5 Things We Learned #85

Zak in trouble… again

This is honestly getting boring now. Again Zak Hardaker promised he’d changed, and again he’s ended up landing himself in hot water, this time for driving under the influence of alcohol, with no insurance and no MOT. It’s getting to the point where I don’t think he’ll ever learn. Way too many times now he’s dragged his own name and rugby league through the mud and I doubt it’s ever going to stop.

I saw something last week that really put the situation into perspective. His young Wigan teammate, Macauley Davies, was forced to retire through injury and reading his interview afterwards was heartbreaking. There you have a young lad who’s worked hard all his career and was on the brink of Super League before having his chance taken away through no fault of his own. Meanwhile, Hardaker has stardom handed to him on a plate and couldn’t care less about throwing it all away. On that basis he doesn’t deserve to play our great game, at any level. I’ve always been an advocate of giving players chances to prove themselves but I doubt this leopard will ever change his spots.

Stage set for Canadian showdown

After a weekend of uncertainty, and off-field politics almost unnecessarily creeping into the game again, promotion to Super League beckons for either Toronto or London with all to play for at the Lamport Stadium on Sunday. Toronto are obviously the favourites, on the back of their excellent league form and having the home advantage, but Danny Ward’s side will definitely fancy themselves for an upset.

Personally I can’t wait. This year’s Qualifiers has been the most unpredictable yet and the guarantee of a new Super League club in 2019 is an exciting prospect, especially since it will be an expansion club. Both Toronto and London have done some great work to promote rugby league in their respective cities so either would be deserved recipients of a top flight spot. As much as I love to back the underdog, it’s a Wolfpack win for me this time but it should be close game nonetheless.

Close race for Man of Steel

I was disappointed to see no Bill Tupou on the Man of Steel list for 2018. As far as I’m concerned, he’s been one of the most consistent players all year and is definitely one of Super League’s most underrated. He doesn’t often get the credit he deserves either, with his recent place in the Super League Team of the Year being a rare accolade.

As far as the nominees go, though, there’s one clear winner for me. John Bateman has been an absolute warrior for Wigan this season, with his NRL move a deserved reward for his superb form. Ben Barba has been scintillating to watch but has blown hot and cold and while James Roby has been solid all year, Bateman just edges it. For the other awards, here’s my predictions:

Man of Steel – John Bateman

Young Player of the Year – Jake Trueman

Coach of the Year – Steve Price

Woman of Steel – Lois Forsell

Future looks bright for Huddersfield

While the Giants’ season may be over, there are undoubtedly plenty of positives to be taken from 2018. After a poor start, the side flourished under Simon Woolford when he replaced Rick Stone mid-season, with plenty of youngsters coming to the fore. That’s the way Woolford works, you see. His team was plagued with injury but he didn’t use it as an excuse. Instead, he promoted from within and reaped the rewards.

The Senior twins, Innes and Louis, stood out again at the weekend against Catalans, each grabbing a try, while young half Oliver Russell is benefitting massively from working alongside Danny Brough. Matty English is another one who’s made a big step up this season, with fellow prop Jon Luke Kirby looking like another good prospect. After such a successful second half of the season, there’s definitely scope for the Giants to do big things in 2019. Consistency will be the key for them and if they manage that, they could easily be a top four side.

Roosters are champions

Anyone who tuned into Sky Sports Arena at 10:30 on Sunday morning was treated to a true spectacle of rugby league. The 2018 NRL Grand Final was, as ever, a joy to watch, with Sydney Roosters dominating Cameron Smith’s Melbourne Storm and spooling Billy Slater’s send off. Trent Robinson’s side put in a near-perfect performance, with the former Catalans coach delivering a tactical masterclass.

Star halfback Cooper Cronk played with a broken scapula, meaning he was unable to perform anywhere near his usual standard. Instead, he acted as an on-field coach, dictating his side’s attack and allowing halves partner Luke Keary to take the reigns and eventually win the Clive Churchill Medal. Keary, along with James Tedesco, Jake Friend and Latrell Mitchell were simply unplayable in a Sydney side that is one of the strongest we’ve seen for years. Question now is, who will they play in the World Club Challenge come February?