Monthly review – Our expert fan panel have their say on the opening month of the season

Castleford – Mike Preston

It’s been a frustrating month, two weeks without a game; firstly the international break then the beast from the east interrupted proceedings. It’s also been stop-start for Greg Eden and Joe Wardle. Greg was outstanding last season but a hamstring injury has ruled him out for up to four weeks. Like Greg, Joe also has a hamstring injury. In the 30 minutes Joe played against Hull FC on debut he showed some class, unfortunately, the injury has stopped him from getting a run of games together. We have seen a gradual improvement on the field. Although Hull looked far from their best it’s always good to come away with two points against them, they’re always a dangerous team that.

Widnes pushed us all the way, they look a better outfit than we’ve seen in recent history, some smart plays did, however, catch them out and we came away with our first win of the season.

Jamie Ellis was a stand out against Hull, he had a hand in multiple tries. It’s also good to see the forwards laying a good platform, Millington and Moors were a handful all game.

Mitch Clark is impressing out on loan and I don’t think it will be long before he’s given a bench spot for us.

Catalans – Chris Evans

The 2018 season could not really have begun any worse for the Dragons.

Most fans were quite pessimistic given the way 2017 ended, and the loss of a number of influential players. The one glimmering hope was the big name arrivals of David Mead and Michael McIlorum, but even then, I think that scraping into the top eight was about the limit of most fans’ ambitions.

Steve McNamara was brought in last year to keep Catalan in the Super League. He achieved it, just, but still has to win over the fans after crawling over the finishing line last year. A late start to pre-season was always going to hinder the performance in the opening weeks, but that surely cannot account for the sheer number of errors seen so far. It has been really disheartening to see the further erosion of the previously impeccable home record.

Games at the Stade Gilbert Brutus were almost worth a ten point start over opponents given the confidence of the home side. Now, the home team look nervy and this plays into the hands of whoever they are playing. What is most alarming is the number of points being conceded. Giving away cheap possession is one thing, but the inability to stop opposition attacks is of far greater concern.

Four games in and the season ahead already looks like an uphill battle. The return of Tony Gigot is the clear positive of the new season. He looked up to speed in the Wakefield game and will only get better as his fitness improves. The only other positive is the delay in announcing the structures for 2019.

Catalans will be hoping that regardless of their final position, they will still keep a place in Super League 2019, even if that is not awarded on the merit of the team on the pitch. With a break this week due to the snow, I hope that we can get everybody fit and get some points on the board next time out. Perhaps a win will see some of that confidence return. Or maybe I’m clutching at straws to find any positives!

Huddersfield – @GiantsFanzine


It’s been a frustrating month for the Fartowners. If you watched the opening half hour of our opening games, you’d be forgiven for assuming we’d win all four.

But sadly, there’s been a pattern to our three losses. We get excellent field position, force several repeat sets, contain the opposition behind their 30m line, and…get one try. Two if we’re lucky. We come back out for the second half, and it all falls apart. We let Hull and Saints score every time they got close, and every time we got within 10m of Trin’s line we’d either knock on or fail to get onside for a kick. The bottom line is, if you’re going to play 40-minutes of Rugby, you need to at least score some tries in that first half!

Despite missing a lot of our pack to injury, our forwards have been our best asset so far. Ryan Hinchcliffe has stood out with a huge 163 tackles, Clough has impressed in attack and defence, but without question, Dale Ferguson has been our best player. In his 3 games this year, he’s made 100 tackles (missing 1) and over 300m. He’s also our joint-top try scorer, alongside seven other players who’ve each scored one.

That’s what’s going to have to change if we want to make progress in March. We need to take all the pressure we’re building and convert it into tries. Part of me wants to believe that will improve as our best finishers – Jerry and Mamo – get back into form, but with the platform, our forwards are laying down, our backs and halves really need to get creative and work out how to get over the line!

The next two games against Widnes and Hull KR are must-wins, and frankly there’s no excuse for us to not pick up 4 points with the squad we have. Whether we’ll manage it or not remains to be seen.

Hull FC fan – Sarah Mackenzie

The season opened with a convincing scoreline against a decent Huddersfield team and I was particularly impressed with the returning Mickey Paea.

I had been confident that we could start the season with a win but Huddersfield were a tough prospect. Then followed the Australia saga. I was worried about the effects that the travel would have on us in the long term. It wasn’t a great match and sadly injuries did have an impact on us-losing one of our wingers within two minutes as well as several of our pack was never going to help against a team with the calibre of players that Wigan have. Finding out that Scott Taylor played with appendicitis was further evidence of how tough or stupid rugby players can be!

Our performance against Castleford was distinctly under par but we were missing a good number of our pack and we failed to capitalise on the chances we had to score. Similarly, in the freezing conditions against Warrington we failed to convert our possession into points but thankfully we ground out the win. 7

Had we lost this match too I would be more apprehensive heading into the rest of the season. Ultimately I think that having played this match will benefit us as we will avoid having to play a match midweek as some other teams are going to have to do. We need to have a decent run of matches with a first choice pack out and we need to sort our right side defence out- even with a man advantage against Warrington we were getting caught out over on that side.

Hull KR fan – James Deighton

It’s been a mixed opening month for Hull KR, with only one win from four games and against an extremely poor Catalans side at that. A strong away performance at Elland Road marred by some tough calls left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of the Robins fans. However the displays against Wakefield and Salford were not up to Super League standard and if we are to finish in the top eight, something has to change; starting with the error and penalty count. The Robins sit third in the penalties conceded table after 32 in four games, with Greenwood (5), Carney (4) and Mulhern (3) the main culprits and with three different players Blair (6), Quinlan (5) and Shaw (5) making the most errors, the discipline of the whole team needs to be controlled.

On the other hand, two of the players guilty of surrendering possession (Carney and Shaw) make up for it in attack with 474 and 379 metres made respectively, an average of 7m per carry. The hot prospect Rob Mulhern is sandwiched between the two wingers with 415 metres from 65 carries, a solid effort considering he has made over 50 more tackles than any other Rovers player (170). Two of the most experienced forwards in the pack, Masoe and Jewitt are leading the average gain chart making 7.7 and 7.3 metres per carry, respectively.

March is going to be an exciting month for the Robins with at least three games televised. Two difficult but winnable away trips to Catalans and Huddersfield precede a very tough, but homely Easter weekend. Notoriously strong against Saints at home and with the return of the Hull derby on the Monday, the Robins could pick up some valuable Super League points. Personally, four would suffice but six would be nice if we are to mount our climb up the table.

Leeds fan – Tom Gilfeather

The opening month of Super League has been a bit of a mixed bag for Leeds really. A solid opening away performance against Warrington that gave us Rhinos fans a lot to look forward to for this season was followed by a gritty win in heavy rain against Hull KR. Then we were valiant but ultimately far too lightweight in defeat against Melbourne and a much-changed side were embarrassed in the latter stages of the second half at Widnes.

I wholeheartedly agreed with Brian Mac in his assessment of the game. Judging by that most recent performance, I was rather glad that the Catalans game was postponed as that did not look like a game we were in any way favourites to win, despite the Dragons poor star. Hull FC on Thursday will be a tough one as they’ve started strongly and look determined to reach their second Grand Final this year; whilst their formidable size will play right into our current weaknesses. However, I expect being back at Headingley may prove to be a big lift for the Rhinos players so it may be another close encounter with the Black and Whites.

What is clear from our start to the 2018 Super League campaign is that everything seems a bit disjointed at the moment. Between travelling to Melbourne, losing a significant chunk of our pack to injury and retirement and still not having played at Headingley due to construction and snow it all seems like we are still waiting to start the season proper. I think the Melbourne trip was worthwhile and will, in the long run, bring the squad together as tours generally do, as well as being a highlight for any fans able to make the trip. Despite a ‘disrupted’ start to the season, however, we’re still in the top half of the table and have games in hand over the teams above us. Plenty to be happy about for Leeds going forward.

Salford fan – Mike Smith

Despite results being far from great, it’s not been an all too bad start for us.

Defeats to Wigan and St Helens were disappointed but expected to some degree, while we were unfortunate to lose to Wakefield. However, those three sides are currently the top three, so I’m not massively concerned. Then we crushed Hull KR, which was enough evidence to suggest we’ll be more than OK as the season continues.

The major concern has been the way we’ve wilted as the score has gone against us in the games against Saints and Wigan. We were superb when on the front-foot against Hull KR but we need to be more resilient in the tough games.

The performances of Junior Sa’u have been encouraging and Jack Littlejohn looks like he could be a tidy acquisition. I’d like to see more from us this month against the big boys, starting with Castleford on Sunday.

St Helens fan – Kevin Pender

After a promising end to the 2017 season, some Saints fans were puzzled at us being amongst the favourites for this years’ Super League title, especially with the only new face joining the squad being that of James Bentley. However (at the time of writing) Saints top the table and look to be the team to beat, mixing fantastic defence with a clinical attack.

On field it’s easy to pick the first round win over Castleford as the season high. Saints flew out of the blocks and put Cas to the sword. But wins the usual bogey grounds of Catalans and Huddersfield have also been very welcome, and while not executed with the same panache, Saints have looked confident throughout those fixtures. It’s also worth mentioning that off the field the club has engaged with the community much more, and as such fans feel like they’re a part of the club again.

As the season has started so well it’s a pity to dwell on a low. The only incident which comes to mind over the past month is the red card picked up by Morgan Knowles in France. There’s not much to add to what has already been said – the decision was correct after all – but missing one of our young stars for 4 games is a shame.

At the moment Saints have been relatively injury free, but we all know that will change. The emergence of Bentley, Jack Ashworth and Matty Lees is intriguing – not least as Justin Holbrook is a big believer in giving youth a chance, so we know they’ll get their turn. How they take that opportunity is up to them but it’s certainly something that Saints fans are looking forward to. As for what needs to improve at Saints? They could always bring down the price of the beer.

Wakefield fan – Callum Wood

With one month gone and still unbeaten means Trinity are a team going into a match being favourites, which isn’t something Trinity have been used to given our past and being “underdogs” is surely a thing of the past.

Three wins out of three certainly means every team will now come after us and try to slow us down in the League and for certain every team will not be an easy pushover.

To be fair, the last two games have been too close to call but with Gareth O’ Brien’s missed kick and Trinity’s heroic defence against Catalan, Wakefield were the ones who came out victorious and earned the two points to keep us on the top shelf of the Super League ladder tied with Saints.

In the last month the thing I have noticed is Wakefield’s crushing defence, with how much Trinity have had to defend over the 3 matches, those games may not have looked pretty for us, but with every Trinity payer putting their body on the line, Trinity’s defence was unstoppable and in my opinion is a top reason why Wakefield are still unbeaten. One problem I feel I have to pick out is Trinity’s lack of attack, yes they have already scored some amazing tries, but I feel Trinity need to own more of the ball throughout the game, with the ability we have both on the wings and in the middle, we should be a team who worries the opponent when we have the ball in hand.

Finally, Liam Finn’s defensive effort over the past month is something I cannot ignore, with him not being the biggest player in the middle of the defensive line he certainly knows how to stop the attack making metres or even crossing the line.

Overall, I am quite content with how our first month has gone and feel a lot more excitement is to come from Wakefield over the coming weeks!

Warrington fan – Peter Thomas

For Warrington fans this season has so far been a story of the good the bad and the ugly. The Wire are already five games in and have won only two. What’s strange is that at times you’d have taken two wins from five, and at other times you might not have believed this fair.

Against Leeds they pushed, but at Huddersfield they faltered. Beating Widnes and Wigan back to back looked great, but then it was only a temporary up, as they crashed back down to earth against Hull.

In terms of positives there have been some. Roberts looks a good marquee signing and new boys Akauola, M Brown and Goodwin look decent pick-ups. Out wide the edges have been strengthened and defensively the Wire look much improved – but remember the starting point!

Masila in the last two games has looked back to his Salford best, but it’s improvements in the form of existing players Cooper and Clark that have been the most welcome. Clark looks like the Man of Steel-type player we signed from Castleford shooting from dummy-half much more readily and eagerly than he was allowed under Smith. Cooper too looks free of restraints.

However, there are negatives. Warrington look a little low on points so far, their execution in the final third and their creativity looks stifled. The kicking game seems to have only one facet, the high bomb, and if they want to challenge for anything this season they’re going to have to post tries. Goodwin’s goal-kicking will mean that many are converted too, but he can’t kick when we don’t score.

Injuries have meant that the half-back pairing of choice i.e. Brown and Roberts have played together only twice in five games, and with Patton probably suspended following a red card for a high tackle at Hull, they may even be short in this area. Injuries have also plagued Currie again and possibly now Goodwin.

All in all Price seems to have instilled a little steel in defence, but is yet to give them the fluidity in attack which they’ll need in the next rounds. At present they look set for 8th, 7th at best, and whilst this is an improvement from last season, put simply, it isn’t good enough.

Widnes fan – Martin Birrell

It’s fair to say that like most Widnes supporters I’m reasonably pleased with our opening month of the season. Home wins over Catalans and Leeds have meet sandwiched in between narrow defeats to Warrington and Castleford. I still think it’s too early to tell where we will eventually finish but we certainly look much better than last season.

High points
Defence! Just 8 tries conceded so far points to a significant improvement in our ability to keep teams out. Even more impressive when you consider that we’ve already faced both of last years grand finalists. Equally from a playing point of view Krisnan Inu looks like a great addition showing the kind of form that made him a NZ international not that long ago.

Low points
Injuries are beginning to creep in again. Each week we seem to lose 2/3 players and bring 2/3 back in. At present we are without Ah Van, White, Dudson and Houston all of which would undoubtedly be in our starting 13. Add to this Ashall, J Chapelhow and Dean also now missing. With a thin squad in terms of numbers it looks like we may need to rely on some of our youngsters again this time around.

What to look out for
Keep an eye on Danny Walker! A future England international in my opinion. At just 19 years of age he is a truly exciting talent and it’s easy to see why the clue tied him down to a long term contract last season.

What needs to improve
Quite simply the squad numbers. We must have one of the lowest if not the lowest spend on the salary cap in the competition but we just need a few more squad players to help out when injuries strike. We do have a little bit of money still to spend but where that will be used remains to be seen. Credit must go to Denis Betts for making the small amount of funding we do have go a long way.

Wigan fan – Sean Lawless

A first month of the Super League season that involved travelling halfway around the world, not your usual start to a season! However, three Super League games and two wins is, I would suggest, a good start by Wigan.

Perhaps the most pleasing part to Wigan’s start to the season, has been the fluidity they have shown in attack, particularly in their first two games of the season. The added dimension of Escare from the bench and Sam Tomkins to standoff was one of the biggest questions that Wigan fans had heading into the 2018 season. Although this is still very much a work in progress, the signs have been very positive so far.

Wigan’s only defeat in February came at the hands of Warrington in a 16-10 defeat, a scoreline that perhaps flattered Wigan more than it did Warrington. Warrington ultimately dominated the game and with perhaps only a rusty Wire attack or Wigan’s defence creating a closer scoreline.

The positives though for Wigan far outweigh the negatives in February, as we move onto a crucial March which will conclude on the 30th March with the Good Friday battle against the very impressive St Helens. The positives are, Wigan’s left edge attack; the combination of Williams, Farrell, Gildart and Marshall has been breath-taking at times. Wigan’s all-round kicking has improved, not just goal kicking but their kicking in play has seen a stark improvement on 2017 – the Charlie Hodgson effect is certainly working.

Finally, Wigan’s conditioning seems to have improved, their lack of injuries in the early parts of the season compared to last season may be down to luck or it may be down to luck and preparation – I think Tom O’Malley and Mark Bitcon should be applauded, taking a team to the other side of the world and back and reporting no injuries, is nothing short of impressive.