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Five things we learned from this week #51

Tom Johnstone injury

Walker picks up where he left off

Jack Walker Warrington

Much of Leeds’ tight win over Warrington on Friday can be credited to Jack Walker, who came in clutch when it mattered. He made four-try saving efforts – two of which were individual – and was safe almost all night, with his dropped ball for Tom Lineham’s try the one blot on his copybook.

His defence and positioning have clearly been worked on during the off-season and he looked sharper than ever on Friday, effectively absorbing everything the Wolves’ threw at him. Still only 18, Walker continues to show maturity beyond his year and is definitely winning the Rhinos’ fullback race as it stands. Friday’s strong performance will only boost his confidence.

Saints living up to ‘favourites’ tag

How good were St Helens? We were all expecting them to be good, but not that good. Their attack was slick, their defence was outstanding, and their key players really stood out. Man-of-the-match Ben Barba was particularly special. There were question marks about his ropey form when he signed last year but with a full preseason behind him he’s a completely different player. His support play regularly caught the Tigers out, while defensively he was sound – his beastly tackle on Greg Eden summed up that part of his game.

Castleford, however, will be bitterly disappointed with Friday’s result. After last year’s stellar season they were looking to go one better in 2018 but a 46-6 loss is a horrendous start. They need a serious change in attitude if the want to prove 2017 wasn’t a fluke.

Wigan put down a marker

Wigan’s performance against Salford was probably better than about 90% of their outings last year. Shaun Wane will be wanting to bounce back from 2017’s sixth-placed finish and a dominant performance on Friday is a great way to start. It seems the Warriors have got their creative mojo back, with all of their tries coming from sensational build-up play.

It also looks like Sam Tomkins is playing a different role as well, linking up with Powell and Williams much more in attack. There’s been plenty of speculation as to where he’ll play, especially with Morgan Escaré back fit, and on Friday’s evidence it’s looking like he’ll be given the freedom to roam and effectively play as a third half.

Johnstone on fire

Tom Johnstone is back and looking better than ever, making a hat-trick scoring comeback against Hull KR on Friday. The 22-year-old missed most of last year with a serious knee injury but showed no signs of ring rustiness with some superb acrobatic finishes.

The gutting thing about Johnstone’s injury is that he was on the verge of an England call-up and potentially a World Cup berth. He was Trinity’s top scorer in 2016 with 20 in 25 games and had already scored seven before being ruled out in May. A solid, injury-free 2018 would be ideal for the youngster, especially since he’ Chris Chester’s biggest attacking threat. He looks bigger, stronger and hungrier than ever, so expect Friday’s three tries to be the first of many.

Widnes already proving doubters wrong

As I wrote last week, a lot of people are expecting Widnes to finish bottom this year. I also wrote, however, that you shouldn’t write them off too early, especially with Denis Betts backing what is a very strong youth system. And Sunday’s 40-12 thrashing of Catalans certainly backed up his confidence.

The Vikings were all over their French counterparts, dominating them in just about every area of the game. Mellor and Gilmore controlled everything in the halves, while Krisnan Inu was particularly useful out wide. A special mention has to be given to Chris Dean, who scored a double and caused havoc all afternoon. Dean was perhaps the forgotten man at Widnes, playing just six games last season. It obviously only gets harder for Betts’ side from here, but it’s s superb way to start the season.

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