Talking RL: The biggest game of the year so far
Just as the Super League season seems to have gone a bit stale '“ how poor have some of the recent games been? '“ along comes the Challenge Cup to freshen things up.
The sudden-death, do-or-die, high-stakes nature of the competition ramps up the intensity and generates nervousness.
Shaun Wane described this game as Wigan’s biggest of the year.
He is well aware it was this type of game - the type they are expected to win, against opposition from the good-but-not-headliners category - which proved their undoing last year.
And the year before.
This time, he says Wigan have the “bit between our teeth”.
They are angry, and they are desperate to return to Wembley.
Of course, motivation is rarely an issue in these games.
Castleford will want to progress as much as the Warriors - what matters most is performance.
The trouble with Cas’ is they have been hit-and-miss, but presuming their best side turns up, they pose a real attacking threat.
Wigan have not yet hit fifth gear (I heard a footballer say ‘sixth gear’ recently... shows the difference in pay-scale!) but they are winning.
They are showing toughness and togetherness.
Throw in the class of Sam Tomkins, George Williams and Sean O’Loughlin, who all return to the side tonight, and they should have enough to get the job done.
The fact Wayne Bennett didn’t do any interviews during his week-long trip to England has been widely criticised by my colleagues.
“Shocking,” said Danny Reuben on Twitter, the man who was England’s PR for the rugby league World Cup, 2014 Four Nations and last year’s series win over New Zealand. “The game never learns.”
I can’t imagine it happening in another sport.
But before we fire criticism, a question - who should we aim it at? Who’s decision was it?
If it was the RFL’s call, it was a huge missed-opportunity to generate some interest in the autumn series.
If it was Bennett’s decision, it suggests he has more power than his bosses.
I’m not sure which is worse.
Strangely, the list of players invited to a ‘get-together’ with Bennett was only made public last Sunday.
Interestingly, there were no Aussies and Kiwis in the pile.
That sounds like common-sense - it was the England squad, after all.
But consider how other sports have taken advantage of the residency and ancestry rules. Consider the fact high-calibre players such as Dave Taylor and Justin Carney have put their hands up to play. And consider that Bennett himself previously admitted he would consider anyone who was available - regardless of their birth-place.
There are still rumblings Newcastle Knights’ Trent Hodkinson will be involved, but the early indications suggest Bennett’s England team will be distinctly English, after all.
n The capture of a ‘new’ star usually generates more interest than the return of a former one.
It’s just the way it is.
But I’m excited at the prospect of Joe Burgess returning after a year away in the NRL.
When he left, I felt he’d gone too early. He may have played in the first-team since 2013 but, at 21, Burgess is still in the early stages of his top-flight career.
And he’ll get the chance to fulfil his undoubted promise, to develop into the winger we know he can become, at his hometown club.
For whatever reason, he has not had his chance at the Roosters. I’ve watched them a few times - they’ve been awful and still Trent Robinson hasn’t drafted the England winger into his backline.
Hopefully a move to Souths this week will give him a chance to show Aussie fans what he is capable of, and remind us just how good he can be, before his return.
Latics’ fixtures were released yesterday for the new Championship season.
On the sports desk there was the usual mix of excitement and anticipation (Owen Coyle’s Blackburn first up at home, big ties with Villa and Newcastle) and the ‘You’re-havin’-a-laugh’ (Ipswich and Norwich away on Tuesday nights).
From a Warriors perspective, it’s interesting to note Latics are away on the weekend of the Super League play-offs - meaning there are no concerns of a fixture clash if Wigan land a home semi-final.
Next year is Warriors’ turn to stage the Good Friday derby. Latics are at home the following day. Will there be a problem? I hope not.
The two stable-mates seem to have a good working relationship and Warriors have only needed to leave an extra day between games when Latics were either in the top-flight, or in winter. In mid-April, I imagine it will be fine. Fingers crossed!
Interestingly, rugby league in this country struggles for column inches and air-time nationally.
Yet #Origin was trending in the UK as one of the most talked-about topics on Twitter.