5 Things We Learned #83

Tom Johnstone injury

Super 8’s scrapped

Thank goodness that’s over with. After what seems like forever, the new structure for the Super League, Championship and League 1 has finally been decided upon, with the Super 8’s scrapped in favour of a simpler promotion and relegation system. After the controversy of the Million Pound Game and teams having nothing to play for when the league splits off, it’s probably the right decision to make the change.

The new system seems somewhat fairer and guarantees new teams in each league every year, which can only be a positive thing. The real problem was the public conflict surrounding the situation. Clubs were in disagreement and that led to petty off-field politics overshadowing what was happening on the pitch. It’s been embarrassing to witness for any fan of the game.

 

Manfredi’s great return

One of the best stories of the weekend was the return of Wigan winger Dom Manfredi. The 24-year-old hadn’t played a first team game in exactly 762 days after picking up a knee injury back in August 2016 against Castleford.

He came back against Warrington on Friday, scoring two late tries as his side beat the Wolves 26-6. It’s obviously a huge step forward for Manfredi himself but could prove to be vital for the Warriors too. Shaun Wane is without both Joe Burgess and Liam Marshall for the rest of the season, meaning Manfredi should be one of his first choice wingers. Friday’s try-scoring return will certainly reassure his coach that he’s ready to hit the ground running again.

 

Johnstone for England

It’s an opinion that’s been building for a while but for me, this weekend solidified Tom Johnstone’s position as an England player. He’s simply the best all round winger in the league. His hat trick against Catalans all took some finishing and perfectly outlined his qualities.

He’s got it all – the speed, the power, the agility and the finishing ability and has to be one of Wayne Bennett’s first choice players. With Ryan Hall out of the Autumn Internationals, it’s the perfect chance for the 23-year-old to show what he can do against international opposition. There’s no doubting he’s got the potential to be world class, so throwing him in against the Kiwis could be just what’s needed to take his game to the next level.

 

Saints are League Leaders but Barba confirms the inevitable

So with two games left to play, St Helens confirmed themselves as League Leaders on Friday, meaning they can now focus on the semi-finals. They did it in impressive fashion as well, easing past Hull as well as giving debuts to youngsters James Bentley and Jack Welsby. Having Welsby there actually meant the club won the game with 12 homegrown players in the side – another big feat.

While Saints were basking in the glory, however, who’s name was still plastered over social media? Ben Barba, of course. With speculation constantly rife about his future, the fullback stirred the pot even more on Friday with this reaction to Hull fans’ chants about him going home…

To me, that’s disrespectful to both his teammates and the club, who have stood by him all the way. By the same token, though, you can’t blame him if he’s going home for the money.

 

Referees are deciding games

The officials copped a fair bit of flack this weekend, and not for the first time this season. Ian Watson criticised James Child for his part in Salford’s narrow loss to Leeds, claiming that ‘referees decide games too much’, especially when compared to how games are allowed to run in the NRL. Having been at the game on Friday, it’s hard to completely disagree with Watson. While Child wasn’t to blame for the Devils’ loss, there were plenty of calls he made throughout the night that raised eyebrows of both sets of fans.

The weekend’s most controversial decision came in Saturday’s game between Toronto and Toulouse. The Wolfpack were victorious in another tight game that could have swung in the other direction was it not for a blatant mistake by referee Tom Grant, who awarded Mason Caton-Brown’s try despite an obvious knock on. The loss has, in turn, put Toulouse’ chances of making the Million Pound Game in serious jeopardy. While I appreciate that refs have to make quick decisions, it’s not acceptable for a blunder like that to decide a club’s season. What’s even more bewildering is why there was no video referee available when the game was broadcast live on TV. It’s another problem that needs to be addressed by the RFL because it will start to alienate fans even more if it continues.