Five Things We Learned This Week #57

Bradford Bulls 19-20 Hull Kingston Rovers

Mid-season signings have started

So we’re six weeks into the season and already we’ve had two big moves. Gareth O’Brien left Salford for Toronto, before Liam Watts went from Hull to Castleford in a switch that came from nowhere.

The Watts deal is a very smart piece of business from Daryl Powell that adds plenty of depth to their pack. As for Hull, the emergence of Masimbaashe Matongo, Brad Fash and Jordan Lane are promising and Watts’ departure means that they’ll get more game time.

Salford seem to be in dire straits. O’Brien is reportedly the first of a few who are keen to leave, although there are mixed reports. Marwan Koukash’s financial ‘safety blanket’ has now gone, so everyone has rushed to panic stations. For me, the Red Devils are destined for the Qualifiers this year, but that could be the least of their worries.

 

Heffernan hitting new heights

I’ve always been a fan of Andrew Heffernan, but only this weekend has he stepped into the spotlight. The former Penrith and Canberra junior grabbed a try and two assists in Hull KR’s surprise thrashing of Huddersfield, as the Rovers showed us exactly what they’re capable of.

The conditions were far from ideal, but KR’s handling and organisation were slick as ever. McGuire, Atkin and Quinlan worked like clockwork on the back of a strong forward pack, with Rob Mulhern leading the way. But Heffernan’s contribution was invaluable. Some of the lines he hit and the agility he showed were sublime and he’s showing all the signs of a top player. I doubt it will be too long before rivals start sniffing around his availability.

 

Leeds are the real deal

So Saints’ unbeaten run is over. They were, however, simply beaten by the better side on Friday night. The Rhinos are showing no signs of a Grand Final hangover like they did in 2016 and even with several players out, were able to come away with the win.

Those absentees paved the way for the club’s youngsters to once again come to the fore. 18-year-old Polish-born prop Mikolaj Oledzki asserted himself when he came on, while I was very impressed with Cameron Smith. The young backrower was solid in attack and defence and did everything asked of him. The early signs are promising for the Rhinos, especially depth-wise, and they look very tough to beat.

 

Double whammy for Warrington

It was a good weekend for Warrington. The Wolves nilled Catalans on a damp afternoon in Perpignan, before announcing the signing of former Wigan winger Josh Charnley on Monday.

Charnley is just the boost Steve Price’s men need, after a less than impressive start to the season. Saturday’s win was only their third from seven games and while they sit in fifth place, everyone else has at least one game in hand. With Charnley and Tom Lineham outwide there’s much more scope for expansive rugby, which is what’s needed to spark the Wolves’ attack into life.

 

Challenge Cup alive and kicking

Despite the snow over the weekend, eight Challenge Cup games went ahead, with a couple of shocks coming along the way. Saturday’s tie between amateurs Normanton Knights and Rochdale again made for entertaining viewing on the BBC website, while League 1 York and Whitehaven shocked Swinton and Dewsbury respectively.

Normanton couldn’t produce their own Cup shock but it was another promising day for amateur rugby league, which continues to benefit from it’s increased media coverage. Despite a poor league showing so far from City Knights and ‘Haven, both were able to produce the goods on Sunday. York, in particular, intrigue me as on paper they have a very strong squad. It’ll be interesting to see who they draw in the next round, and if they can come up with another upset.