5 Things We Learned #77

Leigh Centurions 26-37 Catalans Dragons

Catalans are tactically sound

What a masterstroke from Steve McNamara. His Catalans team executed their gameplay to perfection, picked St Helens to pieces and completely shut down their attack, including keeping Ben Barba silent. Not only did they step up in defence, but their attack was spot on as well. They played direct, simple rugby and didn’t try to force chances, instead staying patient and waiting for their opportunities.

They’re realistically out of the top four race, so the Challenge Cup will be the club’s main focus for success now this season, meaning all their efforts will be focussed on August 25th. McNamara will have been watching how Warrington played on Sunday and will already be drawing up a game plan for the final. The key for me is controlling the ruck and not allowing the Wolves to get on a roll. Just about everything Warrington did well started with Daryl Clark, so restricting his involvement would take away one massive threat straight from the off.

 

Gigot hitting his best form

One of the most pleasing sights of the weekend’s Challenge Cup action was the performance of Tony Gigot. The Catalans fullback played a huge part in his side’s win over St Helens and is arguably in the form of his career.

He not only scored a try, but dictated his side’s attack all afternoon, constantly chiming into gaps created by Drinkwater and Langi. He was very vocal in defence too, giving Kenny Edwards a spraying after a bad read from the Kiwi led to one of Mark Percival’s tries. It’s great to see him enjoying his rugby, as he’s a very naturally gifted player and has done well to come back after almost a full year out suspended. Alongside the likes of Drinkwater and Casty, Gigot will have a huge bearing on Catalans’ chances at Wembley and is the kind of player that could even make or break the game.

 

Comeback King

Just a few months ago, I imagine Toby King was questioning his immediate future as a Warrington player. He was out of favour and either not playing or turning out for Rochdale in the Championship. With Ryan Atkins injured, though, King has gotten his chance and again grabbed it with both hands, being one of the Wolves’ standout players against Leeds on Sunday.

Technically, he’s one of the most talented youngsters in the league. His handling, vision and athletic ability is superb and he has all the makings to be a class centre. I was particularly impressed with his aerial game against the Rhinos. He outjumped Ryan Hall three times in the first half, which is no mean feat in itself, while he schooled the Leeds defence with a great finish for his try. The only grey area of his game is his defensive reads, but that’s improved by having strong defenders around him.

 

Rhinos women make history

While Leeds’ men’s team were unable to come away with a result on Sunday, the club’s ladies’ team did bring home some success the day before. The Rhinos Women made history by becoming the inaugural winners of the Women’s Challenge Cup, beating Castleford Tigers 20-14 in an intense game at the Halliwell Jones stadium.

The game was broadcast live on the BBC Sport website and the ‘Our League’ app and made for a great afternoon of entertainment. It was fast-paced, with both sides scoring some superb tries, and was close throughout, with a 78th minute try from Rhinos captain Lois Forsell eventually sealing the game. This is yet another huge step forward for the women’s game, which has been gathering steam all year. The player pool is constantly widening, as is the publicity. The next step is to push for more TV coverage. Whether that’s through the BBC and Our League again or someone like Rugby AM picking it up. It would definitely be a worthwhile investment.

 

Reserves debate gathering momentum

The reserves system is one of the most talked-about issues in the game right now. Super League and Championship teams seem to be split in their opinions on whether or not to run one, despite the success of reserves grade sides such as Wigan and Halifax. Last week, the RFL issued their own statement supporting clubs that back the system and that has sparked huge debate within the rugby league world and on social media.

As far as I’m concerned it should be compulsory, at least for Super League teams. Money isn’t an issue, as Halifax have shown on a much lower budget, while it minimises the risk of players being alienated from the sport during their early 20’s. The way the system currently works is that clubs have to make a decision on players when they hit 19/20 years-of-age. Not every player reaches their peak by that age, especially forwards, so their only options are to try and work their way through the lower leagues or drop back down to amateur level. As good as it is for the RFL to support reserves systems, they need to do more. They need to put their foot down, make it compulsory and hand out consequences if clubs don’t comply. That’s the only way the system’s going to change.