Five things we learned from this week #60

Saints Wigan combined team

No Barba? No problem

Saints finally answered their critics on Friday and proved they aren’t a ‘one-man team’. Maverick fullback Ben Barba didn’t play due to illness but wasn’t a big miss, with Saints breezing to a 26-12 victory over Hull FC.

I’m really not surprised Saints won without Barba. There’s quality laced throughout the side and they were superb once again. Their halves depth is really showing – Théo Fages was a breath of fresh air starting alongside the consistently-impressive Danny Richardson, while it was good to see Matty Smith get a run. Luke Thompson also deserves a mention. The 22-year-old is developing into a top-quality prop and fully deserved his two tries. Thompson was recently named in the England Knights squad, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see him get a senior call-up.

 

Catalans still lacking a good performance

The first 60 minutes on Saturday was the first time this season I’ve been properly impressed by Catalans. The final quarter, however, was a totally different story. Despite leading Wigan 21-0, the Dragons relinquished their lead to lose 32-23 – their eighth defeat in ten games this season.

Riding on the momentum of last week’s win over Huddersfield, Steve McNamara’s men looked slick in the first-half. Langi and Gigot controlled things, the forwards worked hard and were hitting good lines, while David Mead even ditched his traditional running game to chime in with the halfbacks. How a team can go from that to looking completely lost and gutless bewilders me, but it’s another worrying side for the French outfit. I’ve criticised them before this season but their 80-minute performances still aren’t improving. Changes are definitely needed.

 

Childish Bulls

There was conflict between clubs this week, as Workington rejected Bradford’s request to livestream their game on Sunday. What was most aggravating, however, was the Bulls’ unprofessional and frankly rude statement on the situation. Their Chairman, Andrew Chalmers, called Workington “amateur and completely selfish”, before encouraging fans to “express their views openly” – effectively to have a pop at their opposition via social media.

Personally, I find it disgusting and childish, especially coming from a club with such prestige and history. It certainly brought them down in my estimation. The one positive to come from it was the sensible response from Town themselves. They too released a statement explaining their side of the story, which was a perfectly rational one. Their gate revenue is a valuable source of income and the livestream would have had an adverse effect on that, so they were simply looking after their best interests like any club would. The Cumbrian side got the last laugh anyway, with a late Jordan Tansey drop-goal giving them a 17-16 win.

 

Vikings up against it

It’s a tough time to be a Widnes fan right now. After ten games they’ve only won three and have a dire injury list that only seems to be getting longer. The Vikings were missing seven first team players ahead of their loss to Hull KR, and suffered further blows with Danny Craven, Gil Dudson, Wellington Albert and teenage debutant Keanan Brand all forced off the field.

It’s frustrating, because Widnes can easily finish in the top eight and maybe even higher with a fully-fit side. They’re just about clinging onto eighth place right now but there’s only so long they can last with such a depleted squad. The one thing Denis Betts has at his disposal is a superb academy system that will keep bearing fruit. The likes of Danny Walker and Jordan Johnstone have already made an impact, so now could be the time for youngsters like Liam Walsh, Dan Norman and Lloyd Roby to come to the fore.

 

Myler a different class

For me, Richie Myler is the best halfback in Super League at the moment. I’ve refrained from writing about him so far this season out of fear it will jinx his good form, but I simply can’t ignore him any longer. He produced another inspiring performance as Leeds just edged Wakefield on Sunday and is one of the main reasons the Rhinos have a good chance of retaining their title in 2018.

There were plenty of doubters, myself included, when he signed. Traditionally a running halfback, it was feared Myler’s style would conflict too much with Joel Moon and leave the Rhinos without any direction or organisation. But he’s adapted perfectly. He seems more than comfortable steering his forwards around the pitch and structuring plays, while his kicking game is top class. Most would say he’s way past an England call-up, but I don’t think he should be completely discounted, especially for the proposed test match in Denver. That game is, after all, a chance for Wayne Bennett to test his squad depth.