7 talking points from rugby league weekend as Wigan open up two-point gap at top
Wigan opened up a two-point gap at the top of Super League with victory over Hull KR.
There were three tight finishes in the jostle for places as Toronto remain rooted to the foot of the table following a heavy defeat at Leeds.
Huddersfield sprung the shock of the round by edging out Saints at Langtree Park while Hull needed golden point to see off Wakefield at Belle Vue.
Warrington got back to winning ways in dramatic fashion against Castleford and Catalans got the better of struggling Salford in the south of France.
Our man Nigel Wiskar takes his regular look at the action, runs the rule over Shaun Wane’s first England squad and reaches for the sick bucket.
1. Bevan’s the game breaker
When Adrian Lam signed Bevan French his first thoughts nailed why the Australian full-back is lighting up Super League this season.
Wigan coach Lam said: “Bevan is an entertainer. He will get people up from their seat.”
French was at it again against Hull KR with a game highlight electric break from inside his own 20 to set up Jackson Hastings for a try in Wigan’s 30-16 win.
Rovers were the first side to score three tries against the Warriors this season but were already without seven first-team players and lost three more through injury.
They play Leigh Centurions next Sunday in the Challenge Cup, hardly a reprieve from the rigours of Super League.
2. Austin powers Wolves home
There were four potential England half-backs on show in Warrington’s nail-biting 9-8 win over Castleford.
On the evidence shown you wouldn’t have the greatest confidence in any of them against the Kangaroos later this year.
Danny Richardson and Jake Trueman were playing behind a Tigers pack that desperately missed the go-forward of prop Liam Watts.
Trueman was largely anonymous with Richardson blowing a couple of late drop goal chances that could have won the game.
Gareth Widdop looked skittish for the Wolves and his infant partnership with Blake Austin is still a work in progress.
Austin, sporting a dazzling blond barnet, looked the liveliest and did come up with the winning one-pointer.
But If you had to choose one player on the park who might be the classiest and most likely to change the game, it would have been Stefan Ratchford – and he’s been moved to full-back.
3. Giant strides for Huddersfield
After the shockingly one-sided Thursday game you’d have had long odds on the three Friday night matches having a winning margin of just four points between them.
Marc Sneyd copied Austin’s lead and showed how to definitively close out a game, much to the relief of under pressure coach Lee Bradford, in Hull’s 27-26 golden point win over Wakefield.
Sneyd’s weekend was capped when he and wife Sabrina celebrated the birth of daughter Phoenix Eve on Sunday.
Huddersfield came from behind to down champions St Helens 12-10 in the performance of the round.
We’ve not seen much of the Giants on TV, in fact we haven’t seen anything. Sky’s game planners have been blindsided as much as pundits and not shown them yet.
They make their bow on Thursday, March 19 at home to Hull FC.
4. Konrad king of Headingley
Konrad Hurrell came to Super League with a big reputation as a player and an even bigger frame
The Leeds Rhinos centre has at times lived up to the hype.
When he rampaged through a demoralised Toronto defence for the final try in the dying stages of Thursday’s 66-12 hammering, nothing was going to stop him.
After the match there’s footage of him high-fiving young fans as he circuits the pitch then later, black suit on, merrily dancing with a bunch of young women.
Some fans are saying they’ve never seen a player so happy to pull on the club’s shirt and one so happy to interact so well with kids.
It’s another reason for Leeds fans to have a smile on their face right now.
5. Wane picks his Dad’s Army
The 1978 Great Britain team which faced the Kangaroos were labelled ‘Dad’s Army’ thanks largely to an ageing front row.
There’s a definite air of Captain Mainwaring about England coach Shaun Wane if his early candidates for an Ashes jersey are anything to go by.
Make no mistake, Wane hasn’t even got one eye on next year’s World Cup. This is a blinkered assault on beating the Aussies in the three Test series starting in October.
There are 19 of his 31-name squad who will be 30 or over when the tournament kicks off at St James’s Park in 2021.
Some names baffle – Tom Burgess, Chris Hill, Dan Sarginson. The absence of others – Jackson Hastings, foremost – is equally perplexing.
If Wane had coached Hastings when he was at Wigan, you suspect he would be in.
It’s short term thinking, something nobody will quibble about if Australia are beaten.
But there will be calls for the Dad’s Army to go in front of a firing squad if we lose.
6. Oliver’s thunder pressure
Viewers of a sensitive disposition would have been sensible turning away during the latest episode of Rugby AM.
We were treated to the sight of Huddersfield’s likeable teenage prop Oliver Wilson throwing up after an England Knights training session.
If that wasn’t enough puke, studio guest Paul Sculthorpe revealed former teammate Keiron Cunningham would always chuck up before a game.
Many St Helens fans felt the same way watching Cunningham’s team play when he was coach.
Sculthorpe was good value on a show which has come on leaps and bounds and contained several nuggets.
Sculthorpe’s comment saying Shaun Wane was “up to date with our players in our game” is as near to a dig at predecessor Wayne Bennett as you’ll get.
7. Comic book Keith
Former St Helens and Melbourne Storm prop Keith Mason was a larger than life figure when he played the game.
A mad night out with Hollywood hellraiser Mickey Rourke in Stringfellows sticks in the mind.
Nowadays he continues to push the boundaries for the sport with his ground-breaking comic Rugby Blood.
The second instalment of the graphic novel series is due out next month and will include a host of top NRL stars including Kalyn Ponga and Joseph Addo-Carr.
Also in there will be Mason’s mate, boxer Joe Calzaghe, plus potentially league-loving and PDRL-playing comedian Adam Hills.
Mason, who has been open about his own mental health problems after retiring, is also in talks over a documentary speaking to high profile sports stars about the issue, with John Hartson and Calzaghe among the first to agree to take part.
Last week he launched a new playing kit for the Rugby Blood series, with Super League stars Liam Watts, Jermaine McGillvary and Zak Hardaker modelling the O’Neill’s shirts.
Mason never stood still on the field and certainly isn’t doing post career.
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