Talking RL: Quality, call-ups and the Canadian adventure

Taulima Tautai in action during Wigan's last game against Warrington earlier this month
Taulima Tautai in action during Wigan's last game against Warrington earlier this month

High-stakes? Not really.

There are 34 more points up for grabs for each team after tonight’s game at the Halliwell Jones.

I imagine most Wigan fans want to win ‘because it’s Warrington’, rather than to go clear at the top – and vice versa.

But I’m really, really looking forward to this game.

I’ll go as far as saying I’m looking for it to restore some of my faith in the quality of the Super League this season.

Sure, it has been unpredictable and enjoyable. There have been some nail-biters.

But there is a difference between high-quality and highly-entertaining – something some of the Sky commentators struggled to grasp during St Helens’ 38-34 win against Leeds last Friday.

Some of the games so far have just left me feeling a bit underwhelmed about the standard.

Wigan, I must say, have done incredibly well to maintain a title tilt given the absences they’ve had. They aren’t just missing half of their team – they’re missing half the England team!

And they will surely improve once the likes of O’Loughlin, Farrell and the Tomkins brothers return.

But they’ve still got enough quality in their squad to test Warrington tonight.

There are some outstanding match-ups across the field, especially the duel between John Bateman and Ben Currie – two of the country’s brightest prospects.

And Wigan’s props, who have generally been in form this year, get a great chance to test themselves against Wiganer Chris Hill – a terrific front-rower.

I hope Wigan can get the win. But more than that, I’m hoping for a high-quality game.

Australia have named winger Semi Radradra in their team to face New Zealand.

That’s despite him being born in Fiji, raised in Fiji and having previously playing for – yep – Fiji.

I don’t blame the player for his choice. Asking him to commit to a country where he has to raise money towards his own travel, or turn out for the Green and Gold and collect $25,000 a game, is not really a choice.

That is something for the toothless Rugby League International Federation to look at.

But the Aussies should know better.

If they – and England – are going to start picking players who qualify through the ridiculous ‘residency rule’ (having living in a country for three years) we are in trouble.

Because there are only 30 professional rugby league clubs in the world, and 28 of those are in Australia and England.

The Aussies have enough genuine, home-grown talent without the need to raid and weaken smaller nations of their best players.

I felt fortunate to be invited to a small, low-key function to celebrate Shaun Wane’s 150th game in charge of Wigan.

It’s a terrific milestone, particularly in an era when coaches are hired and fired so often.

In the last four-and-something years since he took charge, no club has won as many games as Wigan.

No club has provided as many England internationals as Wigan.

Only Leeds have won more trophies.

He won’t want it, but he deserves recognition for what he has done.

Leeds legend Kevin Sinfield – who switched codes after the Grand Final – has announced he will retire at the end of the rugby union season.

Rumours the decision was based on boredom in the 15-a-side code are, I’m told, unfounded.

Super League now operates a ‘live’ salary cap, so why are Salford now getting punished for a breach in 2014?

I suspect this is why:

The Rugby Football League launched an investigation into their finances after ex-player Tony Puletua told an employment tribunal last October he had two separate contracts.

At the time, Salford didn’t contest his claim he was paid around £50,000 by a second Koukash company – in addition to his deal with the Super League outfit.

So I wasn’t surprised with the news they had been docked six points for breaking the wage ceiling.

The only surprise was the fine – £5,000. It seems out of sync with such a heavy points deduction.

I’m all for rugby league thinking big and trying something original.

I’m all for expansion.

And I’m all for bringing fresh investment into the sport.

The decision to introduce a Canadian-based side into League One ticks all of those boxes.

But you’ll forgive me for being scepical.

History has taught me to be that way.

I remember the promises before clubs were launched in Paris, Gateshead, south Wales, north Wales.

And none of those clubs had the logistical nightmare this Canadian side are going to have!

It’s easy to predict glory and crowd-support – think Salford – but much harder to achieve it.

Last weekend, not a single League One game had a four-figure crowd, yet Toronto reckon they will pull in 7,000 fans.

I hope they do.

Good luck to Brian Noble, Paul Rowley and the others involved.

Hand on heart, I hope it’s a success.

But I can’t help think it’s all going to end in tears.