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5 Things We Learned #66

Referees have no backbone

If nothing else, Magic Weekend showed just how overused the video referee is. It’s been said a lot recently but having all six games on TV proved that referees are seriously lacking in confidence in their own decisions and are handing calls upstairs simply for the sake of it.

Regan Grace’s late try against Widnes is just one example. There was no indication whatsoever that a Saints player had knocked it on, while the ball was grounded cleanly. The constant use of the video referee does nothing but slow the game down and frustrate fans, as could be heard around St James’ Park every time a decision was sent to the screen. No one wants to watch five or six slow-motion replays of the same try in a game that’s renown for it’s fast pace. It’s about time referees started backing themselves. It will speed the game up and earn them much more respect from fans.

Toronto are the dominant force

So the Wolfpack confirmed what we already thought, but the style in which they did it was particularly impressive. The Toronto v Toulouse curtain-raiser wasn’t the tight-nit game it was first billed as, but there was still plenty of quality rugby on show, particularly from the Canadian side.

Comparing their performance to that of some Super League clubs at the weekend, I have no doubts that Toronto will be a Super League team in 2019. The calibre of their squad is already at Super League standard and is only going to get better, with their discipline and errors being all that needed sharpening up. As for who will go down, I really fear for Salford. Their lack of depth could really cost them come season’s end when the likes of Hull KR and Widnes will be back to full strength. Huddersfield could also be in danger, but I’d back them over the Red Devils.

Barba would be a huge loss

It was only a matter of time before the Ben Barba rumours started circling. There was no chance he could play so well in Super League without stirring NRL interest, and Saints’ reported pursuit of Wests Tigers fullback Kevin Naiqama has only fuelled speculation that Barba is on his way back to Oz. What we can all agree on is just how big of a loss he’d be, not just for Saints but for Super League as a whole.

Watching him live on Saturday, it struck me just how good he is, and that’s even without the tries and breaks he makes. His positioning is spot on 99% of the time and that in turn affects Saints’ whole attack. The deep line he holds during attacking plays pulls everyone else back and means the whole side hit the ball at pace, which is a terrifying prospect for any defence. While it will be tough, I really hope Saints hold onto him because Super League is seriously lacking in players with a similar ‘x-factor’, which is what we need to keep the competition exciting.

Leeds can’t get it right at Magic

Saturday night saw Leds lose their sixth successive Magic Weekend tie, being dominated by what was a weaker Castleford side on paper. The Rhinos last won at Magic in 2012 when they beat Bradford 37-22, but have since found the rugby league pilgrimage to be their enemy. I don’t know why, but they just seem to freeze under the pressure, which is uncharacteristic for a side that have built a legacy on composure in big games.

Again on Saturday they just looked lost. There was no enthusiasm or direction from Myler or Moon, which effectively killed off the dynamics of the whole team. Only young Mikolaj Oledzki seemed to have any passion for the cause and certainly enjoyed his first professional try. The rest of the Rhinos’ players should take a leaf out of his book.

Harris has potential

There were plenty of stories and sub-plots surrounding what was an eventful Hull derby, not least Lee Radford fielding two debutants and a returning Kirk Yeaman. Despite their depleted numbers, though, the Black and Whites were superb and, after a shaky start, grew into the game and produced some top-quality rugby.

I was particularly impressed with Liam Harris. It’s difficult for any player to adjust from League 1 to Super League rugby in the space of a week, but he handled it maturely and held his own, even grabbing a try. The 21-year-old is bound to take a step back once the likes of Sneyd and Kelly return, but he’s a handy backup for Radford to have. Fellow youngsters Cameron Scott and Hakim Miloudi also looked solid, with Miloudi’s footwork proving particularly difficult for Rovers to handle. I imagine Hull will have players returning in the coming weeks, but all three have certainly staked a claim for regular spots in the side.

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