Pulling No Punches: The Garry Schofield Column

The Rhinos’ puzzling threesome

Three into two won’t go – certainly not if it’s Luke Gale, Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin we’re talking about.

Leeds have got Sezer on board for next season, with the Huddersfield man agreeing a two-year contract.

And there are plenty of rumours that they will also move for another big-name Australian halfback, Blake Austin, whose days at Warrington seemed numbered even before the arrival of George Williams.

Sezer and Austin were team-mates at Canberra Raiders, and now it looks as though they could be reunited at Headingley as Leeds carry on searching for a combination that could get close to Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire.

It’s not easy following in the footsteps of either of those two, as Richie Myler, Rob Lui and Luke Gale have discovered.

We know Lui is leaving at the end of this season, but should Austin come in alongside Sezer, the obvious question is where would it leave Gale, who remains under contract next year?

It’s hard to see how Leeds could retain three leading halfbacks, not just because of the financial and salary-cap implications, but because there are only two places in the side, and all three will want to play every match.

And wouldn’t it be a shame to have one of those three twiddling his thumbs rather than being out on the pitch?

And as I’ve said previously, you have to have balance between the two halfbacks if you want them to truly make a team tick, with one the main organiser and the other willing to play the support role.

I’m sure Gale sees himself as the top halfback in Super League, and I like a player to have that mindset, but could he operate effectively alongside Sezer, who also likes to pull the strings?

Perhaps the situation had a bearing on Gale’s mood when he had his by-now well-publicised bust-up with Richard Agar after Leeds’ defeat by Catalans Dragons in France, which led to him being dropped and stripped of the captaincy.

The coach said he was going to make his feelings clear after his side lost a 16-point half-time advantage, and it seems Gale didn’t like what was said.

“There was a bit of a disagreement between me and Rich Agar in a team meeting,” he said.

“The meeting ended fine and then we had a field session after it. I didn’t feel I was in a position mentally to go out and do that session, so I didn’t train. I left and I apologise for that.”

That seems like a roundabout way of saying he walked out.

I must admit had a little smile to myself, because I thought back to may own days in blue and amber playing under Doug Laughton.

If I’d walked out every time the pair of us argued about something, I’d seldom have trained, never mind played!

There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, or putting it forward, but it has to be done in the proper and professional way, and in every walk of life, there are bosses who have the final say.

As Gale has admitted, he acted unprofessionally, and it remains to be seen whether being left out of the side to face Salford and stood down as skipper really is the end of the matter.

At least Leeds got a good result against Hull, and while Gale played, it was new captain Matt Prior, Brad Dwyer and Mikolaj Oledzki who caught my eye in the 22-12 win over on Humberside.

Woolf in Saints’ clothing

I’m not surprised St Helens have taken up their option of keeping Kristian Woolf as coach for a third season.

I’ve been a little critical of the style of rugby they’ve played this time around, which is a definite change from the more free-flowing approach of last year.

But you can’t argue with how he has tackled the job overall, and let’s not forget he had big boots to fill in succeeding Justin Holbrook, who had just guided Saints to the Super League title.

Woolf delivered a second successive Grand Final victory in the difficult circumstances of last season, and this term, he has brought a first Challenge Cup triumph in 13 years.

It can’t have been easy having to deal with the problems posed by the pandemic so early in his tenure, but he seems to be very calm and confident as well as organised.

“He’s undoubtedly improved mentality, as well as outcome, and the players have reacted really well to his leadership, management and coaching skills,” said chairman Eamonn McManus, and that seems clear from watching Saints.

All the squad seem to buy into his methods and seem to enjoy playing under him, and as McManus added: “There’s no doubt Saints will continue to be more than a force to be reckoned with under his direction going forward.”

There’s set to be a change in personnel next season, with Hull KR-bound Lachlan Coote among those who won’t be around.

But Saints have an exciting selection of younger players like Jack Welsby and Lewis Dodd, who could be mainstays for years to come.

Of course the treble of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Super League title is the immediate target, and the next two matches will prove key to the chances of completing part two.

A couple of Covid call-offs, against Hull KR and Huddersfield, mean Saints haven’t played since Wembley, but I reckon they will shake off the rust and win their Monday-night match at Hull by 18 before Saturday’s tasty home clash with Catalans.

The Dragons have shown they are a force to be reckoned with this season, and genuine title contenders, but I think Saints will win by ten.

Before they tackle Saints, Catalans are at Hull KR, who I can see pulling off a ten-point win to knock Steve McNamara’s side off course.

In the other Monday-night match, I’m going for an eight-point win by Huddersfield at Castleford, who like Saints, have had Covid problems and a couple of postponements in the wake of Wembley.

We’re soon into another round, and on Friday, I can see Leeds beating Castleford by 14 at Headingley and Wigan seeing off their visitors Salford by 16.

On Sunday, I’m predicting 18-point wins for both Warrington at home to Hull and Hull KR at Leigh and Huddersfield to beat Wakefield by 14 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Littler’s unfortunate departure

And finally, commiserations to Stuart Littler, who is no longer coach of Swinton after they suffered a 14th defeat in 14 league games this season.

His departure came after that of Matt Diskin from Oldham, who currently occupy the other Championship relegation berth.

Neither club has the biggest of budgets, and both have suffered from significant injury problems, which, especially in Swinton’s case, further weakened an already limited squad.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that in both cases, the squads, even when at full strength, just aren’t good enough to sustain second-tier rugby.

But such is the pressure to achieve results and avoid the drop that changes have been made, and inevitably, it’s the two coaches who have paid the price.

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