Our 18th Man panel on this week's rugby league questions.
The regular season has finished with Wigan in second spot and likely to reach the play-offs. Satisfied?
Jon Lyon: At the start of the season I always have the optimism Wigan will finish top of the pile. In hindsight, considering the news of Shaun Wane leaving along with Ryan Sutton and Sam Tomkins, and the Joel Tomkins furore, and with an increasing number of injuries in the latter part of the season I think everyone should be happy with second spot.
I don’t think anyone expected St Helens to be quite so dominant, nor did they expect Leeds or latterly Hull to be quite so poor, so to finish ahead of Leeds, Castleford, Warrington and Hull and be in with a good chance of a home tie in the play-offs, as long as our attack improves, should give reason for optimism.
Robert Kenyon: We are in a good position, but the way we are playing I’m not confident about our chances in must-win games. I see Saints winning the lot this year if I’m honest. Overall I’m dissatisfied with the standard of rugby on display, we were promised a better standard of attacking rugby this season and it hasn’t happened, and the fans have voted with their feet.
Darren Wrudd: As a Wigan supporter, one can get all too eager to top every table and feel we have a right to be there, but St Helens have been lucky with a lack of injuries this year, and taking advantage of that are good value for the top of the table. We have struggled at times in games we would expect to win and so, although not totally satisfied, I think it is a good reflection of where we are at for the moment.
David Bailey: I saw a stat that Wigan have nine more points at this stage than they did last season, and the same number as they had in 2016 when they went on to win the Grand Final. I have to be honest and say that unless Wigan manage to win the Grand Final then it will go down as a disappointing season for Shaun Wane’s last in charge. I get the feeling that most fans aren’t expecting much from the season and are keen to move on with the new coach.
Next season is likely to be a transitional season so hopefully the players will be giving everything to get to Old Trafford, essentially they only need to win two games to get the trophy.
On Monday it was announced GB will go on Tour in 2019 and 2024, along with details of two proposed four-year international cycles from the RLIF including European Championships and Nines World Cups. What do you make of the proposals?
Jon Lyon: First and foremost I am delighted Australia didn’t get their own way by trying to force through their own tour in 2019 when we had already announced we would tour Down Under that year. It makes a nice change to not see them bully their way to what they want.
The calendar looks very busy, and no doubt player welfare will be discussed as some players won’t be getting much of an off-season for the next few years. It is vital, though, that we increase the number of international games, especially against the developing nations and this is a good step forward.
Robert Kenyon: Hallelujah, Great Britain is back. Whoever’s idea to get rid must have been trying to destroy rugby league because every lad grew up wanting to play for Great Britain, every time a player put the jersey on they grew a few inches taller. Why they got rid I will never know, talk about shooting yourself in the foot. It may be tricky to organise games against NRL clubs as our seasons mirror each other. My only worry is there’ll not be a single player from outside England playing, maybe Ben Flower and that’s it.
I’m also very keen on the Nines World Cup, this concept could be taken into new territory that’s for sure and played in the biggest stadiums, I truly think this will work.
Darren Wrudd: Although I do love the Great Britain banner, we had just about sorted out the England set-up when good old uncle Nigel steps in to shake things up again. However it does seem that the all-empowered Rugby League International Federation (great name, bit Star Trekky), seem to need to have to ask the Australians’ permission to run the international game so as not to upset them. Deja vu anyone? We are just getting to a level where we can compete against the Australians and I can see a new era of political correctness that we must have a Scot or an Irishman whether they are good enough or not. Providing the correct management is running the team and Nigel Wood leaves well alone, (made myself laugh there), we should continue to improve and create a meaningful international identity. The calendar of tours will be good for the players’ CV but time will tell if this growing onslaught of extra games will run them into the ground.
David Bailey: It’s refreshing that the international game is finally getting the attention it deserves. I still have reservations that the NRL have the interests of the game itself at heart rather than being self-serving. I hope that my doubts are unfounded though and it would be great if the NRL and Super League worked together. If they could join forces and make an impact in North America, it could be the shot in the arm the game needs. A nines tournament in one of the major US cities could be the catalyst to bigger and better things. The Lions and Kangaroos tours in particular are something I remember when I was growing up and were always a huge deal. I remember Wigan playing Australia in 1986 in what was dubbed as the fourth Test such was Wigan’s quality.
Last week saw the announcement Leigh owner Derek Beaumont will step down at the end of the year following their failure to reach the Qualifiers. Is the current competition structure to blame for Leigh’s situation?
Jon Lyon: I think the blame has to fall with Derek and the Leigh board. I admire all that he has put into the club and his ambition, but they seem to have gambled their parachute payments from Super League all on getting promoted this year, and after a bad start to the season, and having fallen short of making the Qualifiers, have over-committed and are now in financial difficulty. A risky strategy has failed to pay off and the consequences for Leigh do not look good.
Robert Kenyon: No. I think they went all out this year to get back into Super League and it hasn’t paid off. While in the Championship, the format suits Leigh as there’s more chance of being involved in the Qualifiers, and on the other hand, should they get promoted to Super League it’s short-lived as they’d find themselves back in the middle eights. It’s as if there’s no reward for being promoted. Personally I don’t like the format, I prefer one up one down. It’s a shame to see the likes of Derek Beaumont lose interest and passion for Leigh, since he took over he’s put his heart and soul into the club and it hasn’t paid off and now they’re having a fire sale. The same will happen with Toronto in three years when their rich owner loses interest.
Darren Wrudd: I think the Super 8s is flawed and has far more going against it than for it.
While not directly responsible for Mr Beaumont’s announcement, it is sad that it has indeed helped lead to the loss of such an ardent rugby league fan and club owner. Better TV deals would certainly have led to more money held back for the Championship clubs, but the step up to Super League is far too tempting for some CEOs who overspend to try and make the jump in a make-or-break season. This kind of reckless spending is what turned Bradford into the boom and bust capital of rugby league and both chairmen’s aspirations and clubs’ expectations need to be tempered.
The fact that finishing top four in the Championship dangles the carrot for clubs to overspend is not good and I think it needs change, and
soon. I would suggest top Championship side plays bottom Super League side for a winner takes all finale.
Simple perhaps, but realistic.
David Bailey: I don’t believe the structure is to blame for Leigh’s situation and, to be fair to Derek Beaumont, he has said the blame lies firmly at his door. Leigh took a punt on getting into the qualifiers and being promoted and it backfired. That being said the current structure does seem more about what happens with promotion and relegation than anything else and is always contentious.
Will you be watching the Challenge Cup semi-finals on Sunday? What do you think of the decision to play them as a double-header and would you like to see any further changes made to the Cup?
Jon Lyon: I will watch any game of rugby league so I will definitely be watching both semi-finals. I think the double-header is a good idea to sell out a venue and create a good atmosphere for the fans attending and hopefully new fans watching at home.
I’d ideally like to see the
final earlier in the season, although I see how difficult that would be to fit into our calendar. I’d also like to see the bigger teams come in to the competition earlier to increase the chances of a few upsets.
Robert Kenyon: I’ll be watching the semi-finals with intrigue, I think it’s a good idea to have it as a double-header, I think that’s how in the NRL they had the biggest ever attendance in a rugby league game by doing that. With Catalans in the semi-finals it’s probably a good idea so we don’t have empty stadiums on the BBC.
I think both games will have some good attacking rugby on show and it will be a joy to watch for the neutral. I’d love to see the cup return to its May slot, I’d love to see the Hearns involved in the Challenge Cup too as they’d do well with it. I’d like to see the rounds closer together so we aren’t waiting weeks for the next round and I’d like to go back to the old format.
Darren Wrudd: A double header on your doorstep and it never entered my mind to attend! I will probably watch them both on Sunday and enjoy them for what they are. But the cup used to be special, used to be a fantastic competition, (used to live in Wigan but that’s another story) and whoever was playing it did not really matter as it was the magic of the spectacle that drew the crowds.
The stadium will not be full no doubt as falling attendances have led to the ridiculous decision to play back-to-back games.
No doubt it is easier than publicising the game to fill two stadiums like we used to but is also backward facing and defensive.
I would love to see some fresh and bold advertising to promote the game beyond our usual fan base so we can get to a point when it is difficult to get tickets for these games as they are sold out.
Thinking smaller won’t do this, so change is needed.
David Bailey: I probably will end up watching the
semi-finals but there is a general apathy about the game now.
A few years ago I wouldn’t dream of missing a sky game on Thursday or Friday but these days I generally watch games as a neutral “if there’s nothing
better to do” which shows the task facing the game as a whole.
I think it’s a fair idea to play the games as a double header but there is a lot more at stake than at Magic Weekend so the policing and stewards will need to be prepared.
I just think the cup needs to move as it gains momentum in the earlier rounds which then stops during the wait for the semi-finals. It needs to be condensed, probably at the beginning of the season with a May/June final.