A quartet of names came to the fore Down Under as the NRL continued to take centre stage in the world of sport.
For Peter V’landys and Victor Radley, things are looking good, but for Wayne Bennett and Antony Seibold, the future might not be quite as rosy.
V’landys, Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, has been the driving force behind the NRL’s return to action, and what a great job he’s done.
Not only has he dealt with the logistics of co-ordinating 16 clubs from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and New Zealand, all four of which have different regulations on the coronavirus pandemic.
But he’s also found time to bring in the much praised ‘six again’ rule, negotiate a new £1billion-plus TV deal through to 2027 and enable albeit small groups of fans to watch some matches in the flesh from round five onwards.
Round four again produced some compelling action, and with so little other live sport at the moment, our great game has been showcased to millions around the globe, some of them watching Rugby League for the first time.
And they can’t fail to have been impressed by the likes of Sydney Roosters star Radley, who for my money, has been the player of the Australian season so far.
The Roosters are playing catch-up after narrow pre-lockdown defeats to Penrith and Manly, but since the resumption Trent Robinson’s side has looked a pretty well oiled machine.
A third straight title is the aim, and while they won’t have things all their own way, the men from the Sydney Cricket Ground will take some stopping.
Beating the Rabbitohs 28-12 in the big derby at Bankwest was a great way to restart, and that ten-try demolition of Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday sent a warning sign to the rest of the competition.
I really enjoyed the attacking fluent rugby the Roosters served up, and, as for their defence, it was simply superb.
What really struck me was the ferocity of the tackling, and it was as strong in the last five minutes as it was in the first.
It’s never easy to nil a side, because it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of concentration, but the Roosters looked determined to do it, and they succeeded.
James Tedesco’s high temperature paved the way for Ryan Hall’s return after that awful knee injury picked up while touring with Great Britain in the Autumn, and the former Leeds favourite did well.
But it was Radley who really stood out with a brilliant display that showed that the art of good old-fashioned loose-forward play hasn’t disappeared after all.
Plenty of Aussie sides have been happy to effectively deploy a third prop at the back of the scrum, but Radley is a real throwback.
He has all the qualities needed at No13 – great defensive skills, genuine creativity, good organisation and the ability to support and communicate with his team-mates.
It’s Canterbury next for the Roosters on Sunday, but before that, all eyes will be on Brisbane, who face Manly on Thursday, and Souths, who take on Gold Coast on Saturday.
Big questions are being asked of both Seibold and Bennett, who were involved in that messy swap between Souths and Brisbane before the start of last season.
Seibold has some major injury concerns at the Broncos, but even allowing for that and the quality of the Roosters, losing 59-0 won’t have gone down well, especially with last season’s 58-0 drubbing by Parramatta still fresh in the memory.
It’s a club used to success, but this was a worst-ever defeat, and pundits like Andrew Johns and Paul Vautin were quick to put the boot in.
Seibold knows he has to come up with some answers, but didn’t sound over-convincing when he spoke after the match.
As for Bennett, he lost the England coaching job earlier this year, and after a pre-lockdown loss to Brisbane, which will have hurt, defeats by the Roosters and Melbourne in the last two games mean he must be wondering whether he could be leaving Souths before too long.
Latrell Mitchell looked good at fullback against Melbourne, but as a team, the Bunnies aren’t reaching their potential – and they don’t look too happy.
Will Evalds move sooner rather than later?
It was interesting to read the League Express interview with Castleford’s Peter Mata’utia in which he said he wouldn’t be returning to fullback once the season starts again.
With Jordan Rankin going back in Australia, Daryl Powell needs a No1, and since the Samoa international played there previously, he seems an obvious fit.
Peter was quoted as saying ‘Powelly has a plan for that fullback spot’, and if that’s the case, the obvious conclusion is that Niall Evalds’ switch from Salford, due to take place at the end of the season, will be brought forward.
It would be very surprising if talks hadn’t taken place to that effect, but of course, Niall is still under contract at the AJ Bell Stadium, and Ian Watson would need to have a back-up plan to allow the move to happen early.
Castleford made a great start this year, and as Peter pointed out, Daryl and his coaching staff have worked hard to make the right side as strong as the left and allow Mike McMeeken to really cause some damage.
Danny Richardson has settled into the halves well since joining from St Helens, while Derrell Olpherts is starting to realise the potential he showed in his Newcastle Thunder days and which persuaded first Salford, then Castleford, to give him a go in Super League.
While disappointed about the Evalds situation, Salford supporters must be pleased at the signing from Toronto of hooker Andy Ackers, a player Watto knows well after working with him at Swinton.
And it was no surprise to see Huddersfield cut their losses and agree the departure of Akuila Uate halfway through a three-year contract.
The Fijian flyer has been a fine player over the years, but the Giants’ move for him seemed strange at the time because there were others areas of the side that needed attention more urgently.
In the outings he did manage before picking up a problematic ankle injury, he didn’t look anything like the player he was in the NRL.
Bradford’s Super League challenge
THE agreement of a new two-year contract with John Kear provides Bradford with something badly needed – a bit of stability.
I’m not the biggest fan of John’s brand of rugby. To me, it’s too structured with its focus on gaining field position on the back of penalties.
But he’s a good organiser and a very experienced coach with a proven track record.
A return to Super League is the aim for a club that was a champion side 15 years ago, but poor management and the turmoil over the years since then means it’s a big ask.
The Bulls have the advantage of a loyal support base, but the longer they spend away from Bradford, the more it will be tested.
And getting out of the Championship is no easy thing.
There’s just one promotion place available – and possibly not even that this year – but a string of ambitious clubs like Toulouse, Leigh, London, Featherstone and Widnes are also competing for it.