So we’re a few games into the new season, we’ve had two or three looks at the runners and riders, what can we glean from the starts of the 12 Super League teams?
They say it’s not about how you start the season, it’s all about how you finish it, which is exactly right. But naturally certain teams will always grab headlines at the start of a season, long before the silverware is being handed out, so who has grabbed the attention for all the right reasons and who are looking at a very long struggle ahead?
Undoubtedly the headline acts have come from Warrington Wolves, with their thumping win against Leeds Rhinos, and their scrappy win against Hull Kingston Rovers. They look to be on their way to making the Halliwell Jones Stadium the proverbial fortress, but they have yet to hit the road this year, and after the disjointed performance against Hull KR, some questions will be asked. However what those two wins have done is prove that Warrington can win sexy, and win ugly as well.
St. Helens are also looking good, an opening round win against champions Wigan in a typical local derby was followed up with a dramatic last gasp win at Wakefield Trinity. Neither win was particularly pretty, but at this stage it’s all about just getting the points on the board and Justin Holbrook’s team have done that. Last season’s runaway LLS winners have shown a real desire to work for each other and still have undoubted quality to go with genuine grunt.
Wigan Warriors have flattered to deceive so far, they were very competitive at the Totally Wicked Stadium, then looked much more organised in victory at home to Leeds. As for the World Club Challenge defeat against Sydney Roosters, they looked like they were back to a pre-season run out. There can be no faulting the effort they’ve made, however it is going to take time to get used to their new interim coaches ideas. For Adrian Lam the challenge is to turn a side noted for their defensive resolve, into a more flowing, attacking machine. They have so far given the impression that might not be too far away!
Castleford Tigers have enjoyed a positive start to the season, winning both their opening games. The Tigers seem to be benefiting so far from having a very settled line-up, although their main lynchpin is absent so they are getting used to a different half-back. What they definitely have now, which they didn’t have last year, is a specialist full-back who has been in solid form so far. One thing that could come back and bite them, due to the continued absence of Luke Gale, is the lack of a regular goal-kicker, as hard as Paul McShane and, to a lesser extent Jordan Rankin will try and fill that gap, replacing somebody with the undoubted accuracy of the 2017 Steve Prescott Man of Steel is always going to be a very difficult job.
Leeds Rhinos start has been a mixed bag. Two tough trips to Warrington and Wigan yielded what could almost be expected defeats, however the nature of the capitulation on the opening weekend most definitely would have set alarm bells ringing. But victory at the AJ Bell Stadium against Salford Red Devils will have dispelled some of the alarm, with very impressive performances from big name arrivals Konrad Hurrell, Trent Merrin and Tui Lolohea making the mood slightly more palatable at Emerald Headingley. The other positive for Leeds is that they’ve got three of the most awkward away matches out of the way, with a fourth to come this Friday at St Helens. They have yet to open their home account, which could be a telling factor later on.
Hull FC have carried on where they left off last season, with back-to-back defeats taking their winless run now to 13 games, however to dismiss them would be dangerous. We know all about the injury situation at the KCOM Stadium, however that soon won’t be any excuse with players now arriving back at regular intervals! The Black & Whites have lost by two points and, in controversial fashion, by eight points, that is how it is so far, but sooner or later that is going to come to an end. It’s very fair to say that they haven’t exactly impressed so far this season, but they’ve been very competitive in a blood and thunder derby which they were unlucky to lose and against one of the main play-off contenders. Hull do need to make their attack more slick and penetrative, but with players like Jake Connor, Joe Westerman and soon Albert Kelly back in the matchday 17, that should have a big effect on that. A major positive so far is the form of Jamie Shaul as he continues to be somewhat unheralded despite his very impressive stats.
Salford Red Devils certainly surprised a few people as they swept their way to the head of the table with impressive victories at Huddersfield and home against new boys London Broncos. The blot on the landscape is that humbling home defeat to a, until then, very average Leeds Rhinos side. Saying that, it is very fair to say that the Rhinos looked much more like the team they are expected to be in that game and it could be put down as an off day for Salford. Ian Watson has done a fantastic job for the last few seasons and he has got the Red Devils to a level that they look very comfortable with. He also has a very settled spine of the team including the likes of Jackson Hastings, Rob Lui and Niall Evalds, who all seem very happy with their roles within the team. They just need to get back to performances like in their first two games and they should be absolutely fine.
Huddersfield Giants have made a slow start, a home defeat against Salford followed by an away defeat in Perpignan against Catalans Dragons have left Simon Woolford’s side without any league points, and an unhealthy look to their points for and against columns. Without their talisman Danny Brough the Giants have looked a bit clunky, however bringing in a new pivot to replace somebody of the ability of Brough was always going to have a bit of a knock-on effect, although few would have expected the Giants to be so comprehensively beaten in their opening game at the John Smith’s Stadium. There have also been some other notable absentees for Huddersfield, so when they start getting bodies back on the field they should be able to get back on their feet and produce the kind of rugby everybody knows they are capable of.
Wakefield Trinity shocked everybody on the opening weekend, by being given a sizeable thumping by Super League returnees London Broncos. They then followed that up with a second defeat, yes it was against St. Helens and it was a last gasp defeat, but Chris Chester’s side will be smarting from that. Despite the courageous performance, it was at tough home defeat for Trinity and it will be interesting to see how they respond. Of course Wakefield are also trying to get used to a new pivot, the aforementioned Danny Brough, however the worrying sign for them is that in both games for his new club so far, Brough has managed to be sent to the sin bin. He hasn’t incurred the wrath of the disciplinary panel yet, but it seemingly hurts Wakefield at the time, as their results prove so far, so that is a situation that Chester must get on top of immediately. Trinity need Brough on the field hurting opponents, not sitting in the cooler hurting his own team.
Catalans Dragons started slowly with a defeat at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle, but then followed that up with a much better performance at home against Huddersfield. I have a feeling that we could be looking at a Dragons team of old, they look like a side who will get back to being extremely difficult to beat at home, but could be something of a soft touch when they hop across the channel. They have the quality there, of that there can be no doubt, but as Challenge Cup holders they are now in a new position because they’re there to be shot at. What Steve McNamara achieved at Stade Gilbert Brutus last year was nothing short of remarkable, and it remains to be seen, and open to debate as to whether he can perform something similar this season. So far it’s hard to gauge where in the table we can expect the French outfit to finish, with such differing performances in their opening two games. It does have to be said though that Sam Tomkins and Matty Smith seem to have settled in very well so far in the South of France, which is a definite plus sign for them.
London Broncos certainly dispelled the myth that they would be a soft touch in their opening game back in the big time, then of course were somewhat humbled by Salford, before making life very difficult for a resurgent Hull Kingston Rovers. Their latest match saw them finally succumb to defeat thanks to a much improved Robins performance in the second half at KCOM Craven Park. Danny Ward’s men look everything that most would expect, lacking that bit of genuine quality, but ready to fight hard for each other, with a great team ethic. Yes they were nilled against Salford, but looked back to their awkward best for the visit to East Hull, although ultimately they fell short. They are far from just making up the numbers in the top flight so far, a definite breath of fresh air for all to enjoy.
Hull Kingston Rovers are so far making the strides I, and many others, expected them to. A last gasp derby victory set them up a treat for a very good start, before their slightly controversial defeat at Warrington. The big difference with Tim Sheens side so far has been their willingness to push everything to the limit. In both their victories they have come from behind to win, they also seem to be making a good job of making KCOM Craven Park a difficult place to go, certainly no team, including the likes of Warrington, St. Helens and Castleford, will relish a trip there like they maybe would have in previous times. Josh Drinkwater is certainly pulling the strings for them, but as with Castleford, their goal-kicking could come back to bite them. They do finally have some good back-up kickers if needed, in the likes of Craig Hall and Ben Crooks. Injuries in the early part of the season are starting to mount up, so Tim Sheens will hope his squad players can make the step up over the next few games.