League Express editor MARTYN SADLER gives his view on some of the recent developments in Rugby League. This article, which featured in this week’s issue of League Express, was written before this week’s news about Toronto Wolfpack being excluded from next year’s Super League competition.
Good news for Salford
The news last week that Salford coach Ian Watson will stay with the club, rather than moving to Hull FC, aroused mixed feelings in me.
On the one hand, I was delighted to see this development, as I would dearly love Salford to continue the improvements the club has made in recent seasons, and it seems to me that if they can retain Watson, then the Red Devils will have far more chance of achieving that objective.
In my view Super League urgently needs a big club in the heart of Greater Manchester, and clearly Salford are that club.
I’m looking forward to the day when they can sell out the A J Bell Stadium for a Super League fixture.
On the other hand, I’m also a great believer in Rugby League in the city of Hull.
I would very much like to see Adam Pearson and his colleagues bring great success to Hull FC, and I feel the same about Neil Hudgell and his successor, whoever that might be, do the same for the Robins.
Under Lee Radford Hull enjoyed two years of success in the Challenge Cup, but since then they have fallen back into the chasing pack.
But perhaps this season under Andy Last they may be able to improve on their previous record.
Andy would clearly love to be offered the Hull coaching job on a full-time basis, and, although he had a difficult start in the face of the Covid pandemic, Hull’s recent results, and, more importantly, their recent performances, suggest that he may be turning the club around.
Now that the Grand Final is going to be played at the KCOM Stadium on 27 November, it would be a remarkable achievement for Hull to win it, if the number of teams involved in the play-offs is expanded to include the Airlie Birds.
I’ll be watching that one with interest.
Graham’s remarkable career
The life of a first-grader began for James Graham when he made his St Helens debut on 15 August 2003, when Saints defeated Castleford Tigers 26-10 at their old Knowsley Road ground.
Graham was one of three debutants on the bench that night, along with fellow forward John Hill and fullback Ian Hardman.
It’s always interesting to look back at the report in League Express at the time such a famous player made his debut, which in those days was under the coaching of Ian Millward.
We reported that Millward was happy with the contribution of his three Academy players who came off the bench and delivered solid second-half performances, with forwards John Hill and James Graham in particular “carting the ball forward with confidence”.
“It’s a big thing for these guys, something they’ve probably dreamed of, and they did well tonight – we were confident they’d go okay,” said Millward.
“They were excited and a little nervous. It’s pretty daunting when you grow up watching the Saints play, and next thing you’re out there playing. It’s probably been one of their dreams, but that’s the great thing about life; you get a lot of dreams – it’s just turning them into reality.
“But we were confident in using them. They’ve trained with us and showed in training that playing for Saints meant a lot to them, and that’s part of the battle.”
It’s interesting that Millward talked about players fulfilling their dreams.
Since making his debut Graham has certainly done that, having a wonderful career with St Helens, Canterbury Bulldogs, St George Illawarra Dragons and now St Helens again, as well as with England and Great Britain, for whom he has been a fixture for as long as I care to remember.
It’s interesting to compare him with his fellow debutant that night, John Hill, who never played another Super League game for St Helens and subsequently spent a brief time with Rochdale in 2006. The Rugby League careers of those two debutants diverged quite remarkably.
But I would like to wish James all the best when he returns to Australia after the end of this season.
Long back in Rugby League
Another player turning out for St Helens in James Graham’s debut match was Sean Long, who was at the half-way point of his career with the Saints before his two-season swansong with Hull FC in 2010 and 2011.
Long subsequently joined the coaching team at Salford, before heading back to St Helens to work under Keiron Cunningham.
In July 2019 he joined the Harlequins rugby union coaching team, and I concluded that he had been lost to Rugby League, probably forever, just like many other Rugby League coaches who cross the great divide.
But a month ago he left that club, and now he will join the Leeds Rhinos coaching team under Richard Agar.
What Sean doesn’t know about halfback play probably isn’t worth knowing and I’m sure he will be a valuable asset for the Rhinos.
We will all watch with great interest.
I’ve written recently about referees interpreting the laws of the game, and the guidance they receive from the RFL, too literally.
On Friday we saw Huddersfield’s Aidan Sezer sent to the sinbin for kicking the ball in frustration when he just failed to get to it in time to touch it down over the Warrington line.
There were only around nine minutes remaining, and the referee Robert Hicks sinbinned him for his indiscretion, on the basis that referees have been told to sinbin players who deliberately try to delay a restart.
That is a gloss on the rules, rather than a rule in itself.
But was Sezer really trying to slow down the restart?
I suspect he didn’t think of that, and his reaction was the natural one of annoyance that he couldn’t quite reach the ball in time.
On the other hand, Wigan’s Joe Greenwood received a similar punishment for a blatant and potentially dangerous high tackle on Matty Lees the following night in the Saints-Wigan derby.
It seems quite remarkable to me that such a trivial incident could carry the same penalty as such a serious one.
There surely has to be a better way of doing things.
I’m not sure that over-literal interpretations of the laws of the game, and the official guidance, always lead to sensible decisions.