Disappointing seemed to be the only word that Wolfpack fans could muster following their performance against Warrington Wolves on Sunday. It wasn’t disappointment in the 66-10 loss. Warrington were heavy favourites heading into the game. A loss isn’t disappointing. To be honest, the score isn’t even disappointing. What’s disappointing is how they lost. The Wolfpack were their own worst enemy against Warrington. The sheer lack of discipline was absolutely mind-boggling. My first key to the game from my preview was no cards. The Wolfpack had 3 yellows and a red. They had to play with 10 men for a stretch of the game. Josh Charnley was literally laughing at how easy this was. Warrington captain Chris Hill said that the style of play the Wolfpack brought to the game was “pub league quality”. Ultimately, he is right. The second half of the probably could have been set to Sweet Georgia Brown, as Warrington seemed to be attempting plays they would only dream of doing in a practice run.
This was a chance for the Wolfpack to show they belong in Super League. And to me that is the most disappointing part about this game. The first half showed that without a doubt, the Toronto Wolfpack belong in Super League. The Wolfpack were the better team in the first half, or perhaps more accurately the first 35 minutes. The Wolfpack completed 10 sets in a row to start the game. Warrington finally forced a turnover in the 21st minute. The Wolfpack looked to confuse the Warrington defence right from the opening kick. The moved the ball down the line on 1st tackle as opposed to the more traditional hand the ball to the prop and let him crash into the defence. Offensively the Wolfpack were perfect. Both wingers Adam Higson and Liam Kay were able to find space to run in two tries. Ryan Brierley missed both conversions, because he is still Ryan Brierley, and the Wolfpack had an 8-0 lead 15 minutes in. Gaz O’Brien was spectacular on the two tries. O’Brien picked up an assist on each of them as he was able to find the open man with perfect outside passes. Higson was probably 3cm away from a third try too. He just missed grounding a Brierley grubber kick.
The game did begin to take on a bit of a chippy tone. Warrington prop Mike Cooper smashed through former teammate Ashton Sims on his way to a try (with Goodwin’s conversion it is now 8-6). Sims took exception to the hit and a scuffle ensued. Referee Ben Thaler had to take control of the situation and both captains were spoken to prior to the next kickoff. At this time Jake Emmitt claimed that he had been bit during the scuffle. Thaler asked if he was making a formal complaint to which Emmitt responded “No, just watch for that”.
Things started to unravel a bit in the 28th minute. Liam Kay received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Charnley. To be honest I’m not mad about this card. No extracurricular came out of the hit, despite the scuffle just minutes earlier. The hit did not seem malicious at all, but at the end of the day Kay lifted Charnley’s legs above his head and dropped him on his shoulders. That should be a yellow every time. After receiving the yellow, Kay walked over to Charnley and apologized, Charnley accepted.
Of note, during that stretch was Ben Murdoch-Masila flattening Adam Sidlow in the 30th minute. Sidlow responded and the two teams came together again. Thaler gave a final warning to both teams and said he would begin sorting out the post whistle activity. So, this is where it really went south for the Wolfpack. Andrew Dixon gets tied up with Harvey Livett. Livett did not like a late shot from Dixon and gave Dixon a shove as he played the ball. The two locked up and eventually Dixon through a punch. Both teams pile on and a near 12 on 13 scuffle breaks out (Kay was still seconds away from returning). Now, it wasn’t an incredibly hard punch, but it was a punch and the referee warned both teams. Dixon receives a red card, Livett gets nothing, and the Wolfpack are down to 12 for the rest of the game. Josh Charnley wasted no time, scoring a try by beating Kay on the wing. Bryson Goodwin converted the kick from the sideline and the Wolfpack are down 12-10 at the half.
“We gotta keep it squeaky clean with the penalties” -Liam Kay, halftime interview on BBC
Well, that didn’t happen. Did you know that Warrington fans sign “Hey, Hey Goodbye” when an opponent gets a card? I had no idea. I also had no intention of finding out that they sing it just as passionately for the first card as the 4th. The only thing frustrating about the Andrew Dixon red card, was that the Wolfpack (and Warrington) were warned. Dixon lost his cool, got suckered into the confrontation and they are now down a man for the whole game. Coming out for the second half the Wolfpack just decided to hit the self-destruct button.
Before you blinked Warrington was up 22-10 within 5 minutes of the second half as they began to pick a part the 12 man side in front of them. The Wolfpack were becoming visibly frustrated. They were giving up a lot of penalties. Josh McCrone did not like that. For some reason, he felt it was a good idea to let Thaler know this.
Side note: refs wearing mics is the greatest thing in sports television. But more importantly, SHUT UP JOSH. How many times does Thaler have to warn you? You are already down a man, and the captain of the team is going to get a yellow for chirping at the ref? That is simply brutal. What is even worse though is Darcy Lussick doing the exact same thing! Did you not just see McCrone get warned multiple times? Did you not see him ignore those warnings? Did you not see him get sent off? Can you not see that you only have 11 players on the field? Why do you want to make it 10? Mind blowing. 10 guys to defend one of Super League’s top offences? The flood gates aren’t just opened, they cease to exist.
Of course the Wolfpack continued to be taking penalties. They were warned for shoulder charges and high tackles on multiple occasions. Thaler was noticeably reserved in not handing out more cards and just sterner warnings. Although he looked very annoyed that no one in a white jersey seemed to be listening.
With the Wolfpack down to 12, 11, or 10 men the Wire had a field day. The game took on a Harlem Globetrotter-esque feel as the Wire attempted passes and offloads you’d never try in a game. Josh Charnley was openly mocking the Wolfpack every time he touched the ball.
Yeah let’s just tip toe the dead ball line and dodge tackles in the in-goal area while holding the ball in the least secure way because why not? Charnley and Ratchford later hooked up for a nice offload within their own in goal area. Again, why not? “It’s a circus act” is the perfect way to sum up this game.
To make matters worse Adam Higson might be missing time due to a leg injury. He was clearly favouring his leg for most of the game. Hopefully he is alright. The only good thing about this game is no one is being suspended.
The game was nationally televised in the UK, Australia, and Canada. It was a great chance to showcase the Wolfpack to the world and they give that performance.
The Challenge Cup
The rest of the Challenge Cup proved to be incredibly entertaining as well. Whitehaven, the final League 1 team left in the tournament, bowed out to Catalans with a 56-10 loss. This game was nowhere near as close as the scare York City Knights gave Catalans in the previous round. To be honest, Catalans got pretty lucky with their draw. Back to back League 1 sides with all of Super League, Toronto Wolfpack, Featherstone Rovers and Leigh Centurions sitting there if a fortunate bounce for the Dragons who have struggled mightily this season.
The Leigh Centurions were able to successfully do what the Wolfpack could not. They defeated Super League’s Salford Red Devils 22-10 and will be the only Championship side to be in the quarter-finals. The victory should be seen as a big message from Leigh. Salford actually jumped out to a 10-0 lead just 13 minutes into this game. However, thanks to tries from Ben Reynolds and Harrison Hansen (both converted by Reynolds) Leigh was up 12-10 at the 20 minute mark and were in control for the rest of the game. After being relegated last year and losing 5 of their first 6 games this year, Leigh has been on an absolute tear. Leigh has now won 10 in a row and beating teams by fairly significant margins. They are most likely going to end up meeting Salford again in the Super 8 qualifiers, so proving they can already beat the bottom 4 Super League sides should be a big confidence boost to a side that is not short on confidence.
Ben Barba continued to show why he is the best player in the Northern Hemisphere as he led St Helen’s to a 36-18 victory over the Castleford Tigers. Barba picked up a hat trick in the game as the Saints easily dispatched the Tigers.
The big story of the Challenge Cup this week was the brutal officiating seen in the Hull FC vs Featherstone Rovers match. Hull FC finished the game with 9 players on the field as players began to take control of indiscretions themselves. Referee Scott Mikalauskas might as well have kept the cards out of his pocket in the second half, or you know, he could have called something. Take a look for yourself I will let you be the judge.
“Mistimed” is one way to word that tackle Misi Taulapapa laid on Jamie Shaul. “Not even close” is another. That should have been a card for sure. At least a yellow, probably should have been red. It’s understandable that Hull FC, the Super League side and two-time defending Challenge Cup Champions, would start taking exception to a lower league side landing some dirty shots on some of their better players like Shaul. The last 10 minutes of the game was kind of ridiculous as every play seemed to end with a card. It’s a shame because the officiating overshadowed a pretty good game. One of the big rugby related highlights was Featherstone’s Jamie Briscoe extending his try scoring streak to 17 games, and continuing to build on the record. Unfortunately, all anyone could talk about after was Mikalauskas’ dreadful night.
Super League and Championship
All of Super League and many to Championship teams taking part in the Challenge Cup this weekend, there was not a whole lot of games to report on from the leagues specifically. In the Championship, the London Broncos were able to maintain their top 4 positioning with a 66-14 victory over Sheffield Eagles.
The big news out of Super League is that Sam Tompkins has finalized his contract with Catalans Dragons for the 2019 season. This is being viewed as a very peculiar move for Tompkins, who is regarded as the best fullback in Super League not named Ben Barba. Tomkins is England’s fullback and is currently playing for the Wigan Warriors, the second place team in the league. The intriguing thing about the move is that Catalans is in serious jeopardy of being relegated to Championship. Tompkins has now publicly said that even if Catalans does get relegated he will still honour his contract and play for them next year. It’s a great signing for the Dragons, but it might be weird to see one of England’s top players plying his trade in the 2nd tier next year.
The NRL participated in their league wide indigenous weekend last week. The weekend is a great celebration of the region’s indigenous cultures. All teams wear indigenous inspired kit, as well as hosting pre-game ceremonies honouring their indigenous people. The ceremonial elements of the weekend always make for some cool imagery.
Source: PhotoSportNZ/Vodafone Warriors
The New Zealand Warriors were missing Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson this week and wow, did it ever show. The Warriors were handed a heavy loss as the Sydney Roosters dominated them 32-0. The game was relatively tight in the first 30 minutes of the game. Latrell Mitchell had a penalty goal in the 18th minute, the only scoring of the first 25 minutes. However in the 29th Cooper Cronk sent a perfect pass over to Ryan Matheson for the game’s opening try and the flood gates opened. The Roosters have been in the middle of the pack for most of the year and have clearly sent a big message about their intentions for the remainder of the season. The Warriors handed the Roosters their biggest loss of the season back in round 4 when they were defeated 30-6. The Roosters were able to turn the tables on the Warriors who now drop to out of the top 2 for the first time all year.
Fortunately for the Warriors another top team also fell this weekend. South Sydney Rabbitohs were able to hand the St. George Illawarra Dragons their second loss of the season. Souths 24-10 victory was bookended by an opening minute try from Hymel Hunt and a closing minute try from Greg Inglis. The story of the game turned out to be Souths defence throughout the full 80 minutes. The Dragons were able to control possession of the ball frequently throughout the match, often getting multiple sets in a row, but couldn’t crack Souths defensive line. When the Dragons did manage their first try in the match, it wasn’t a case of finally breaking that defence. Rather Tyson Frizell simply pounced on an errant pass and scampered the length of the field for the easy try. Souths have been playing some quality rugby league lately winning 4 of their last 5. This game should give them the confidence they need to climb the ladder further.
Play of the Week
The Brisbane Broncos easily had the best looking kit of the NRL Indigenous round. It was perfect. It also probably makes this play a lot better when it is being executed in those glorious kits.
Kodi Nikorima’s kick is placed perfectly as Anthony Milford is able to make the over the shoulder catch and take it the rest of the way. This play and the Broncos kits were the only high points for them as Manly handed them a 38-24 loss.