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Five things we learned from this week #58

Castleford Warrington squads

Cas get lucky

Again it was Luke Gale, and to an extent Kallum Watkins, who saved Castleford from defeat on Friday. Gale’s first-half drop-goal proved the difference in a tight but momentous game for rugby league. A bumper crowd of 23,246 filled Elland Road – a new Leeds Rhinos Super League record.

It was certainly a game of two halves, with Daryl Powell even feeling fortunate that his side came away with the spoils. The Tigers’ first half performance was the kind we were used to seeing last year, with their quick and creative style ripping the Rhinos to pieces. They couldn’t, however, keep up that intensity in the second half, failing to even register a point. Their defence was the one fairly consistent aspect throughout, but Cas need to focus on delivering for the full 80 minutes.

Warrington gathering speed

The result that surprised me this weekend was the Wolves’ 34-24 win over Wakefield. Steve Price’s men have struggled to find much consistency so far this season, but Friday’s victory gave them their first consecutive wins of 2018. They seem to be finding their rhythm, with Brown and Roberts’ partnership growing stronger. Josh Charnley’s introduction should boost them even further too.

Wakefield, on the other hand, seem to have dipped in form slightly. I thought they’d bounce back after their defeat to Wigan two weeks ago, but they couldn’t rise to the occasion. The two-week break due to bad weather may have disrupted their preparations but it was the kind of game Chris Chester would have backed his side to win. What Trinity need is a strong Easter period to regain that momentum and give themselves some breathing space in the top four.

Wigan quietly creeping

With all the talk about St Helens’ superb start to the season, plenty of people seem to have forgotten about their local rivals. Like Saints, Wigan have only lost one game so far, with their postponed clash with Castleford being the only thing preventing them from being joint-top. This Friday’s derby, though, will truly show us who is performing the best at the moment.

As ever, the Warriors spine has been on top form and made even better by the interchanging of Sam Tomkins and Morgan Escaré at fullback. Saints have their own unique style too, though, with Théo Fages being their secret weapon off the bench. The difference, for me, could come out-wide though. Wigan winger Tom Davies is a superb finisher and has become a potent threat on their right side. His opposite, Regan Grace, has also caught the headlines himself but may struggle defensively against the more powerful Davies. Whatever happens, the game promises to be a cracker, especially now it’s a sell-out.

Change needed at Catalans

It’s still early in the season, but it’s been an abysmal start for the Dragons. Their two-point scalp over Hull KR remains their only win in seven games, as pressure starts to mount on coach Steve McNamara. A 42-16 drubbing to Hull on Friday was the latest drawback and things don’t seem to be getting much better.

It would be partly excusable if the Dragons were plagued by injuries and/or suspensions, but they’ve regularly been able to field what looks like a strong squad on paper. Their 17 on Friday was made up entirely of international players, so there’s clearly an issue in playing style, management or culture. The Catalan board need to make a decision soon to change the club’s fortunes, or they’ll wind up in the Qualifiers. Again, it’s too early to be making predictions, but wouldn’t Catalans v Toulouse be a mouth-watering Million Pound Game?

Toronto still struggling

Life in the Championship doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for the Wolfpack. A late Ryan Brierley penalty goal clinched them a one-point victory over 10th placed Rochdale but it was a game that they really should have won comfortably. It seems to be a case of complacency, as the two teams that have tripped them up so far are both in the bottom six. Average performances may have been acceptable last season, but they won’t get away with that in the Championship.

In other news, former Kiwi international Chase Stanley became the club’s latest signing on Saturday. He’ll bring in experience but Paul Rowley’s main dilemma will be keeping his players happy. It’s okay strengthening your side but with 12 quality outside backs now at his disposal, someone’s bound to get frustrated when they’re not being picked. I’m surprised Blake Wallace hasn’t reached that stage yet, as he was superb last year yet has been dropped to third choice half this season.

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