By and large, the opening weekend of Super League was somewhat of a success after a winter of discontent for rugby league on the whole.
There were entertaining games, closely-fought battles and an enhancement of the belief that this could be the tightest Super League in years: if not ever.
But it wouldn’t be rugby league without a touch of controversy, would it? So often at this time of the year, fans are caught off-guard by a new rule that’s brought in or tinkered with slightly which takes time to get used to. Recent years have seen examples such as the tightening of the obstruction ruling and this year, there is the prospect of teams getting an extra tackle in a set if the opposition kick the ball dead for a 20-metre restart.
However, that’s not the rule change that left people talking following the opening round of the new season. I was at a good few of the games last weekend and at two in particular – Castleford v Leigh on Friday and Wakefield v Hull on Sunday – this caused a bit of contention.
It was when the attacking hooker caught a defender off-guard and, rather than pass the ball to one of his team-mates, he instead appeared to hurl the ball at said defender to try and win a cheap penalty. Danny Houghton caught a Wakey player with it to gift Marc Sneyd an easy opportunity to nudge Hull’s lead out to 6-0 during the first half.
I’m all for penalties when a defender is laying around in the ruck and causing a nuisance. That’s 100% fine. But this? It doesn’t really sit right – and I saw reaction from a fair few fans on Twitter suggesting the same. Paul McShane’s reaction when Liam Hood threw the ball at him suggested he was dumbfounded that, after giving himself up and not risking giving away a penalty for failing to be square, he was instead penalised for standing a good few metres behind the play-the-ball after someone chucked it at him!
“I’ve seen it a few times over the weekend and it’s not something I’m a big fan of,” Hull captain Gareth Ellis said on Monday’s Super League Show. “I’d like to see it addressed.”
It’s hard to disagree with Ellis. It’s essentially gamesmanship – and perhaps referees can instead penalise attacking teams for doing it so blatantly to try and win a penalty and get easy points if they believe that’s the case? Apparently, one Super League coach warned his side off doing it following the opening weekend. Hopefully it can be clamped down upon sooner rather than later – although we’ll see on Thursday with Huddersfield’s clash against Salford whether anything has changed.
Perhaps it’s no surprise when you read this column and see that I picked out Castleford Tigers as the team that really caught my eye on the first weekend of the new season.
The Tigers were well-held by Leigh for the opening 20 minutes of their match last Friday but in truth, once Cas got one try, the points continued to flow – and you might struggle to see as breathless a 20 minutes all season as the period Daryl Powell’s men put together in the run-up to half-time at the weekend.
There were impressive performances all across the field, and while new recruits such as Zak Hardaker and Jesse Sene-Lefao will make a massive impact in 2017, having captain Michael Shenton back was like a whole new signing in itself.
Shenton was back to his best on Friday night too, I thought. A winger is only as good as his centre, so the old saying goes, and whichever Cas winger is lucky enough to play outside the classy Shenton this season will have a hell of a time pocketing tries.
It’s no surprise to see him straight back in England’s EPS squad after his cruel season-ending injury 12 months ago, too. He remains one of England’s most enjoyable outside backs to watch – and he will give England an extra dimension if he keeps this form up throughout 2017.