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5 Things We Learned #79

A look into the future

Saturday was a record breaking day for rugby league. For the first time ever, Sky Sports showed four games from four different countries in one day, as our sport continues to grow globally. Hopefully this is the sign of things to come, as it finally shows that we are moving forward as a sport.

It’s long been said that for rugby league to thrive in a world dominated by more mainstream sports, it needs to be a global product, and if nothing else this is a step forward in that respect. The fact that we have teams from Britain, France and Canada all competing in the European league, as well as a hugely popular competition in Australia shows that more nations are buying into RL. That’s even without mentioning the proposed New York franchise and the expanding international game, where we have countries like Germany and Serbia producing their own talent. Could this finally be the catalyst for rapid expansion? Ever so possibly.

Saints have strength in depth

After a relatively injury-free season, St Helens are finally having their squad depth tested. With five first-teamers unavailable, Justin Holbrook found himself in the rare position of having call on the club’s youngsters, who actually ended up being the stars of the game.

Matty Costello, Jack Ashworth and Matty Lees all put in solid performances. Ashworth, in particular, stamped his mark on the game and was the catalyst for Saints’ first two tries, producing two barnstorming runs in the build up to Makinson’s first try and a superb offload for Lomax’s. He’s one player that could certainly play his way into a regular spot in the 17. Justin Holbrook would obviously rather have a full-strength side from hereon out, but it does his side no damage to have plenty of competition for places.

Seventh time lucky for Cas

It seems as if Castleford may have finally found a long-term replacement for Zak Hardaker. Daryl Powell has been searching for a fullback since October last season but finally seems to have found his man in Peter Mata’utai. The former St George Illawarra and Leigh man stood out against Warrington on Friday, making some smart reads in defence and being and chiming into the line well in attack.

Mata’utai is actually Cas’ seventh fullback this year. Ben Roberts, Jake Trueman, Greg Eden, Michael Shenton, Calum Turner and Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e have all been tried there but Powell hasn’t been convinced. QLT was his best bet, but at 33-years-of-age he was only ever a quick fix. Mata’utai, on the other hand, is only 27 and arguably yet to hit his prime, so expect him to be a Cas player for many years to come. It’ll be exciting to see him link up with Gale and Roberts once they return from injury.

Price holding his breath

As if Steve Price’s Friday night couldn’t have gotten any worse, he now has to contend with the possibility of being without a further five players ahead of Saturday’s Challenge Cup Final. Not only did his side lose convincingly to Castleford, but Stefan Ratchford, Tyrone Roberts, Daryl Clark, Mitch Brown and Ben Pomeroy all seemed to pick up knocks, with some more serious than others.

Brown suffered a suspected dislocated kneecap, while Roberts missed the second half through concussion. The other three looked to have sustained leg injuries, although it’s not known how serious. As far as preparation for Wembley goes, it’s far from ideal, especially if some of the Wolves’ key men either can’t play or can’t train. Ratchford, Roberts and Clark all play in pivotal positions that aren’t easily replaceable, so it’s to be hoped they’ll all pull through for Price’s sake.

Giants’ culture growing

When a side completely turns their season around, it can be hard to pinpoint what has changed. With Huddersfield, however, it’s obvious. They’ve gone from a team that couldn’t buy a win to one that are unbeaten in their last six and have won 12 of their last 14 games, and that’s all down to the culture and chemistry.

There’s a togetherness that wasn’t there at the start of the season and it’s making everyone enjoy their rugby. Simon Woolford has clearly put a huge focus on addressing off-field issues and it’s paying dividends on it. This week, for example, Chris Thorman showed us just one small team building forfeit Woolford has implemented. It seems as if Ukuma Ta’ai isn’t everyone’s favourite sparring partner.

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