Welcome to a weekly series where I give my thoughts on the goings-on in the world of rugby league looking at the good, the bad and the ugly!
This past week it was announced that Ruan Sims signed the first rugby league women’s player contract, signing on the dotted line with Cronulla Sharks. This signals the growth of the female game after the first female professional game between St. George-Illawarra Dragons and the Sharks. The contract also means the women’s team will be considered semi-professional overall and therefore paid to play rugby league, for the first time.
Scotland’s performance on Saturday enters the good category this week as they showed up with all the intensity that England lacked. Clearly, the performance shows greater quality for the fourth nation in the competition. For years the fourth nation in the Four Nations has been distinctly poor on all fronts against the world’s big three. But Scotland has shown that there’s improvement, even if they lack development areas in Scotland. There’s hope that the performances of the Scottish side will lead to youngsters in Scotland playing the game.
Today it was finally announced that Castleford Tigers have signed 2015 Steve Prescott Man of Steel Zak Hardaker from Leeds Rhinos on a one-year loan deal, subject to a permanent deal in 2018. This is fantastic for the Tigers as they add to their list of quality players with arguably Super League’s best coach in Daryl Powell leading the charge. It is also great for the Rhinos as they can now move forward, even if their recruitment looks rather lightweight leading into the new season.
With Hardaker’s departure meant Leeds needed a new number one, but to the surprise of the Rhinos fans, the management opted for Ashton Golding over developing full-back Liam Sutcliffe. Golding’s passion in his recent interview for Rhinos TV has sent out a message that he’s going to give it everything he’s got, much to the fans’ delight.
Jamie Soward announced his premature retirement, and long-serving Giants prop Eorl Crabtree also announced he’s hanging up his boots. In the former’s case, he surely could have got a deal in Super League with clubs like St Helens were looking for a half-back. It seems a bit strange to many that he won’t be lighting up Super League next season. Similar can be said for Crabtree, as it’s truly sad we won’t see him again in Giants colours. The one club man was fantastic on his day, representing England, showing his pedigree.
England’s poor performance and Wayne Bennett was the talking point of Saturday evening. The display against Scotland was lacklustre for the most part as they were out enthused by the Bravehearts. It’ll take a mighty effort to take down Australia, let alone win by any sort of margin, as a 12-point gap maybe required to reach the final. The performance has been a reflection of Bennett’s attitude towards the media and his temperament overall. He’s been rude, ignorant and tactically flawed to say the least. However, what gets to me is that when he speaks he looks completely uninterested, leading to thoughts of Australia’s coach Mal Meninga being right about his jabs recently. He refers to the England team as ‘them’ and ‘they are’, rather than saying ‘us’ and ‘we are’. We want a coach, English or not, to feel a part of us and a good result against Australia is desperately needed lift the morale of the players and fans.
Leading from the last point, having a double-header in Coventry on bonfire night wasn’t exactly a bright idea. So it’s fantastic that somehow 21,000+ attended the event. We should have opened with this event in a better area, not at such a difficult time.
Lastly, the Denny Solomona saga is possibly the worst thing I’ve seen for some time. It was pictured recently that he was with a number of Sale Sharks players. Surely this is against the Castleford Tigers management’s wishes? In my opinion, you stay loyal to the cause until the cause no longer needs you, or isn’t your cause to fight. In other words: Solomona is a Tigers player until further notice. Someone should tell him that.
Bradford’s financial woes continue, and yet somehow they continue to sign players! When Marc Green took over the Bulls things were meant to get much better, but it is proving difficult to make progress both on and off the pitch at present. I fear for the Bradford club in the not too distant future, because of yet more mismanagement. I wonder if the fans feel that ‘Bulls-Mania’ was truly worth all this hurt.
Ah, a topic that this section is meant for! Ben Barba – Grand Final winner and all-round quality talent – gets sacked by the Sharks and banned for twelve games after a failed drug test. He tested positively for cocaine. The sport is rife with negative stories at the minute and this piece of news is unbelievably damaging for the NRL and especially Barba’s career. I can’t see the talented full-back being given another shot in the NRL. I’m sure a few Super League clubs wouldn’t mind his talent, although he’s better off leaving his bad habits back at home in Australia.