Can Saints make it four?
Congratulations to St Helens, commiserations to Catalans Dragons and a big well done to both of them for serving up what in my view, was right up there as one of the best Super League Grand Finals there has been.
We got what such a game should be – a stirring and highly competitive clash of the best two sides in the competition – and I agree with Catalans coach Steve McNamara in his assessment that it was the little things which ended up costing them.
It was tight all the way through, with two teams getting ripped into each other, a bit of controversy and some decent tries, and I think a few silly mistakes and a little bit of indiscipline did for the Dragons.
They’ve got some cracking players, and if that’s how Sam Tomkins operates with just one good leg, perhaps he should do the same every week, because he was excellent, but Saints showed all their experience and dealt with the pressure and the occasion that bit bitter.
They dug in, dug deep and in a game which came down to fine margins, did the basic things solidly and added moments of class and quality, and it was great to see a fine player like Kevin Naiqama end his Saints stay with two telling tries.
I think it’s also worth giving a shout-out to referee Liam Moore, who in my view did well, and if I was awarding marks, would get at least eight out of ten. As usual there were some disputed decisions, but I thought he got the majority of things right.
Given that the adrenaline was pumping, Liam handled that early dust-up involving Sione Mata’utia and James Maloney in the right manner, allowing play to flow but keeping an eye on what was happening.
Hopefully Catalans can build on this year, because thy have added a lot to the league, while for Saints, who are such a well-run club under Eamonn McManus and Mike Rush, the challenge is four titles in a row, and who would bet against them?
Can Wigan entertain?
Some people though I was going soft when, six weeks back, I admitted to feeling for Wigan fans as they were forced to endure that dull dross being served up under Adrian Lam.
At that point, there had been three successive defeats, by Hull KR, St Helens and Leeds, the last two of them on home territory and without a try being scored by their side.
There was a reaction of sorts, as after it was confirmed Lam would leave at the end of the season, Wigan won three out of their next four.
But when it came to the crunch, and the first play-off tie, the Warriors were found wanting, once again being blanked out by Leeds at the DW Stadium.
The fans voted with their feet that night, with just 7,396 turning out to witness an 8-0 loss and the end of Lam’s tenure. It was a worryingly low attendance.
Under his command, just one piece of silverware was won, last year’s League Leaders’ Shield, in three years, and as far as the fans are concerned, that’s just not good enough.
They didn’t even have the consolation of seeing any really open and attractive rugby – unless it was played by the opposition!
I’ve said before that there’s not a lot of love lost between myself and the Wigan faithful, but I feel for them, because they shell out their hard-earned cash.
Will they be pleased by the new coaching set-up, with Shaun Wane back in a ‘leadership’ role, which he will combine with his England job, and Matt Peet termed head coach?
With Sean O’Loughlin and Lee Briers unveiled as assistants and a head of analysis and head of performance appointed, I’m worried the team meeting room might have to be extended.
With a World Club Challenge, three Super League titles and a Challenge Cup, Waney had plenty of success.
But all too often it came at the expense of entertainment, because when many supporters want a bit of strut and swagger, Wigan were all too often boring to watch.
It’s great to put those cherry and white ribbons on a trophy, but there’s the rest of the season to think about, and all too often, it was a grim grind.
Let’s not forget that in 2018, Shaun was allowed to leave for that rugby union role with Scotland, so the club didn’t appear to think everything was hunky dory.
Now he’s back with a fancy title, but will he be pulling the strings, and how will it be for Matt Peet – like it was for David Moyes when following Fergie at Manchester United?
And if Peet is able to do things his own way, given he has come through the coaching ranks at the club, working under both Wane and Lam, will it be any different to before?
You could say the same thing about Sean O’Loughlin, and perhaps the big hope is that Lee Briers might be able to add a new dimension.
I’ve long been a fan of his, and wanted to see him get a crack at a head coaching job, and perhaps this could give him a leg up.
I liked the way he played, with ability, awareness and adventure, and hopefully he will now be able to impart that experience.
Harry Smith has got bags of talent, but I don’t think he’s progressed the way he should have, and perhaps Lee can give him a bit of guidance and inspiration.
A good deal for the Championship
The Championship campaign came to a conclusion with the big Toulouse versus Featherstone ‘Million Pound’ showdown in France.
It’s been an interesting season in the second tier, with plenty of stories to follow, not least the unpredicted but pleasing progress of Batley and Whitehaven.
I really enjoyed watching the play-offs on TV, so it’s good to see a fresh deal, with Premier Sports, being struck.
For the next two years, there will be a game each round screened, as well as the whole of the returning Summer Bash and the play-offs, so showcasing a great competition.
Premier Sports, who have also acquired the rights to seven Challenge Cup ties each year, have plenty of experience in covering rugby, albeit union.
I suppose the bugbear is that the bulk of the live matches will be on a Monday night, posing potential issues for part-time players.
And let’s not forget the most important people, the supporters, especially those of the the visiting teams who may be making long journeys at busy times.
In an ideal world, I’d rather see games screened on Sundays, especially when there are so few Super League matches on that traditional RL day.
But as with Sky and Super League, he who pays the piper calls the tune, so Monday it is, and let’s face it, folk have been calling for a separate second-tier deal for a long time.
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