The Garry Schofield Column: State of Origin epic shows the standard England must reach at World Cup

Wow, wow, wow…

Congratulations to Queensland and their coach Billy Slater on a fine State of Origin series success which means the shield returns north of the border.

But credit should also go to Brad Fittler and New South Wales for playing their part over the three matches.

Last Wednesday’s Suncorp Stadium decider was superb, a throwback to the days when both sides went at each other hammer and tongs, and tighter than the 22-12 scoreline suggested.

I think we should also give a thumbs-up to referee Ashley Klein for the even-handed way he handled a red-hot contest, other than the yellow cards for Queensland’s Dane Gagai and New South Wales’ Matt Burton early in the second half, keeping everyone on the field and the entertainment level sky high when, in some hands, it might have ended up ten-a-side. 

But alongside the intensity and commitment, the skill levels were something else, and while not everyone is a fan of how the top Aussies tend to play the game, I find it compelling and a real pleasure to watch from the first minute to the last.

So too do the Australian public, going by the attendance figures for the three matches – 80,512 for the Maroons’ mighty 16-10 win on opposition turf in Sydney, 59,358 for the Blues’ bounce-back 44-12 success on neutral territory in Perth and 52,385 for the big Brisbane settler.

Aussies know their sport. And if they know they are going to get top-dollar action, they are more than willing to turn up.

Origin is enhanced by the way it’s marketed and covered on television. While most of us want to see Australia play a full role on the international scene, it’s easy to see why they place so much store by the New South Wales versus Queensland rivalry.

The days of lengthy tours are clearly over, but it would be good to think annual Test matches between England or Great Britain and Southern Hemisphere nations, including Australia, could still be fitted into the calendar.

If we are to grow the game globally, it’s a must.

Of course we will be seeing Australia on our shores this year, and State of Origin made it clear what a high standard England will have to reach to have any chance of winning the World Cup.

Giants move smartly to tie down their coach

Huddersfield have done a good bit of business by extending coach Ian Watson’s contract to 2026.

It was an audacious move to lure him from Salford in the first place and they showed faith by agreeing a three-year deal back in November 2020.

Given what’s happened this season, it’s easy to see why they have moved to secure his services for the long term.

Ian did a great job at Salford, with a Grand Final then Challenge Cup final appearances.

He’s already achieved the latter with the Giants, and the way they have played since coming so close to beating Wigan in May suggests they cannot be written off when it comes to making Old Trafford.

I must admit that Ian has made strides sooner than I thought he would, because I’m sure someone will remind me that I tipped Huddersfield to finish ninth this time around.

His claims of them being a top-four club in waiting looked pretty hollow last season, and as I wrote before the current campaign began, he was under pressure to produce the goods.

He has certainly done that, and fair play to Ian, and fair play to Huddersfield for backing him.

I can see why he was attracted to the Giants after perhaps taking Salford as far as he could.

I know from my time at Huddersfield that Ken Davy will support a coach. He’s done it with Ian, and I’m sure he will continue to do so, given the progress being made.

One of the things I like about Ian’s approach is that he’s retained and made great use of some of the players he’s inherited, lads who are claret and gold through and through, while adding others who have fitted in well and made their mark.

Only four sides have won Super League since that inaugural summer season in 1996, and one, Bradford, have clearly fallen by the wayside.

Since Leeds claimed the last of their eight titles in 2017 and Wigan the last of their five the year after, it’s been St Helens all the way. I still fancy them to make it four in a row and ten in all.

Their performance against the Giants on Friday night simply reinforced my opinion.

So it might not happen this year, but if they can maintain their progress, I think Huddersfield could break into that select club.

Ken Davy must think so as well and he will realise that Ian has admirers.

I’m not convinced by claims of NRL interest, because having spent time in Australia, I know it would take something exceptional for them to think that a Pommie could successfully take charge of a club playing at the highest level over there.

But looking into my crystal ball, I see Ian as a future Leeds and England or Great Britain coach, so Huddersfield’s contract move makes complete sense.

It might not stop him taking another job should the opportunity arise, but it does mean they would be compensated.

Hull struggle to retain play-off spot

I like Jack Walker as a player, and I hope his move from Leeds to Hull, on loan for the remainder of this season and apparently with a view to something more permanent, pays off for him.

Jack has a lot of good qualities, but he’s been all too often hampered by injuries in the past.He needs a good run of games, and could now get that as Brett Hodgson tries to keep his side in the play-off places, although their 60-0 defeat at Wigan on Friday night will have been no help at all.

Meanwhile Featherstone have taken Tom Lineham on loan, putting a question mark against Wakefield’s recruitment policy, given they signed him from Warrington on a three-year deal, and making me wonder how Rovers and Leigh fit all their players into the dressing room, they seem to have signed so many.

These are testing times for Trinity as they fight to escape the danger of relegation, and they have a tough test against St Helens coming up. I think Kristian Woolf’s side will win by 46 points.

The next round of Super League action starts with Leeds meeting Wigan at Headingley. I reckon this will be tight, with Matty Peet’s Warriors taking the spoils by seven.

Then it’s Warrington versus Hull KR, and again I’m anticipating a close contest, with Daryl Powell and his Wolves getting the better of Danny McGuire’s Rovers by ten.

I’ve already talked about the good work Ian Watson is doing at Huddersfield, and I think that will be underlined by an eight-point win over Catalans Dragons.

Ian’s old club Salford are also heading to France for an interesting game against Toulouse, and I think the Red Devils will come out on top by ten.

That leaves Lee Radford’s return to Hull with Castleford, and while he got his first win as Tigers coach over the Black and Whites back in March, I believe Brett Hodgson’s men will take revenge, by seven.

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