the qualifiers at the end of the season. General reaction to the firing seems to be that Stone did the best he could given the circumstances. Stone took over as the team was awful and tight against the salary cap. This made it difficult for Huddersfield to sign certain players. However, they do have Jermaine McGillvary. McGillvary is usually on of the best wingers in Super League, however, he has run into some injury trouble. In the 5 games he has played he only scored 2 tries. A far cry off from his near try-per-game pace he has demonstrated for both Huddersfield and England over the last 5 years. Ultimately, the final straw seems to have come this weekend when the Giants were embarrassed by Wigan Warriors 48-10. Huddersfield assistant coach Chris Thorman will be taking over on an interim basis.

NRL

On the field this week there was plenty of dramatics. The New Zealand Warriors defeated the Canberra Raiders in a dramatic victory. Shaun Johnson hit two drop goals within the final 3min to give the Warriors at 19-18 win. With the win, the Warriors begin the season 3-0 for the first time in franchise history. There was another tight golden point game between the Brisbane Broncos and Wests Tigers. Jamayne Isaako played the hero for Broncos in that one, allowing the Broncos to pick up their first ever win without scoring a try.

The biggest story of the week came as the Manly Sea Eagles were punished for salary cap violations. The Eagles (everyone’s 16th favourite team) were found guilty of exceeding the salary cap in excess of $1.5million. For context, the NRL salary cap is currently set at $ 9.2million. The teams can fit anywhere between 24 and 30 players under the cap. The Sea Eagles were offing players contract incentives that they never revealed to the NRL. Therefore, those incentives were never declared on the salary cap. The NRL handed down the following punishments:

1) A $750,000 fine

2) $660,000 cap penalty to be spread out over 2018 and 2019

3) Manly CEO Neil Bare has been suspended 12 months

4) Sydney Roosters CEO Joe Kelly (previously part of Manly’s staff has been suspended for 12 months.

The team is believed to be cap compliant now, so no points in the standings have been deducted. The Sea Eagles have already begun feeling the effects of the punishments. When you are penalized $330,000 against the cap, someone has got to go. Prop Darcy Lussick looks to be the first to depart Manly. Many media outlets have been reporting that Lussick will be heading to the Northern hemisphere and join the Super League team of his choosing. Lussick’s contract is expiring at the end of the season. Players in similar situations, such as halfback Lachlan Crocker, may be the next prime candidates to depart Manly.

Play of the Week

There was certainly a lot to choose from this week. Luke Gale’s 45m drop goal for Castleford, Cooper Cronk’s perfect kick pass for Sydney Roosters, Rob Massam’s crazy one handed catch against the Wolfpack, and Ben Murdoch-Masila breaking 5 tackles to score for The Wire. However, sometimes what makes a play great is the build up to the play. It also doesn’t hurt to have a player born with the clutch gene. I eluded to it in the NRL section. Shaun Johnson of the New Zealand Warriors with not one, but two drop goals to keep the Warriors perfect season intact.

Yes, Luke Gale’s kick was monstrous (that’s why I still showed the video). But 30m is no joke either. Especially since the Warriors had to march the ball back up the field and set it up again. Maybe next time the Raiders will be a bit quicker off the line.

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