Talking RL: ‘Why meeting No.4 could be the most intense yet’

Warrington brought their A game last time out
Warrington brought their A game last time out

The first meeting between Wigan and Warrington this year was between a team finding their feet with a new coach, and another with their heads in a different time zone.

At Magic, Wigan brought their A game and Wire didn’t – and the situation was reversed in the Cup.

With all that in mind, with both teams in decent form, with just two points splitting them in the league, with the sun still shining, with it being a Friday night game and with a bumper crowd expected, I can’t help think tomorrow’s meeting could be the most keenly-fought contest of the lot.

“Ben Barba considering ‘compassionate’ release”, was the report from Australia. It was unsubstantiated, unconfirmed.

The type of speculation story we regularly see (and it may well be true, though Saints chairman Eamon McManus has labelled it ‘irresponsible’ and ‘incorrect’).

But what I found interesting was the fact it wasn’t a newspaper website or radio channel with the story – but the NRL’s own, official, website.

Does that seem odd to anyone else?

The NRL, itself, is running speculation stories about player movements.

My colleague Steve Mascord says it is because the NRL site is now operating independently of the NRL media department.

But if the site has a free rein to cover potential signings and departures, where does it end?

Will we see speculation about NRL coaches facing the sack on the NRL site?

If someone criticises the NRL hierarchy, will it get a run on the NRL site?

The Sydney Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley wrote a great comment piece headlined, ‘The NRL is slowly killing rugby league, just take a look at the Denver Test’ – would a piece like that get a run on the ‘independent’ NRL site?

I’m interested to know.

Coming home? Zak Hardaker seems to think so.

Check out this video (inset) of him celebrating Tuesday night’s penalty shoot-out - it was a small-miracle he didn’t injure himself with that failed flip!

In 2014, the Catalans coach Laurent Frayssinous moaned when Morgan Escare missed out on a place in the Super League Dream Team to Zak Hardaker (and how good will it be to see those two line-up alongside each other next year?).

“I wonder how many journalists who have been asked to do the voting have seen as many Catalans games as perhaps they have seen Wigan, Leeds, St Helens or Castleford,” he said.

Catalans are on TV more than any other team, but I understood what he meant.

I think the French club often do get overlooked.

So credit where it is due. Mid-season recruit Josh Drinkwater has been great – possibly the signing of the year.

And I’m guessing he’ll certainly be in many journalists’ minds when the Dream Team voting forms go out.

Were Leeds right to sack Brian McDermott? Only time will tell.

But it certainly seems a harsh way of treating their most successful coach.

Not only did I think he had more than enough credit in the bank, but – their heavy loss to Wigan aside – I didn’t see signs the players had given up on his watch.

A tip of the hat to Wakefield, who have cut tickets to £12 for this weekend’s match against Catalans.

Huddersfield recently went a step further and gave away free tickets. I applaud clubs for trying to increase their fanbases.

Below Super League, there has been a strange contrast of fortunes.

And I’m not sure what to make of it.

Keighley, Whitehaven and Barrow – three clubs in the heartland of rugby league – are fighting for their survival and have issued pleas for money.

Meanwhile, Coventry attracted a crowd of nearly 1,500 last weekend, York had more than 1,000 to their game with Newcastle, and Toronto pulled in nearly 7,000.

Last Thursday night, Ian Lenagan spoke to BBC Manchester and suggested Leeds were the “pantomime villains” in the Super League shake-up.

Leeds, remember, were the one club who voted against the major changes to the way the competition is being run. Chief executive Gary Hetherington only recently said Leeds were “totally against the creation of a separate Super League executive.”

So I found Lenagan’s programme notes last Thursday interesting.

Having welcomed Hetherington to the DW in the second line, he later wrote that the “Super League clubs are united in their support” of the changes!

Brad Dwyer didn’t make the Leeds side which faced the Warriors.

And so he played for Featherstone on dual-registration instead.

And scored six tries off the bench.

Dual-reg’ is a joke. It makes me so glad I’m not a fan of a Championship club.