Five things we learned from this week #2

Wigan trio injured

The gap is closing…

The biggest story of the weekend was obviously Wigan and Warrington’s mighty victories over their NRL counterparts in the World Club Series. And if these wins prove anything, it’s that the gap in quality between the NRL and Super League is certainly closing. While the NRL is still generally considered the dominant competition, this weekend’s results are a huge boost for Super League and the English game in general.

It wasn’t as if they were lucky wins either, with both English sides racking up point margins of more than 8 and producing dominant performances against two strong NRL sides. Wigan and Warrington have not only shown that our competition is moving closer to theirs, but may have also saved the World Club Series competition itself.

…But the NRL is still a more attractive competition

Following the English victories, it was announced on Monday that St Helens second rower Joe Greenwood had signed for Australian club Gold Coast Titans, with Zeb Taia coming the other way. Greenwood follows in the footsteps of Sam Tomkins, Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead among others in defecting overseas, a trend which is worrying for the British game.

It’s getting to the point where Super League is, to an extent, becoming a feeder competition for the NRL, with more quality players switching every year. It’s no wonder that Super League is considered a lesser competition when our best players are being offered contracts overseas that they simply can’t turn down. A story came out recently that the RFL were contributing to players’ contracts in a bid to keep them in Super League. And while this may not be the correct way to go about this issue, it has certainly identified an issue that needs to be dealt with.

The rules need to be looked at… again

Every year there’s at least one rule or technicality that gets fans riled. We’ve had obstruction, the new video referee system and in Thursday’s game between Huddersfield and Salford, this year’s controversial rule reared its ugly head. The video of Salford’s Josh Jones deliberately throwing the ball at Danny Brough from the ruck in order to win a penalty has gone viral within Rugby League circles, dividing opinions on social media.

While some consider it smart play, the general consensus, including the views of the Sky Sports Rugby League commentary team, is that it is unfair and has no place in our game. Jones himself has copped much criticism for the incident, but at the end of the day is he not just playing to the rules put in front of him? These kinds of ‘unsportsmanlike’ trends have now been halted by the game’s governing body, thank god! Head of Match Officials Steve Ganson has today instructed referee’s to penalise any player that deliberately throws the ball against a defender caught up in the ruck. Let’s hope nothing like this comes up again in our game anytime soon.

The rise of the South

While Rugby League remains a predominantly northern-based sport, there is no doubt that the game is growing rapidly down south. At the weekend, no more than four of the six southern-based teams in the top three British leagues came away with win, with the other two both coming within eight points of victory themselves. London Broncos were 20-18 victors over Oldham in the Championship, while there were League 1 cup triumphs for London Skolars, Oxford and the University of Gloucestershire All Golds.

The player pool in these areas is ever increasing, with new talent being discovered every year and the teams themselves continuing to improve and compete with the stereotypically stronger northern teams. These results are a clear reflection of the hard work being done to expand the game in southern England, and the sides involved are reaping the rewards.

Leigh starting to find their feet

In my column last week, I stressed how newly-promoted Leigh needed to significantly up their game if they wanted to stand any chance of competing in Super League. And if Friday night’s performance is anything to go by, then they certainly have.

Against Castleford, they looked overwhelmed by the situation they were in and didn’t really get involved with the game until late on. When coming up against Leeds at home, however, they looked a totally different team. Not only were they able to cope with most of the former champions’ attack, which was admittedly poor second half, but they threw caution to the wind when on the attack themselves, showing glimpses of the form which won them a Super League spot last year and were unlucky not to come away with a win. Beaumont, Jukes and co will be hoping for more of the same in the coming weeks.