5 Things We Learned #63

Castleford Leeds combined team

No one-man Saints

Thursday was a mixed night for Saints. Their 60-10 win over Salford was tainted by a red card to youngster Matty Lees and a knock to star fullback Ben Barba. The latter has, however, since been given the all clear.

It’s becoming increasingly hard to pick one standout player for Saints. Of course Barba will grab the headlines but generally, everyone is playing to the same high standard. I’d even go as far as saying they’re better than the treble-winning 2006 side. The likes of Luke Thompson and Kyle Amor are setting a superb platform for Lomax and Richardson to play off. Even Matty Smith is playing well in James Roby’s absence. Meanwhile, Tommy Makinson produced his own moments of magic on Thursday, and I don’t just mean his finishing…

Obstruction is getting beyond a joke

It’s baffling that in this day and age, with all the technology and ingenuity in the world, rugby league still can’t get obstruction calls right. I’m sure Max Jowitt, and the entire population of Wakefield, felt very hard done by when his try was ruled out at what was a crucial point of their game with Castleford on Friday. Okay, so the Tigers ended up winning comfortably, but that try could have changed the entire complexion of the game.

The whole rule itself has been overthought completely. There’s so many technicalities about where the ball is passed, where it’s caught, who runs what line, etc, that too many good tries are being stupidly disallowed. I don’t see what’s wrong with one generic, commonsensical rule that if a potential tackler has made the correct read in defence but is then obstructed, then it should be no try. It would make decisions so much simpler and save referees from the wrath of angry supporters.

Drinkwater to the rescue

Could things finally be looking up for Catalans? Their abysmal start to 2018 was given a flicker of hope on Saturday, as they beat fifth-placed Hull to get just their third win of the season. New recruit Josh Drinkwater was particularly influential, scoring a try and kicking three goals.

The signing of the Aussie halfback could prove to be a masterstroke by Steve McNamara. It was certainly a left-field move, with most expecting to see Matty Smith turn out in a Dragons shirt, but Drinkwater offers much more. He has a superb running and kicking game and at the age of 25 is still fresh and hungry to learn. The key now is to build up a bond with Samisoni Langi and Lucas Albert so the Dragons have some solid combinations to work with.

York on the up

York broke a rugby league record on Sunday, with their 144-0 demolition of West Wales becoming the highest-ever winning margin in Britain. The Knights scored 25 tries, including seven from Hull KR loanee Kieran Moss, even racking up a monumental 84 points in the second half. The win moves James Ford’s side into first place in League 1, which is some achievement given that the club almost folded just two years ago.

Ford has done a superb job in building his squad and has the perfect balance of youth and experience. They’ve been so impressive that even Super League clubs are taking note, with St Helens reportedly keeping tabs on back rower Joe Batchelor. It would be great to see the Knights make the move up to the Championship and to further challenge one of the country’s best young coaches.

York’s closest rivals, Bradford, also won on Sunday and while they delivered a solid performance against Doncaster, it was hooker George Flanagan that caught the headlines for all the wrong (and funny) reasons…

Hardaker back for 2019

After his well-publicised recreational drugs case, Zak Hardaker was today banned for 14 months from 8th September 2017 to 7th November 2018. It’s probably better than Hardaker had hoped, especially after Rangi Chase was banned for two years for a similar offence, but it means he’s free to play from the start of next season.

The real question, however, is who will it be with? Rumours have been flying around since he was sacked by Castleford back in February, with Wigan seeming the likely destination. With Sam Tomkins strongly rumoured with Catalans, it’s easy to see Shaun Wane taking a punt on the former Man of Steel. Whichever club signs Hardaker, however, also signs the baggage that comes with him, as this isn’t his first misdemeanour and there’s no guarantee it will be his last. It’s just got to be hoped he’s properly learnt a lesson this time, because he’s a world class player when he stays out of trouble.