Rugby League Recap
The Dewsbury Rams were very gracious hosts to the Toronto Wolfpack this week. Part of their promotion for this game was free entry to anyone with a Canadian passport. Those Canadians were treated to a great display from the Wolfpack as they completely dominated Dewsbury in a 23-12 victory.
There was a lot of positives in this game for the Wolfpack, but I’m going to start by discussing the one glaring negative in this game. Ryan Brierley was 1 for 6 from the kicking tee today. The one he made was after Dewsbury took an obstruction penalty right in front of the posts. The Wolfpack did not have a single converted try in this game. Brierley’s lack of success was the only thing that kept Dewsbury in this game. The Wolfpack scored 3 tries before the 20th minute. Dewsbury responds with a (questionable) try from Aaron Brown in the 25th minute. Paul Sykes makes his kick and all of a sudden it’s 12-6, a one possession game.
The first kick seemed to set the tone. I saw some arguments that most of the kicks were from the touch line. That is true, but the first one after Reni Maitua’s opening try was not. Brierley was positioned about halfway between the posts and the touch line and 15m off the try line. Certainly a makeable kick. The Dewsbury crowd cheered as soon as Brierley’s foot made contact with the ball. It wasn’t even close. The next two kicks were much harder, both from the touch line. Both again missed by a lot. Perhaps if that first one goes in his confidence is higher. Bottom line, you aren’t going to score every try under the posts so you need to find a way to convert from everywhere. In the Super 8s 16% is not going to be good enough.
Now for the good. Ryan Brierley was great at everything that didn’t involve kicking off a tee today. He played a crucial role in the build up to both Adam Higson’s tries and Chase Stanley’s try. He had a drop goal that put the game out of reach, but still decided to follow it up with 95m interception return try (and another missed conversion, but that’s not the point here). The run back was the play of the game in a game filled with great plays.
The back line put in an outstanding effort. Nearly every try were solid team efforts effectively moving the ball down the line. Brierley, Stanley, Higson, and Gareth O’Brien were instrumental in every Wolfpack try. Higson picked up his first double in a Wolfpack jersey, Stanley had his first Wolfpack try, but the man of the match once again goes to O’Brien. O’Brien did everything you want out of your fullback. He handled kicks under pressure with ease, he had some big returns, his passing directly set up tries (picking up an assist on Higson’s 2nd try), and his attacking kick directly set up Stanley’s try after Dewsbury failed to handle it. He also had that ridiculous 40-20 kick that led to a solid 10min within the Dewsbury 20m line. What made that 40-20 kick so impressive was that, as commentator Dave Woods was quick to point out, it was probably closer to a 25-15. Truly a remarkable kick and a remarkable game from the Wolfpack.
On Monday morning the Wolfpack held a press conference where Paul Rowley introduced the fans to the newest signing Darcy Lussick. Yes, after weeks of knowing it would get done, Lussick is finally a member of the Wolfpack.The press conference was filled with the typical “he’s a great player we are happy to have him” and “I’m excited for this opportunity” clichés that these types of press conferences are known for. However, Rowley did reveal that Greg Worthington and Reni Maitua would both be out for a considerable length of time. Worthington injured his groin 10 minutes into the game this weekend and did not return. Maitua had a visible leg injury and needed to be helped off the field in Dewsbury. If Maitua is going to miss an extend length of time, the arrival of Lussick could be a blessing for the Wolfpack.
Unfortunately, with Lussick’s arrival that means someone has to go. Jake Butler-Flemming has been loaned to League 1’s York City Knights. Butler-Flemming just hasn’t been able to crack the line-up so he should be pleased to finally get some playing time. League Express is also reporting that QLT could be on his way out. Since the arrival of O’Brien, QLT has been relegated to the press box on most nights (except when the Wolfpack ran into emergency injury problems). League Express is saying that Halifax is the front runner to acquire his services. It could make the Championship a lot more interesting with Halifax sitting just 2 point behind London Broncos for the final top 4 spot.
The Wolfpack get a break from Championship action this week as they prepare for Round 5 of the Challenge Cup. The Wolfpack travel to Barrow to take on the Raiders in the no longer impenetrable fortress that is Craven Park.
I have decide to add the rest of the Championship to the Rugby League Recap. I am doing this for two reasons. First, it is the league the Wolfpack are in so it will give better context to the Wolfpack section if you know more about what is happening in the rest of the league. Second, despite being tier 2 the Championship has been the most entertaining rugby league competition this year.
Barrow Raiders have lost at Craven Park for the first time since 2016. Craven Park has been a fortress since the Raiders lost to Toulouse 44-16 way back in May 2016. Only the Wolfpack were able to muster up a draw in that stadium. However, the Featherstone Rovers have now ended that impressive unbeaten streak. Featherstone picked up the 38-26 victory led by Harry Newman’s two tries. The win helps keep Featherstone within striking distance of the Wolfpack for top spot in the standings. Both clubs have 9 wins through 11 rounds. The difference is that Wolfpack draw with Barrow gives them an extra point. Barrow will look to start a new streak against the Wolfpack in their Challenge Cup match this weekend.
In the most surprising score line of the week, the Batley Bulldogs slaughtered Toulouse 46-22. Jason Crookes led the way with a hat trick for the Bulldogs. This is a massive result for the Bulldogs who take down a top 4 team while staying in the race for the top 4 themselves. Hopefully they can maintain the momentum throughout the rest of the year.
The Leigh Centurions continue to be on absolute fire since having the worst possible start to their year. Leigh have now won their 5th game in a row and once again did so in dominant fashion. Former Wolfpack captain Craig Hall led the way with a hat trick in 5 minutes (18th, 20th, 22nd). Hall also added a 4th try in the 58th minute as the Centurions blew out the Sheffield Eagles 72-20. Thanks to this dominate 5 game run where they have outscored opponents 247-58, Leigh now has 387 points for and 157 point differential. This could be critical if their season comes down to the tie breakers.
The Huddersfield Giants season couldn’t get much worse. The Giants sit 11th in the Super League and are looking like a team destined for a bottom 4 finish. The latest this week was a 30-12 defeat to the Salford Red Devils. Salford themselves have not fared much better this year. Their first road win in nearly a year propelled them out of the bottom 4. It was a game that Huddersfield needed to win and it was clear that frustration boiled over at the end of this one. Scrum half Danny Brough was handed a straight red card for abuse of official in the 76th minute. Brough made a tackle on second row Weller Hauraki. As Hauraki got up to play the ball he appeared to give an extra shove to Brough. Brough was clearly irate and stormed over to the touch judge and proceeded to go on a profanity laced tirade. There was nothing overly malicious about Hauraki’s shove, but clearly Brough needed to take out some frustration. Unfortunately, the referee is not the person to do that with. If you ever feel the need to vent, heed the wise advice from the great Russ Tyler and “pick another target”.
Brough has been hit with a 3 game suspension and £500 fine. Brough will miss games against St. Helens, Warrington, and most importantly Widnes. Widnes is currently in 9th and Huddersfield will need to beat them if they have any hopes of escaping the bottom 4.
Perhaps it was a bad week to be a referee. St. Helens winger Mark Percival will also be sitting out next week’s clash with Huddersfield. Toward the end of St. Helens 24-20 loss to Wakefield Trinity, Percival felt he was hit without the ball and decided to lash out on the referee. His rant only earns him the one game suspension. Percival is a big loss for the Saints. The English national team winger is tied for the league lead in tries and a key part of St. Helens offence. Fortunately the man with the 3rd most tries is Ben Barba, who is an early candidate for player of the year. I expect that he will see the ball come his way a lot more next week in Percival’s absence. St. Helens should be alright though, it is only Huddersfield.
Warrington continue to be the hottest team in Super League. The Wire cruised to a 40-26 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers for their 6th win in a row. The team is showing plenty of confidence lately and pulled off some incredible team tries against Hull KR.
The impressive thing about Warrington is that the offense is coming from everyone. Their 248 points for is the 4th most in the league. However, they only have one player among the top 20 try scorers. Centre Tom Lineham leads the Wolves with 7 tries, good enough for 9th in the league. In their win against Hull KR Warrington had 7 tries with 6 different try scorers. The Wolves ability to spread the wealth is proving to be a decisive factor of this great run they are on. The offense might be given a chance to feast next week. Warrington will enter the Challenge Cup and will be taking on League 1’s Bradford Bulls. The hottest team in Super League against a team two divisions below them. That should be fun.
All good things must come to an end. The New Zealand Warriors were handed their first loss of the season this weekend. The Brisbane Broncos ended the Warriors record setting start with a 27-18 win. Jamayne Isaako led the way for the Broncos. Isaako had 2 tries, 3 conversions, and 2 penalty goals to pick up 18 of the Broncos 27 points. The Warriors will have a tough bounce back game next week. They welcome the St. George Illawarra Dragons to MT Smart Stadium. After dispatching the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 40-20 the Dragons remain the only unbeaten team in the NRL. Matthew Dufty scored a pair of electrifying tries to climb to second amongst the leagues try scorers. The only man ahead is the Warriors’ David Fusitu’a. With Dufty and Fusitu’a on the field together there should be plenty of highlight reel material in next week’s game.
The North Queensland Cowboys continue to struggle mightily. Since defeating the Sharks in their opening matchup, the Cowboys have lost 5 straight games. As a result they find themselves only above the winless Parramatta Eels in the standings. The Cowboys roster continues to be littered with State of Origin players and Kangaroos such as Gavin Cooper, Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, and Jordan McLean, but can’t seem to make anything work. If you had to some up their season with a visual it would be this try from their 27-10 loss against Canterbury Bulldogs:
An errant kick right off the legend Thurston’s head that leads directly to a Bulldogs try. The Cowboys will look to turn their season around against the Gold Coast Titans this weekend. Coach Danny Green has promised big changes if the Cowboys can’t pick up the win against the Titans.
The biggest NRL news this week came off the field this week. The NRL has decided to release player for the New Zealand vs England test match in Denver on June 23, 2018. As I wrote in an earlier post, the NRL had some ridiculous reasons to not release players for the game. The reasons were safety related concerns such as the long flight and Denver’s altitude. Well the good news is that after a meeting with the RFL, those concerns have apparently been alleviated and the NRL now feels comfortable sending their players. Strangely enough, their change of heart come in the same week that rumours began to circulate about an Australia vs Tonga test match in Qatar. So I guess the heat in Qatar is safer than Denver’s altitude? It would seem like citing player safety to avoid a game in Denver while simultaneously playing a game in Qatar might not have been the best look for the NRL. Regardless of their reasoning for the change of heart, this is ultimately the right decision for the NRL and the growth of rugby league as a whole.
Play of the Week
Hull FC certainly has a flair for the dramatic. Marc Sneyd’s 51m drop goal took home play of the week honours back in the 4th Rugby League Recap and now Hull FC has returned with more kicking excellence. This time it is winger Bureta Faraimo with a terrific kick pass to set up Jamie Shaul for a try.
Just terrific rugby league from all involved. Great offload from Jake Connor to get Faraimo and a perfectly placed kick from Faraimo as the Widnes defender forces him into touch. The kick bounces twice and hits Shaul in stride for the walk-in try! The try came in the 78th minute and capped off a great 39-20 win over Widnes.