The Toronto Wolfpack faced an uphill battle this week as they took on the Batley Bulldogs!
No that pun wasn’t on purpose (ok fine, it definitely was). One of the things I love about old stadiums is that they are unique or have some great defining feature that actually has an impact on the game. Fenway Park has the Green Monster. Wrigley Field has the ivy. Batley’s home Fox’s Biscuits Stadium has the hill. The Bulldogs’ marketing for this game hyped up rugby league’s newest team making their first visit to rugby league’s oldest stadium. Well, rugby league’s oldest stadium is built on the side of a hill. The actual playing surface reflects that. It was great to watch as the Batley players used the hill to create a very prominent home field advantage. Batley’s James Harrison scored a brilliant try after Josh McCrone hesitated to read the ball’s bounce near the try line. Harrison did not, making a spectacular diving pickup and grounding the ball in one fluid motion.
This game did end up being a tale of two halves for the Wolfpack. The first half the Wolfpack were headed uphill and struggled to hold onto the ball. The made numerous handling errors and had several offload attempts that went straight to the ground or right into Batley’s hands. Wayne Reittie was able to take full advantage of this as he intercepted an errant Jack Bussey offload and ran it back 60m for a try (unfortunately injuring his shoulder in the process). Reittie’s try sent the Bulldogs to the locker room with a 12-6 halftime lead.
The second half the Wolfpack got to go downhill. In the second half Gaz O’Brien decided to take over this game. O’Brien has been good for the Wolfpack since coming over Salford, but this is the first time we’ve really seen why Paul Rowley and Brian Noble went after his services. He simply dominated. Every time he touched the ball something positive happened for the Wolfpack. Every time he carried the ball he had a line break, his clearance kicks were accurate, his attacking kicks were accurate, and his decisions from dummy half were perfect. Most importantly, he had a hat trick in 12 minutes. O’Brien scored at the 50, 53, and 62 minute marks to (almost) single handedly blow this game open for the Wolfpack. Batley struggled to do anything to contain O’Brien. It was simply clinical.
The victory helps the Wolfpack stay on top of the standings through 10 games. The top 4 of the Championship is slowly becoming very interesting. After starting their season 6-0, the London Broncos have now lost 3 in a row (one game was postponed). The worst part is they are big losses; 36-16 to Toulouse, 31-18 to Leigh, and 26-16 to Halifax. The three losses have allowed Leigh to climb back to within 2 points of 4th place. Leigh has essentially had the polar opposite season to London. After being relegated from Super League, Leigh began the season 1-5. The start of the season saw their coach Neil Jukes resign after round 4 and former captain Mickey Higham come out of retirement in hopes of reigniting the Centurions. Now it seems as though they have turned thing around and have stormed back up the standings. In their last 4 game Leigh have defeated Dewsbury, Swinton, London, and Rochdale by a combined score of 175-38. Leigh were on of the betting favourites heading into the season. It appears that they are finally showing why.
In off field news, it seems that Darcy Lussick is indeed going to be joining the Pack. The Wolfpack still hasn’t announced it officially, but every major news outlet seems more confident than ever that it is going to happen.
The Wolfpack also announced that Lamport Stadium will not be ready for the scheduled home opener on May 5th vs Swinton Lions. Instead the game will be played at Fletcher’s Fields in Markham. Although not ideal, playing the game at Fletcher’s Fields is infinitely better than losing another home game entirely and being forced to play in England. The one noticeable downside is that Fletcher’s Fields’ capacity is 3,200 or just under half of the Wolfpack’s average attendance last year. So it could be a tight fit. Ultimately, Fletcher’s Fields is a great ground. Anyone that has ever picked up a rugby ball in Ontario has played a game or 50 at Fletcher’s Fields so it should have a nice local feel to it. I’m just happy to have the Wolfpack in Toronto. Hopefully Lamport Stadium will be ready to go for June 9th when the Wolfpack are scheduled to take on the London Broncos to kick off an 8 game home stand to end the season.
The Wire continues to roll. The Warrington Wolves picked up their 5th win in a row with a 22-6 victory over Salford. Josh Charnley continues to be a force for the Wire. Charnley picked up his third try in as many games since returning to rugby league. He seems to be developing some good chemistry with centre Toby King. The two were able to connect on a nice give and go play to set up the Wire’s first try of the game.
The Catalans Dragons continue to struggle as they suffered another defeat to the Wigan Warriors. That Catalans lost is not surprising, but how they lost was spectacular. The Dragons dominated the first half. They looked outstanding. The highlight of the first half was fullback David Mead intercepting the ball inside Catalans 10 and running it the length of the field.
Catalans led 15-0 at halftime. Ben Garcia scored a try right out of the gate to start the second half and it looked like Catalans would continue to dominate. Tony Gadot had a goal to put Catalans up 23-4 at the 51 minute mark and then they collapsed. Wigan scored 28 unanswered points in the final 25 minutes of the game to leave France with a 32-23 victory.
It’s a tough loss for Catalans and you could see the disappointment on the faces of coach Steve McNamara and every player as they let the best 50 minutes of their season slip away. Wigan on the other hand, looked ecstatic as they avoid being embarrassed by the league’s worst team and keep the gap between themselves and St. Helens for top of the standings at 4 points. The comeback could be a big momentum builder as Wigan’s next two match ups are against Leeds and Castleford, two teams in the top 5.
The New Zealand Warriors are on absolute fire! The Warriors are now 5-0 after disposing of the North Queensland Cowboys 22-12. Winger David Fusitu’a had two tries to give him 7 on the year and sole possession of the NRL try scoring lead. Fusitu’a’s tries weren’t exactly individual efforts though as Shaun Johnson and Peta Hiku picked up some filthy assists on those plays.
The Warriors aren’t the only undefeated team left in NRL. St. George Illawarra Dragons also moved to 5-0 with a hard fought 16-12 victory over South Sydney Rabbitohs. Life without Sam Burgess did not get off to the best start for the Bunnies. They struggled to generate any offense in a very physical affair with the Dragons. However, in the final 10 minutes the Rabbitohs began showing signs of life. Cody Walker and Greg Inglis each crossed the try line, but it proved to be too little too late. Perhaps the late surge will provided momentum heading into next week’s match against local rivals Sydney Roosters.
The Parramatta Eels have struggled mightily this year and have failed to pick up a win in the first 5 rounds. For the most part, the games haven’t been close either. Only this past week against the Penrith Panthers were the Eels able to keep it a one possession game. However, despite their struggles confidence remains high. Coach Brad Arthur dropped a Mark Messier-esque guarantee in an interview with NRL.com. Arthur said “we’re still 100 per cent confident that we’re going to be playing finals”. In fact he actually said this twice. For clarification, “finals” is how the NRL refers to their playoffs. The championship round is specifically referred to as The Grand Final. So perhaps the guarantee is a little tamer than Messier’s. However, the task is not easy. The Brisbane Broncos were the last team to make the finals after starting 0-5. That was way back in 1999. If the Eels want any shot at still making the finals it will need to start with a win against Canberra Raiders this weekend. Luckily, the Eels will be getting a boost this week as fullback Clint Gutherson returns from a knee injury suffered late last season. Despite missing the final 6 games of the season Gutherson still led the Eels in scoring with 142 points. The next closest was Mitchel Moses who had 127. Gutherson will be a welcome sight in the Eels locker room and hopefully he can provide the spark to turn this season around.
Fuifui Moimoi is back! The Wolfpack legend is making his return to rugby league as he signed with Workington Town on Tuesday morning. Fuifui was a crowd favourite in the Wolfpack’ first year in Toronto. The Wolfpack crowds seemed to grow with each game and Fuifui was a big reason why. Unfortunately, he was released from the Wolfpack just a few weeks before the season started due to off field incidents during the club’s training camp in Portugal. Regardless, Fuifui Moimoi deserves a ton of credit for creating thousands of new rugby league fans in Canada. His style of play was electrifying and it was always a joy to watch 4 or 5 opponents attempt to bring him down. Fuifui could definitely help Town as the battle for promotion to the Championship. As it stands, Town is only 2 points back of Doncaster for 1st place. So good luck to Fuifui! It’s great to see you back!
Play(s) of the Week
You know what it is. Gaz O’Brien puts up the hat trick in a span of 12 minutes. O’Brien had by far his best game in a Wolfpack jersey on Sunday! Watching him just seemingly chose to take over the game was incredible. For that, he earns the Wolfpack’s first Layman’s Sports Play of the Week honours. For which try? All of them.