5 Things We Learned #86

Championship Shield final an embarrassment

The circumstances surrounding Sunday’s Championship Shield Final were completely bewildering. I honestly can’t think of a time where two sides playing in a final have been unable to raise a full squad of 17 from their own ranks. The fact that special measures had to be taken to allow no less than ten Super League academy players to be emergency loaned to Featherstone and Leigh is simply ridiculous.

How on earth has our sport stooped to this level? There’s been plenty of lows in rugby league this season but this is arguably the worst one yet. Of course, I have sympathy for the two teams who found themselves in dire situations but I feel more for the fans. Admittedly, both sets of supporters turned up in good numbers but how are they expected to invest in their team when half of the players are only there for a week? I really hope this teaches the RFL a lesson, because we need contingency plans for when situations like this occur. None of this would have happened had both teams been able to run academy and/or reserve grade squads and if the only way to do that is through RFL funding then so be it.

 

Warrington defy the odds

It’s safe to say the form book went completely out of the window for Thursday night’s semi-final. It was almost inconceivable that St Helens wouldn’t make it to Old Trafford after dominating the league all season but a spirited performance from the Wolves was enough to prove the bookmakers wrong.

I was slated in last week’s column for tipping Steve Price as coach of the year but Thursday’s win shows just what a difference he’s made at Warrington. This time last year they were battling it out in the Qualifiers but after a restructure both on and off-field, they’re about to step out at a Grand Final. What’s struck me this year is their change in attitude. Price has instilled a unity and confidence that they didn’t have before and it’s paying dividends. Wire will no doubt be the underdogs again next week but they’re more than capable of overturning Wigan.

 

Tomkins could be the difference

Love him or hate him, Sam Tomkins could be the difference maker at next week’s Grand Final. A classy performance against Castleford on Friday, where he scored 10 of his side’s 14 points, capped off a fine week for the 29-year-old that saw him recalled into the England squad for the first time in four years.

It’s a deserved reward for a player who’s rekindled the kind of form that saw him make headlines when he first broke onto the scene as a fresh-faced 19-year-old back in 2009. Admittedly he’s a much different player now but has exchanged traits such as flare and fearlessness for more mature ones like leadership and composure. Wigan fans will be gutted to lose him after the Grand Final, especially since the fullback role for 2019 is now up in the air again, but will want him to bow out in the best way possible on Saturday.

 

Deserved debutants for England

It’s good to finally see league form having a profound influence on England’s international selection. Tuesday’s squad announcement for the upcoming Test Series with New Zealand saw five debutants named, all of whom have had superb seasons for their club sides.

Tom Johnstone, Reece Lyne, Joe Greenwood and Adam Milner were all included for the first time, while Luke Thompson is also named after being 18th man for the Denver Test in June. Thompson and Johnstone are the two names that excite me most. The Wakefield winger has all the pace and power to make a real impact at international level, while Thompson is undoubtedly one of the best young props out there. It’s a squad full of talent, but here’s who I’d pick for game one on October 27th:

Tomkins, McGillvary, Connor, Percival, Johnstone, Lomax, Gale, T.Burgess, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, O’Loughlin. Subs: Clark, G.Burgess, Thompson, Greenwood.

 

The Broncos are back!

They were the ultimate underdogs. Toronto had only lost twice at home in their two-year history. The two occasions London had been there, they’d lost by at least 12 points. But still they did it. The Broncos puled off an absolutely unbelievable performance to shock not just the Wolfpack, but around 95% of rugby league fans.

In no way was it the prettiest of games, as the 4-2 score-line shows, but the grit and determination showed by Danny Ward’s side was that of a team that deserves to be in the top flight. That kind of attitude breeds success – the willingness to keep doing the hard yards and fight right to the death. Alex Walker, in particular, was sensational and typified said attitude with his superb try-saving tackle on Blake Wallace (above). The next job for Ward is recruitment. He needs to do business and needs to do it quick if the Broncos want to strengthen enough to be competitive next season.