First published in League Express, Monday 26th Aug 2013
Well, it was our fault for expecting a classic, I suppose.
That was absolutely dreadful, wasn’t it?
I’ve championed Wigan for all of Shaun Wane’s time in charge, but they look a bit lethargic at the moment. Fortunately for them, they were playing a Hull side that was pitiful beyond belief when it really mattered.
Forget about the weather – there have been thousands of great games in the history of our sport that have taken place in far worse weather than that.
And if one more person tells me that these new balls are difficult to grip, I may have to lie in a darkened room for a few days.
The Under-11’s game was far better. They could pass and catch the ball at least.
To be fair, the first 15 minutes of the game was pretty decent – real Rugby League, as you might call it. It looked like we’d be in for a great afternoon, with players like Sean O’Loughlin and Danny Houghton really standing out.
But what went wrong after that? It’s difficult to say. With nearly every set of six, especially the Hull ones, people around me were saying ‘just keep hold of the ball’ and before the words were out of their mouths, the ball was on the floor again.
You’d give Hull a two out of ten for a team performance, with no individual getting more than a four.
Their halfbacks were terrible. Shaun Edwards and I were sat watching and we could have played better even with both of us in our late-40s.
Hull have put together some decent Super League form recently, and their win against Warrington in the semi-final was a most impressive result. But the problem with Super League is that most weeks teams don’t get enough of a challenge. Even the big sides don’t turn up on form every week, as they look to save their best for September and October. That means that weaknesses aren’t as ruthlessly exposed as they should be, and a team like Hull can merrily paper over the cracks with a small run of decent mid-season results. But a big match at Wembley is a completely different kettle of fish.
As I’ve said time and again since they reached those two finals in 2005 and 2006, they’ve made too many poor signings in key positions and they’ve made too many bad appointments in the important off-field roles. The British game as a whole needs to look at a signing like Jacob Miller. The halves are the most important positions in the team, yet we still have far too many sides signing fringe NRL players to play in these positions. And if Saturday didn’t drive that home, when a young English halfback who has already been shifted from club to club was the stand-out player, then some people in British Rugby League are never going to sit up and take notice.
I’d love to see a law passed that saw teams obliged to pick homegrown players at scrum-half and stand-off.
As for Wigan, they won the game and they won’t care how bad it was for the neutral to watch.
Shaun Wane deserves massive congratulations for stamping his authority on the side and for landing his first major trophy. They may be stuttering at the moment in Super League, but they’ll be very pleased with where they are now.
And I was delighted to see Matty Smith win the Lance Todd Trophy. I’m a big fan of his and it was great to see an English player kick the ball so well in a big showpiece match because, with the exception of Kevin Sinfield, that’s been a rarity in our game for far too long.
I’d also like to thank the Rugby Football League for inviting me to the game, and it was great to be in the company of legends like Shaun Edwards, Martin Offiah, Lee Crooks, Billy Boston, Alex Murphy and Henderson Gill.
I also saw Steve McNamara and, judging by the look he gave me, he hasn’t appreciated my suggestions of who he should pick for England this autumn.