Talking RL: ‘It has the makings of an epic’

Tony Clubb and Ben Flower were outstanding last Friday
Tony Clubb and Ben Flower were outstanding last Friday

I can’t call it. I’ve asked around, too, and nobody seems to be able to pick a favourite.

Wigan could play well, and still lose. The same goes for St Helens.

I wish more Super League games felt like this - hotly-anticipated, unable to predict with any degree of confidence, and played out in front of packed crowds

At a time when people are discussing structures and marketing as tools to grow the sport, let’s not forget the value of quality.

I’ve seen too many drab games on TV this season, too many errors. This shouldn’t be like that; Wigan and Saints both have plenty of talent in their ranks, and there are intriguing duels all over.

Their rivalry, of course, would make this game interesting under and circumstances.

But with them both in good form, and occupying the top-two spots, it has the makings of an epic Good Friday derby.

I was hugely-impressed with Shaun Wane’s side last weekend.

Yes, they were playing a poor Huddersfield team.

But all the questions I had about the Warriors until then were answered; the decision-making in attack, their kicking, their dominance down the middle, their ability to play for 80 minutes.

Build on that, and they give themselves every chance.

I. Can. Not. Wait!

Got to hand it to the NRL. They’re nothing if not brazen.

With the row over the England-New Zealand Test in Denver reaching boiling point – with Australian bosses putting the ground-breaking game in doubt – the NRL issued a “strategic plan aimed at expanding the game.”

In the flashy, accompanying PR video, the NRL states: “Our football priorities don’t stop at a national level. Internationally, our game is set to explode. Increased matches between northern and southern hemisphere teams will strengthen competition across the globe. The future is bright.”

You’d think playing a sanctioned Test in America – a country which will stage the World Cup in seven years – would appear a good first step.

But no. Even though there are no NRL games on the June 23 weekend, the bosses don’t want to risk their stars getting injured.

So they’ve come up with a laughable list of excuses to justify their ‘grave’ concerns.

Excuses like travel; ignoring the fact footballers, rugby union players, boxers, MMA fighters, athletes, NFL teams regularly jet-hop to events.

Excuses like heat: even though the average high in Denver in June is 30C... and the mercury poked up to 38C in Sydney last week.

Excuses like altitude: rugby union Tests are often played in Johannesburg – at a higher altitude than Denver – without alarm.

The chairman of the NZRL admits “the Test has been scheduled in the internationally agreed window, so now we’re working with the clubs in Australia to ensure we put the best possible team on the field.”

That quote alone sums up a huge, huge flaw with rugby league; the clubs have more power than the toothless governing bodies.

And with clubs inevitable looking after their own self-interests, the international game will continue to suffer.

Rick Stone became the first coaching casualty of the Super League season.

Yes, they were soft against Wigan, but his axing seemed harsh to me. He saved Huddersfield from relegation in his first year, punched above weight last season to make the top-eight, and his squad has been depleted this campaign – and still beaten Widnes and Warrington in his seven games at the helm.

He’s had his hands tied with recruitment, and they’ve not got a squad to match many in Super League.

If the Giants think he’s done a bad job, I’d argue their expectations are maybe a bit unrealistic.