Talking RL: Big rematch, reserves, first-world problems and ‘false news’

Morgan Escare, getting a hug from John Bateman, has proved a popular figure already
Morgan Escare, getting a hug from John Bateman, has proved a popular figure already

The bookmakers don’t believe Warrington are struggling for form, and I don’t either.

Tony Smith’s Wolves go into tonight’s Grand Final rematch as the slight favourites, despite being bottom of the embryonic Super League table with three straight losses.

But the last time I went to the Halliwell Jones Stadium last month, I witnessed a performance I’ve never seen from the Wolves - and never, in truth, thought they were capable of - as they swept to a deserved win against Brisbane.

I’ve always rated some of their players, but three of their best - Ben Currie, Chris Hill and Stefan Ratchford, all Wiganers - were missing.

Wigan’s record is in stark contrast, with three straight wins in Super League - not bad for a team known for being slow-starters.

Both squads are depleted and, while it would have been better if all the stars were playing, I’m still looking forward to a tight, entertaining tussle played out in a terrific atmosphere.

Escare or Tomkins? That’s the coaching equivalent of a first-world problem

With Wigan’s key players all fit and available, I imagine they will have enough strength to get home and claim a fifth straight win for the first time since 1998.

But then, I thought Brisbane would batter Warrington, too! The increasing unpredictability is all part of the fun in this crazy game.

One of our 18th man columnists asked a valid question: With Morgan Escare playing so well, where will Sam Tomkins play when he is fit again?

I have two thoughts on this.

The first is we don’t know who else will be missing then.

By the time Tomkins is fit - hopefully at some point next month - Wigan may have an absence elsewhere, at wing or at half-back, for example, which one of the two could fill.

They’re currently without three senior wingers, after all!

But secondly, let’s say everything is fine and everyone is fit. There are no absences elsewhere, and Wane has a straight-forward choice to make at full-back between the two players.

That’s a coach’s equivalent of a first-world problem!

Like buying a shiny new car.... and then winning one in a TV competition the week later.

It’d be a nice problem to have, right?

It was interesting to speak to Warrington coach Tony Smith this week about the reserves competition, which kicks-off again this weekend.

He pointed out last year’s top-five all ran a second-tier - not absolute evidence of its merits, but it certainly provides a strong case.

He also saw an irony that at a time when clubs are bending over backwards to strengthen the England team - two ‘double’ weekends, mid-season Test, training sessions - they aren’t deepening the talent pool.

They aren’t providing a pathway within their own clubs for young players to progress, once they get too old for Under-19s.

Currently, it’s up to clubs themselves whether they decide to have reserve sides or not. Many choose not to, presumably to save money. Salford and Leigh don’t even have academy sides this year, and that’s their choice - they aren’t requirements of being in the Super League.

I’m constantly bemused, and a bit saddened, by the fact that when it comes to throwing curve-balls - Catalans, Magic Weekend, Toulouse, now Toronto - rugby league does it so well.

And when it comes to the common-sense, it manages to mess it up.

It’s always good when a new name comes into the side - it gives us chances for some new headlines!

I felt obliged to apologise on social media for the accompanying headline about Romain Navarrete needing time to hit his potential: Romain wasn’t built in a day.

And, yes, before you ask, I’ve already got a couple stored away. When he battles through an injury problem, expect to see Romain soldiers on, and - thanks to ex-Guardian scribe Andy Wilson - I have an idea for a feature on him weight-training, called ‘The Guns of Navarrete’.

Final word, for now, on Wigan’s pitch/venue switch saga.

Ian Lenagan says he is not commenting until RFL officials have finished their investigation into the whole messy affair. Fair enough.

But on Friday, I was surprised to read Lenagan’s programme notes, in which he wrote the events “have been widely publicised – generally inaccurately” and went on to ask fans not to “be distracted by the ‘false news’ circulated.”

To recap: Wigan postponed their Friday game with 25 hours’ notice to protect the weather-battered pitch for Latics’ Saturday game. Then, the day later, the Warriors’ fixture was rearranged – but switched to Widnes, with nine hours’ notice. I thought the timeline of events spoke for themselves.

When the investigation is complete, and Lenagan is willing to comment, I’ll be sincerely interested to know firstly what is being done to avoid similar embarrassing pitch problems in the future, and secondly, which stories were ‘false news’.