Five things we learned this week #53

Melbourne Storm 14-12 Brisbane Broncos

Storm are superb

Melbourne really are a cut above the rest in my opinion. It took them a while to get into the game but once they found their rhythm, the NRL champions were simply unstoppable. They looked dangerous every time they got near the Leeds line, while their defence was awesome, with everyone working for each other.

Young halfback Brodie Croft stood out for me, delivering a mature performance after taking over from the departing Cooper Cronk. Many youngsters in his position would shy away from such responsibility, but not him.  He was even ordering Cameron Smith around at times. Playing 24 rounds of NRL is a different kettle of fish altogether but I’m backing Croft to rise to the challenge.

A refereeing calamity

I’m in no way blaming Leeds’ loss on the referees, but Melbourne certainly seemed favoured slightly. Every 50/50 call went their way, while it was almost like Cameron Smith himself was an extra official at times, such was his influence.

Take Matt Parcell’s tackle, for example. It was perfectly legal, textbook in fact, yet Smith takes a disliking to it and subsequently wins a penalty. On another note, it’s still a mystery as to why there was such bad communication between the NRL and Leeds about having two referees. Brian McDermott only found out about it a couple of days before, despite previously agreeing on one. It certainly poses the question as to whether or not the poor organisation and refereeing standards are what have previously deterred English teams from playing the WCC down under.

Atkin can be a star

GB Skier Izzy Atkin may be making waves in Pyeongchang, but it’s her namesake Chris who’s catching the eye in Super League. The Hull KR scrum-half was effectively unknown until recently but is proving to be one of Tim Sheens’ key players. A confident display against Leeds last week was backed up with a controlling performance in Rovers’ win over Catalans, where just about everything in attack went through the former Swinton man.

Hull KR halfback Chris Atkin.

Tim Sheens is still on the hunt for a new half, but he’s wasting his time. Atkin is proving that he has what it takes to partner Danny McGuire and has arguably even outclassed the veteran over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a swift rise to the top for the 25-year-old but he’s handling Super League well, and I can’t wait to see how he grows as the season progresses.

League 1 back with a bang

There were some intriguing contests as the Betfred League 1 competition got underway, with York’s clash with Bradford being the pick of the bunch. Joe Keyes came in clutch for the Bulls, knocking over a last-minute penalty to give his side a 22-20 win, despite two late Connor Robinson drop-goals.

Bradford, along with the likes of Doncaster, Keighley and Oldham, seem like the early pace-setters and are certainly among the competition favourites. With Toronto now out of the picture, the competition is much more open and there promises to be plenty more tense and exciting encounters. Despite their round one loss, I can still see York being promotion favourites, but there’ll be plenty of teams that fancy themselves.

Disciplinary gone mad

How much of a joke is the decision on the Chris Houston incident? The Widnes forward collided with referee Phil Bentham in Friday’s game against Warrington, leading to Bentham being helped from the field and being replaced for the last half-hour. There was no doubt it was accidental and he was very apologetic afterwards, yet he’s been slapped with a two-game penalty notice.

I understand players have a duty of care and that it was a pretty heavy hit but when you’re focusing on a high ball you lose awareness of what’s around you. It was just unfortunate that Bentham was in Houston’s running line and got clipped. It’s decisions like this that make people question the credibility of the match review panel and the RFL itself.