Brian Carney looks through three things which have caught his eye this week in the world of Super League…
Black & White injury crisis
I’ve always had a soft spot for Hull FC. I was lucky enough to live in the city during the 2000 season when I moved down with the rest of the Gateshead Thunder team from the north east, where we’ve just witnessed another Magic Weekend from St James’ Park.
Living in Hull, the heartland of the game, was in stark contrast to the outpost that was Gateshead. What struck me about the city was just how important rugby league was to the people.
You would walk into a café in Gateshead and wouldn’t be distinguished from a bar of soap. You’d walk into a café in Hull, and you either got a pat on the back for a win the weekend previous or your coffee came with a grunt because you’d lost.
I’ve always felt the city of Hull is hugely important to the fortunes of rugby league in this country. It’s almost like they are inextricably linked. What do I mean by that? Well it’s hard to be pessimistic about the future of the sport as long as it’s as vibrant as it is in a place like Hull.
You only have to pick up the local newspaper in the city to see that rugby league truly dominates. It also dominates the airwaves and the talk over the pub counters.
So what will they be talking about in Hull this week? Well they’ll have to come up with a name for the injury curse currently plaguing both teams.
Hull are enduring some of the worst injury luck I’ve ever seen. Sky Sports covered their Challenge Cup game against Featherstone a couple of weeks ago – a game that descended into near farce. Aside from the win, the biggest talking point was the yet more serious injuries that Hull had suffered.
At Magic Weekend, if anyone deserved a break it would be the Black & Whites. It didn’t happen.
Josh Griffin, their influential centre, has gone down with a PCL knee injury which looks like ruling him out for the majority of the campaign.
Highlights from Hull KR vs Hull FC in the final game of the 2018 Dacia Magic Weekend
They now roll into a game against the chastened Warrington Wolves on Friday night, clambering for players. Kirk Yeaman was dragged out of retirement to play in the Hull derby at Magic Weekend, and I’m guessing the great Gareth Ellis will be sleeping a little less easily now as these problems mount.
But this is a great and resilient club we are talking about, and if they are anywhere close to top four contention when some of these big stars come back later in the year, it may be one of the greatest achievements of Lee Radford’s coaching career to date.
Hull FC veteran Kirk Yeaman was brought out of retirement, such was their injury crisis
Because if he can manufacture any positive result over the next couple of months, it will be truly remarkable – but certainly not beyond him.
Old Faithful need those faithful fans now more than ever.
Warrington Wolves vs Hull FC
May 25, 2018, 7:30pm
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Wane checking out
Let’s take a broad view of Wigan at the moment. They’re sitting in second spot, two points behind leaders St Helens, having played a game less.
They’ve got Sam Tomkins playing as well as he has in five years. Goalkicking issues of last season seem to have disappeared. They are as rough, tough and consistent as I have ever seen them.
Highlights from Wigan's Magic Weekend encounter against Warrington.
But what about these stories that have emerged over the last two weeks? Tomkins to the Catalans Dragons. Possibly John Bateman and Ryan Sutton to the NRL. And now Shaun Wane to leave his position of head coach at the end of the year.
I have no doubt the club will manage these situations efficiently and effectively, but they have the potential, nonetheless, to be traumatic.
The impending departure of a coach can either have a galvanising effect on a team, or can allow unsettled players to disrupt an organisation.
Wigan have got an important Challenge Cup match against Warrington on the horizon, and plenty of winnable Super League fixtures over the next six weeks.
The announcement of Wane’s departure, I think, makes Wigan an even more dangerous beast now. As coach and departing players (some yet to be announced) strive to end the season on the greatest high.
What next for Wane? There’s no doubt he has his admirers in rugby union and that is where I believe his future lies.
Shaun Wane is open to opportunities all over the world in various sports after revealing that he'll be leaving Wigan Warriors at the end of the Super League season.
I cannot see him coaching another Super League club in his next role, and I have not heard his name mentioned in NRL dispatches.
Rugby union may yet again tap the resources of rugby league. And I believe Shaun Wane will find himself in the 15-man code.
Tigers find their mojo as Rhinos stutter?
If Wigan were impressive in ending Warrington’s eight-match winning Super League run, equally eye-catching was Castleford’s dismantling of Leeds.
We know the Rhinos are the most successful club of the last decade and you don’t win what they’ve won without having resilience in trying times. But last weekend, their steel core melted a little.
Highlights from the Magic Weekend clash between Castleford and Leeds
My critique of Leeds will last no more than the 80-minute performance, however, as this club consistently defies pessimists and win the games that are important. I’m unwilling to say it won’t happen again.
The Tigers, who were perhaps the most frustrated of clubs to this point in 2018, may – and I stress may, because they’ll need to show more than 80 minutes of performance – have found their mojo again.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott said the Rhinos took some soft options in their defeat to Castleford.
When things began to go their way against Leeds, they played with a verve and swagger that lit up Super League in 2017. But is that a hardwood performance or merely a temporarily attractive laminate on top of some plywood?
Time, of course, will tell and they could do worse than put in another mighty performance against St Helens on Thursday, live on Sky Sports Arena, to convince us they are back – they didn’t have much of the luck in the cup match between the two a couple of weeks ago.
I worry they haven’t yet solved their full-back issue, and Michael Shenton playing there must only be a temporary measure.
Jake Trueman and Jamie Ellis can hold the fort until the return of Luke Gale, but they need look no further for inspiration than the performance of Alex Foster. At times an unheralded member of their squad, he showed on Saturday he is no less important than some of the brighter lights in Cas.
Castleford Tigers vs St Helens
May 24, 2018, 7:30pm
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What am I saying in summary about Castleford? I’m telling you I’m still not sure. I’m not sure about Leeds either, but I’ve been unsure in the past about them and they’ve been sure all the way to a Grand Final win.
Castleford have got some recruitment issues to sort out, and need to rediscover a little more high-level consistency before they move higher into my Grand Final thoughts.
Betfred Super League
May 26, 2018, 9:30pm
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But they’re in good company. Cas are not alone in failing to quite yet hit their straps.
Hull will have plenty more when the bodies recover, Warrington still have another gear in them despite their impressive results, but at the moment St Helens and Wigan are Super League’s elite sides of 2018.
We will learn so much more come Saturday evening.