Talking RL: Charnley has fulfilled early promises

Josh Charnley flies over for a try

Josh Charnley flies over for a try

‘Kris Radlinski reckons Wigan have unearthed a real gem in Josh Charnley,’ started the story on this website in January, 2010.

Radlinski said: “Josh came to the club looking for a contract and he earned one on the back of solid, hard work.

“So far, he’s worked very hard. He’s still young and of course we have to be patient, but if he carries on working as hard as he does, he can go a long way.”

How prophetic Radlinski’s words proved to be.

Charnley debuted in 2010 but his big breakthrough came the following year, which included a try in the Challenge Cup Final victory at Wembley.

England honours soon followed, and while his strike-rate of 163 tries in 171 appearances is hugely impressive, it still doesn’t do justice to his contribution to the side.

Dom Manfredi in the Super League Dream Team

Dom Manfredi in the Super League Dream Team

The carries, the tackles, the breaks, the thrills.

And, yes, the character he has brought to the club.

Tomorrow, he will be making his last appearance at the DW Stadium as a Wigan player ahead of a code-switch to Sale Sharks.

Dan Sarginson will also be bidding farewell, and possibly Matty Smith (though he continues to deny a deal with St Helens has been done).

I hope they get the send-offs they crave – a victory which propels the Warriors into the Grand Final.

Despite their lengthy injury list, they have come good at just the right time.

Whether it’s by accident or design, they seem to be peaking. Building.

And having claimed many wins through character and endeavour this year – and been criticised in the process – they have now answered the questions about their spluttering attack, scoring 12 tries in their last 100 minutes of play.

They have proved to us, and to themselves, they can play. They can be a threat.

And they will head into tomorrow’s game confident, against opponents who look tired.

Last week I wrote in depth about the importance of traditional media in helping to maintain, and strengthen, rugby league’s profile.

By freakish coincidence, I bumped into a friend in the Co-op on Saturday (I remember when we used to meet in pubs).

He hadn’t read the column – his sporting love is solely football – but he’d seen highlights on Sky Sports News of Wigan’s win against Catalans.

“How good was that Charnley try?” he said. “I can’t believe the centre kicked it! You’d never get that in union, eh?”

For those who missed it, Anthony Gelling grubbered through on or about Wigan’s own 20m line, which looked like a risky play which paid off spectacularly.

What the clip didn’t show, or explain, was that the move came from a ‘freeplay’, after a Catalans knock-on – meaning play would have been brought back for a scrum if it hadn’t gone to plan.

So to whoever created the ‘freeplay’ rule, take a bow. It only occasionally leads to wonderful tries but, when it does, it casts the sport in a great light.

At the joint press conference this week to promote the Million Pound Game, Hull KR full-back Ben Cockayne labelled the concept a “disgrace”.

The winners of Saturday’s match will start next year in Super League, while the losers will be relegated to the Championship.

“On Sunday morning, there will be a group of people without a job,” said the Robins full-back.

I must admit, there’s something about the whole ‘Million Pound Game’ which doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

I love drama and high-stakes matches, but it all feels a bit too X-Factor. “You have a chair! Your safe!”

Sure, the Magic Weekend, Super 8s and play-offs are contrived by their nature – but this game seems a but too contrived.

It crosses the line, the same way the ‘choose your opponents’ ClubCall did.

Rugby league, more than any other sport, seems to be obsessed with creating excitement. In football, for example, some title/survival fights go down to the wire – others are settled with games to spare.

But to call the Million Pound Game a disgrace?

There’s nothing new about players having to fight for their futures. Aside from the spell when Super League had ‘franchises’, it has always gone on.

And the Million Pound Game gives Super League clubs more chance to preserve their status than a straight forward promotion and relegation.

The mechanism may be different, but the end result is the same – someone will go down.

It’s cruel for those involved, and they have my sympathies. But unless the competition is expanded, it’s an inevitable consequence of Leigh’s promotion.

To Cockayne’s point about jobs – Salford owner Marwan Koukash has already said his players won’t be cut if they go down to the Championship (which operates with the same salary cap limit) and, even if they were to be, they would surely pick up new deals elsewhere.

When Crusaders went down, their best players (including Ben Flower and Gil Dudson) ended up at better clubs. Same with London (Denny Solomona, Atelea Vea).

John Bateman was plucked from Bradford before they slid out of the top-flight.

And if you go through the Salford side, in order: Gareth O’Brien, Daniel Vidot, Junior Sa’u, Josh Jones, Justin Carney, Robert Lui, Michael Dobson... I’m sure those players would also find clubs keen to get them on board.

The Dream Team inevitably prompts debate because it is based on opinions – a line-up of players who journalists think have been the best in their positions this year.

Still, I’m surprised there was no room for John Bateman.

He has been outstanding for Wigan this season, before and after a club-imposed ban for a drunken scrap.

Bateman, incidentally, has not given any interviews since his off-field indiscretion – and the Dream Team launch would have been the perfect chance, indeed the only chance, for reporters to ‘collar him’.

But still they decided not to vote for him. Say what you want about my colleagues in the Press, but at least they can’t be accused of having ulterior motives!

Shaun Wane also thought Wigan could have had a couple more players joining Dom Manfredi in the line-up.

“But it’s a strong line-up,” he added.

“And I’m glad (Warrington’s) Chris Hill is in there, because he’s been outstanding. How he’s not on the Man of Steel shortlist, I’ll never know.”

Given the Man of Steel is voted for by players, does that mean journalists are better judges?

“Erm, well, what I mean, erm,” – for once, Wane was lost for words!

Wigan’s game against Catalans had 16,000 fans and a terrific atmosphere, and Hull FC did a great job in making their game against Warrington into a big event which looked great on TV.

All of which made the game look in rude health.

And then I read York City Knights had travelled to Toulouse with just 12 players – yep, 12! – for a League One semi-final, just a week after Workington took a squad of just 14 to their final game at Halifax.

And this at semi-professional level. Don’t let the atmosphere and excitement of the Super League semi-finals mask the serious issues rugby league has to address.

Tony Smith, a coach whose views on the game I admire, says the joy of winning the League Leaders’ Shield was diluted by the ‘extra’ Magic Weekend game, which distorts the final table.

In most other years, I’d be tempted to agree with him. Some sides, after all, are handed easier matches than their rivals.

But this year, his argument is leaky. Because if you look at this year’s results from the Newcastle event, the other two teams who were challenging for top spot in the Super-8s – Wigan and Hull FC – won their matches comfortably.

Warrington lost 34-14 to Castleford. With that in mind, surely it should mean more, not less, for them to finish top this year?