Talking RL: It's the time of the season to get excited. Honest...
I'm finding it hard to get excited about this Super-8s.
Maybe it’s just me.
Maybe it’s the fact the top-four has taken shape, with the others, surely, just treading water until the play-offs.
Maybe it’s the fact so much talk has been about what will be happening next year, and the year after – which have understandably grabbed a lot of the interest and attention.
Or maybe this illustrates why Ian Lenagan and so many others want to ditch this competition structure; because all the focus is on the bottom, rather than the top.
Case in point.
I’m intrigued to know how Toronto get on against Hull KR this Saturday, but tonight’s televised match between Wakefield and St Helens? I’ll probably watch it. Probably... as in, I won’t fight for the remote!
From speaking to Lenagan, it appears the Super-8s format will be scrapped after this year.
I’m interested to know details of the structure which replaces is, because if there are additional fixtures involved – and the early indications were the ‘loop’ games will pad the season – I’d question whether it is fair to have a relegation aspect for the bottom-placed team. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Looking at the top, Wigan have done well.
Sure, they dropped off against Castleford last Friday, but many would have taken a nail-biting two-point win before kick-off.
For all the grumbles and distractions, Shaun Wane’s outfit are second in the table, with a three-point buffer – and players to be drip-fed back into the frame.
Players like O’Loughlin, Gildart, maybe even Farrell.
After all the talk about next season and beyond, it is time to put the here and now under sharper focus.
Wigan have six games left to try and secure second spot, and with it a home semi-final, and then have a crack at a Grand Final.
It’s an exciting time... even if it doesn’t quite feel it yet.
The seismic shift in economics between Super League and the NRL was highlighted last week.
When Adrian Lam joined Wigan in 2001, he was a Queensland State of Origin halfback who made more money by moving to Super League.
Now, the talk is whether his son, Lachlan – who is yet to play NRL – will follow him over instead of playing in Sydney Roosters’ reserves next year.
This, to be clear, is no criticism of the player.
Every indication is he has a bright future, he did well for Papua New Guinea in the World Cup and I’d love to see him in the Cherry and White.
But it provided a pertinent reminder of where Super League is at compared to the NRL in terms of its pulling power.
Those in charge of the game here are, of course, not to blame for the shifting exchange rate.
And it isn’t their fault the NRL’s TV income has rocketed.
But I will blame them for one thing.
At a time when a big void in talent has opened up in this country, the pathway for young players to get into Super League has been made worse.
Wigan, remember, are one of just two Super League clubs running reserve sides.
Yes, I know I’ve banged this drum before. And I’ll keep on banging it.
Because last weekend, Dom Manfredi was eased back into action with 40 minutes of game-time in the ‘second’ team.
And it was great to see him return, too – it is easy to forget just how good he was.
But imagine, for a minute, Wigan didn’t have a reserve side.
At this stage of the season, a player can not go on dual-registration.
It would mean the only place Manfredi could play – after more than TWO YEARS out – would be Super League level.
What coach would pick a winger, coming back from such a serious injury (and who broke down in a previous comeback at reserve level) at such a crucial stage?
Shaun Wane was right when he said this sport can not afford to stop young players from playing.
The current situation is doing the game, and the players, a huge disservice.
So now we know. George Williams will be staying at Wigan for (at least) next season.
His interview yesterday will, hopefully, clarify his position and end – or at least delay – the speculation over his future.
He says he dreams of playing in Australia at some stage. In fairness, he has been saying that for quite a while – and I don’t think anyone would begrudge him that.
Of course NRL clubs will be linked with Wigan’s best players.
I guess we be worried if none of the players were wanted by clubs Down Under!
Leigh owner Derek Beaumont wants out.
After failing to reach the Qualifiers – and have a crack at promotion back to Super League – he wants to stop bankrolling them.
I feel for the fans.
And I feel for the players, too, because Beaumont has asked those with contracts for next season “to find alternative clubs and accept some responsibility for the failings on the field.”
When players are held to their contracts by clubs – and prevented from moving elsewhere unless a transfer fee is agreed – then players have a right to hold clubs to those contracts, too.
Of course, long-term, if Leigh can’t afford to honour those contracts next year - without Beaumont’s investment - it is in their best interests to look elsewhere.
But it is a sad situation for all involved.