Five things we learned from this week #26

Stevie Ward banned

Rhinos hitting the straps

I was impressed with how well Leeds managed to bounce back from their Challenge Cup defeat against Hull. They put in a well-executed, professional performance against a good Wigan side, showing that last week’s loss is fully behind them.

Stevie Ward was particularly impressive, not only with his hat-trick of tries but his general enthusiasm and involvement in the game. With the captaincy at Headingley up for grabs at season’s end, Ward’s performances are certainly putting him in the frame. Ashton Golding also stepped up, playing arguably his best game of the season. He’s got competition from Jack Walker for the full-back spot, but it doesn’t look like he has any intention of relinquishing that anytime soon.

Saints break down the fortress

What a performance from St Helens on Thursday. It’s been a fairly bland season for Saints, but their showing against Castleford was reminiscent of their treble-winning form of 2006.

It was a defensive masterclass from Justin Holbrook’s men, who prevailed where most teams have failed this year in efficiently defusing the Tigers’ attack. For me, their defence was typified by Jonny Lomax’ tackle on Jy Hitchcox with around ten to go. With the Aussie winger in clear space on the wing, Lomax hit him mid-dive into touch, forcing him to fling the ball inside where Saints got possession. It was just a really determined effort overall. So, could this be the start of a St Helens resurgence? Or are the cracks starting to show from Daryl Powell’s side?

Leeds tie down talent

It was great to hear on Thursday that Jack Walker has signed a contract to stay at Leeds. The 17-year-old’s future has been up in the air for the past month, but after agreeing a three-year deal with the Rhinos, he can finally get his head down and concentrate on playing.

Despite turning down the same deal last month, I was always confident he’d stay at Leeds. They’re his hometown club and have a prestigious history of producing international talent from their Academy. Yes, he’ll have to compete with Ashton Golding for the coveted full-back spot, but a player with Walker’s ability can’t be overlooked by Brian McDermott for too long. The Rhinos also re-signed young back-rower Alex Sutcliffe, a promising youngster in his own right. Sutcliffe made his debut in the loss to Wigan a couple of weeks ago in the centre position and he put in a good shift, particularly in defence. The golden generation may be leaving Leeds, but it certainly seems another is on its way.

London scare the Dragons

One of the more surprising results of the weekend came from Perpignan, where London Broncos almost pulled off a shock win over Catalans. The Broncos were downed 20-18 by the French outfit, but were in the game for the full 80 minutes.

Ironically, it was former Dragon William Barthau who troubled the French side the most. The half-back dictated his side’s attack all afternoon and even managed to grab a try himself, supporting Matt Davis’ break to dive over. The performance is certainly a statement of intent from Andrew Henderson’s side, who have been building for an opportunity such as this for a few year. Who knows, they could even be dark horses for promotion.

Bulls’ relegation confirmed

They’ve fought valiantly but Sunday’s loss to Toulouse finally confirmed Bradford’s relegation to League 1. Survival was always a tall order after their points deduction, but the key now is to accept it and prepare for 2018.

Unfortunately, the likelihood is that they’ll lose a lot of players, especially with the calibre of their squad. But Geoff Toovey has experience in recruiting top players and has plenty of contacts in Australia that will be useful. Personally, I hope the Bulls manage to claw their way back to the top as soon as possible. There’s been a bit of a void since they left Super League and especially with a ground such as Odsal, it’ll be rather weird to see them as a third tier side.

Written by Jack Conlon