Garry Schofield looks forward to this week’s opening round of play-off action.
Could Hull become the first club to play in a Grand Final on their own ground?
In this strangest of seasons, don’t write it off.
In a way, owner Adam Pearson is already a winner. His club is hosting the big match and now they’re in the play-offs.
Of course, when it was announced that the final would be at the KCOM Stadium on November 27, the play-offs were to be a four-team competition and the Black and Whites had next to no chance of featuring.
But the ravaging effects of Covid on so many areas of life means we’re now looking at a six-team showdown, with three successive wins, over Huddersfield, Castleford and most recently Hull KR, ensuring that Hull are involved.
Given the number of positive tests within the game and so many fixtures being affected, the end-of-season schedule was becoming a mess and the powers-that-be had to come up with a solution quickly, so I don’t have a problem with the decision to expand the play-offs.
Like Pearson, Andy Last will surely have a smile on his face.
It’s clear he’s not the first choice to be head-coach on a permanent basis given that approach to Ian Watson.
But Hull being in the play-offs for the first time since 2017 provides a platform to stake a fresh claim on the job.
There’s quite an irony in the fact that Last is now preparing for a game against Warrington on Thursday.
It was the Wolves’ 38-4 win at the KCOM in March that led to Pearson announcing the departure of Lee Radford and the installation of his assistant Last as the caretaker head-coach live on Sky soon after the final hooter.
The sides met at the start of September, with Warrington winning again.
Steve Price’s team will be the favourites to progress to the last four, especially with home advantage, although the absence of supporters takes some of that away.
But let’s not forget he is also under pressure to succeed and guide Warrington to a first Grand Final win and that this is a one-off knockout game.
The Wolves beat Huddersfield last time out, but it wasn’t exactly a stroll, and they will have to be on the ball against Hull, who have a real danger man in Jake Connor and a heavyweight pack.
It’s going to be an intriguing game, and we also have Leeds versus Catalans, also at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, to look forward to on Friday.
The Rhinos have to deal with Richard Agar being forced to self-isolate, meaning James Webster will take charge with the help of Sean Long, who is going to replace him as assistant coach next season.
Rich will still have an input from his home, of course, and I don’t expect his absence to be too much of a hindrance.
Catalans beat Leeds back in September, and on their day, have what it takes to win again, but I think the Rhinos will make week two.
Transparency required above all
I didn’t want to kick-off the column by talking about Toronto because I’ve made my feelings about expansion into North America known plenty of times, and I think that with the correct call of not allowing them back into Super League made, it’s time to move on.
I was more surprised by the decision to go with twelve teams in Super League next season than the one not to let Toronto back in.
I think we’ve started Rugby League’s version of the US presidential election, because I can see a situation where the clubs that lose out will seek legal recourse.
How on earth do you decide which one gets the nod?
There are plenty of clubs who can point to reasons why they should be at the top table, but you can also come up with reasons why each shouldn’t.
And time is not on our side, because existing Super League teams are already looking ahead in terms of their squads, while clubs in the Championship have recruited for the Championship, not Super League, so would need to quickly dip into a limited market.
I’d have stuck with eleven teams until we can run a full Championship campaign – hopefully in 2021 – and promote the team finishing top.
If next season can go ahead fairly normally, and at this stage, that’s a big if, then the return to twelve Super League teams would coincide with the start of the new TV deal.
For me, it’s imperative that the new club gets the same funding as the existing members. As we have seen so often, making the step up is hard enough without having to do it on a shoestring.
For there to be any chance of clubs and supporters accepting the situation, the decision-making process will have to be fully transparent.
Bring on Wednesday and Sydney!
I’m no fan of Wayne Bennett, but fair play to him, because whatever he said at half-time last Wednesday in Adelaide worked.
Queensland came roaring back to overcome a New South Wales side that had bossed the first half of a highly entertaining opening State of Origin game.
The intensity of Origin really is something else, and I think all us neutrals will be hoping for a Blues success on Wednesday so we can sit back and enjoy a decider in Brisbane on November 18.
John Bateman has called for a return of the War of the Roses series here, and I would love to think we could produce something like Origin.
But when it’s happened in the past, the red rose just hasn’t seemed that interested.
Without the right attitude from the players, you will never create the competitive element needed to sustain the interest of supporters.
We haven’t had a Roses clash since 2003, while the England versus Exiles games have also come and gone, again because they have failed to generate sufficient crowd interest.
I think we should give England Probables versus England Possibles a go, and ensure that those who perform for the Possibles really do get a chance in full internationals.
Good luck, Danny
Good luck to Danny McGuire on his appointment as assistant coach at Hull KR.
He’s got a fantastic mentor in Tony Smith, and my advice would be: “Stick at it, and when you get frustrated, which you will, bite your lip”.
Danny’s move is a bit of a surprise, because if he’d been an obvious candidate to turn to coaching, I reckon that, like Robbie Burrow, he’d have been given an opportunity at Leeds.
That didn’t happen, but then Danny wanted to continue playing, and it could be that it’s only in the last couple of years that he’s decided he fancies the challenge of coaching (and it is a challenge).
He’s been working on the recruitment side at Rovers, but has dipped his toe into coaching with the Academy and scholars, and has said he’s missed the day-to-day involvement on the training field, which is understandable.
Wille Poching’s move to Wakefield to become number two to Chris Chester has presented Danny with his opportunity, and who knows, in another couple of years, these two could both be head-coaches.
And in the longer term, if things go well, don’t be surprised to see Danny back at Leeds at some point.
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