It’s hard to look anywhere other than Super League leaders Castleford if you’re wanting a feel-good rugby league story at the minute.
But if you delve deeper into what’s going on, there’s plenty to be excited about. There have been shocks aplenty in the lower leagues, plenty of stories knocking around which make for good reading (and good writing for us).
But one which catches my eye on a near-weekly basis is the rejuvenation of Morgan Escare’s career in a Wigan Warriors shirt.
It probably hasn’t surprised some people to see Escare flourishing under the mentorship of a world-class coaching team and top-quality facilities: but he had some of those things surrounding him during his formative years at Catalans.
However, things undoubtedly went stale for the young fullback in the south of France and, with Tony Gigot preferred ahead of Escare during 2017, it became clear the 25-year-old had to look for pastures new to revive his career.
The move to Wigan probably wasn’t what many had in mind for him, though. Surely with Sam Tomkins coming back to full fitness at some point in the coming weeks, Escare would be a stop-gap for the England international and then find himself on the fringes at Wigan, just like he did at Catalans?
That surely won’t be the case now after a blistering start to life at the DW Stadium – and Wigan will surely find a way to keep such a talented player involved.
Escare broke onto the scene in 2013 after an injury to Brent Webb and scored 19 tries in 20 appearances, becoming notorious for his threat in broken play and in support whenever Catalans attacked.
Much of those fine attacking qualities remain since his move to Wigan, but more importantly, Escare looks such a well-rounded player in a cherry and white shirt. Defensively he’s far better; with ball in hand he’s much more composed and he has become a valuable asset for a team who rightly call themselves the best in the world after their recent World Club Challenge win.
And it’s a lesson for all young players that if you back yourself and take a leap of faith into the unknown, the rewards can be huge. A move to Wigan isn’t one that many rugby league players turn down, but you imagine it will have been harder for Escare to ponder over than most players. It meant turning his back on France; turning his back on his family and friends and coming to a country where he, by his own admission, is not up to speed with the language.
But despite those barriers, Escare has established himself as, in some peoples’ eyes anyway, the signing of the season. Wigan v Castleford at the start of next month is a special game in so many ways – the Escare v Zak Hardaker battle will be one of those.
One person who watches the Catalans on a weekly basis told me this is the best form Escare has been in since his breakthrough year in France. That’s not a bad level to be at in the early weeks of 2017.
Of all the shock results we’ve seen so far in 2017, one in League 1 really caught my eye last week.
Lee Greenwood has been quietly building behind the scenes at Gloucestershire All Golds – and they pulled off a major shock at the weekend when they beat one of the favourites for promotion to the Championship, Keighley.
And they didn’t just beat them. They hammered them, winning 46-22. This, after a narrow defeat to Hunslet on the opening round of the season up in Leeds too.
Are the All Golds an outside bet to mix it up in the promotion race this season? There’s still a long way to go – but what a result for those who champion expansion in rugby league. Here’s to more of those in the future – as it will mean the game is heading in the right direction away from the heartlands.