Five things we learned from this week #20

St Helens 25-24 Salford Red Devils

Origin goes to game 3

Wednesday morning saw yet another epic State of Origin battle, as a late Dane Gagai try clinched a much-needed 18-16 win for Queensland, taking the series to a game three decider in Brisbane.

After going down 28-4 in game one, the Maroons needed to respond and were inspired to victory by the returning Jonathan Thurston and Billy Slater, with Thurston’s boot proving the difference. However, despite his heroics the North Queensland Cowboys standoff could have played his last Origin after picking up a season ending shoulder injury. His absence in game three is a huge blow for the Maroon but as with any Origin, game three is still guaranteed to be full of action and excitement.

Widnes hitting form…

While their hope of a top eight finish may be all but over, Widnes are hitting some serious form at just the right time. Denis Betts’ men put on a scintillating display on Thursday, running out 36-10 winners against Leigh despite a slight lapse in the second half.

While the Centurions themselves aren’t one of the top sides this season, the Vikings performance matched the likes of Castleford and Leeds, especially with former Tiger Rangi Chase pulling the strings. The maverick halfback has found form since his move to the Select Security Stadium, with his ability to manipulate defences and create chances from nothing still the focal point of his game. His enthusiasm has rubbed off onto his teammates too, with everyone working for each other and looking like more of a team in general. I thought Widnes would struggle in the Qualifiers, but on the basis of Thursday’s performance, they have nothing to worry about.

…but the iPitch still raising concerns.

If you haven’t seen Ben Crooks’ latest Instagram post then you may want to check it out, but be warned, it may not be suitable for those of a squeamish nature. What the picture shows is Crooks’ left knee, sporting the mother of all friction burns courtesy of the Vikings’ artificial playing surface.

The ‘iPitch’ has come under much scrutiny since being introduced in 2012, with player safety being the primary concern. The general argument is that while the pitch may be appropriate for training, the surface isn’t suitable for an intense full contact game. I don’t see much wrong with it. It provides a fast, exciting game that fans enjoy watching and is an overall cheaper option for Widnes as a club. Injuries are part and parcel of our game, so a different playing surface shouldn’t be singled out as a primary cause.

Saints leave it late

Those who left the Totally Wicked Stadium early on Friday will be absolutely gutted, as St Helens proved you should always wait until the final whistle. With eight minutes to go, Saints trailed 24-8 to Huddersfield, but a late surge combined with a Matty Smith drop goal snatched the victory.

It came at just the right time for Justin Holbrook’s side, as they look to close the gap between themselves and the top five. Such a win could spark them into life and with exciting fullback Ben Barba close to debuting, it could be an interesting end to the season for St Helens. They aren’t out of the playoff picture just yet and could be the surprise outsiders going into the Super 8’s.

Dewsbury not down and out yet

This time last month Dewsbury fans were fearing the worst for their beloved club, who sat second from bottom with just one win all season and four points adrift of tenth-placed Swinton. Fast forward to now, however, and the Rams have moved up a place and recorded one of the upsets of the season on Sunday.

Their 34-22 triumph over high-flyers Toulouse sent shockwaves throughout the competition, with the French side in contention for promotion and barely putting a foot wrong all season. But a courageous effort from Neil Kelly’s makeshift team saw them win consecutive games for the first time all season, making it four wins from their last six. Their survival bid is far from over yet, but hitting some good form now will be crucial.

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