Wolves lead the way

Garry Schofield
Garry Schofield

First published in League Express, Monday 16th Sept 2013

The play-offs have started!
Having watched each game, I hope the quality rises and that a few more people turn up to watch the games.
Not for the first time, the first weekend of the play-offs didn’t match expectations. It was a million miles from the intensity and excitement of the old top-five system, which the RFL introduced in 1998, and which drew tremendous crowds and generated great excitement, but with the RFL changed to a top six in 2002 and top eight in 2009.
And when you consider the performances of Hull FC, Catalan and Hull Kingston Rovers, you really have to wonder whether we should return to a top five. Can we justify having any more than five teams in there?
Friday’s game at Hull between teams 6 and 7 was absolutely dreadful, played in front of one man and a dog, while St Helens walked through the Rovers’ defence with embarrassing ease time after time on Saturday afternoon.
At least the first 20 minutes of Huddersfield v Wigan was engrossing, but from that point you knew Wigan were going to win. Although Wigan’s win was easier than many expected in the end, the fact that fourth was winning away from home at the top team is a good thing for the game.
Warrington v Leeds was easily the best game. Warrington were absolutely magnificent, but I think it’s safe to say that Leeds didn’t treat the match in the way they would have done so had it been an elimination game for them.
Overall, the first weekend of the play-offs will be remembered for its modest standards and poor crowds. Let’s hope the second round will give us more to cheer.
I think the Giants will bounce back and beat Hull. Huddersfield were asked a lot of questions by Wigan and couldn’t answer them, and I don’t think they’ll make the Grand Final.
But they’ll still beat Hull, who have a poor side. They were lucky that Catalan were so bad. As an attacking force, Hull have next to nothing in their armoury and, with Huddersfield’s defence being pretty good, it’s hard to see Hull scoring many points.
Judging by Friday’s crowd, even the Hull supporters have given up on their side, and it’s not hard to see why.
One person who hasn’t given up on them is Phil Clarke, who came up with the most astounding quote of the season on Sky Sports by saying Hull can make the Grand Final if “they defend like this”.
Phil has become so obsessed with his stats in the last few years that I don’t think he sees things as logically as most of the viewers, most of whom can see that defending against a Catalan side playing that badly isn’t exactly difficult.
Hull will find defending against Danny Brough and Shaun Lunt a totally different proposition.
The Giants will win this one, but it will be their last win of 2013.
Leeds v St Helens is a very interesting one! You’ve got to go for Leeds on the basis of their play-off record in recent years. But, to be honest, that’s the one thing that separates them at the moment.
Saints have been very inconsistent this season, but they’ve produced some quality performances recently. Willie Manu is playing very well and a lot of their players are now hitting their straps.
They’re playing with a smile on their faces and a lot of the training ground moves seem to be coming off.
Finishing fifth means you enter round two of the play-offs after having beaten the worst team at home, and you play a team who have been beaten away from home against a very good side.
On paper this should be an excellent game, but on Saturday Leeds played knowing they had a second chance, so that probably explained the way they fell away in the last 20 minutes.
We’ll see a different Rhinos this week, and I think they’ll edge a close match.

I had a great night on Saturday at the BARLA 40th anniversary celebration and congratulations to them for achieving such a wonderful milestone.
BARLA was the initiative of two great men in Tom Keaveney and Jack Clayton – and here we are 40 years on celebrating all the fantastic things they’ve achieved.
They’ve produced so many great players for the professionals, many of whom have gone on to enjoy great careers.
But BARLA also produces so many characters like Jack and Lol from the Wigan St Judes club, who told me so many great stories on Saturday.
The new Chair of BARLA is Sue Taylor and I wish her all the best. The organisational skills of her and her husband John in pulling Saturday’s event were superb and I’m sure that BARLA is in good hands.

I was so sad to hear about Raymond Fletcher’s death last week.
He is a huge loss to Rugby League. He was a wonderful gentleman and also a great journalist and statistician who served the game for so many years – decades in fact.
I hope the RFL honour him by naming something after him.