At the beginning of February, the action got underway in the 2018 UK Rugby League season. After lots of goings-on off the field, at last the players can take centre stage and wet the appetite for another great season ahead.
Last Word on Rugby UK-based rugby league reporter Mike Whitby begins his season long coverage, with a glimpse at the opening round, before we look to catch-up on the latest news, key matches and results on a weekly basis.
UK Rugby League Season – Week One: Key Matches and Results
The European competition – with UK, French and Canadian based teams included – again looked to demonstrate the strength of the game in the Northern Hemisphere. The Super League and next tier Championship each started their seasons in early February.
It's time…. ? pic.twitter.com/5LixvqKAH7
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) February 1, 2018
And the Betfred Super League kicked off with a bang at the Halliwell Jones Stadium!Warrington Wolves hosted 2017 Champions, the Leeds Rhinos. Both sides have embarked on arguably the biggest transformation from last season. Warrington; after a disappointing season, have opened the check book, making big off season signings. Leeds have looked to their younger players to step-up, and into the big shoes of those left behind by some of Leeds’ greatest past players.
Rhinos start Super League defence with Win
Leeds Rhinos ran out winners 16-12 proving that although some hugely influential players have retired in recent years the magic has rubbed off on those troops still remaining. Jamie Jones Buchanan at the ripe old age of 36 scored the opening try of the season while winger Ryan Hall showed he still has that killer instinct scoring two great tires.
Warrington’s new signings showed promise but were disjointed on opening night. New signing Tyrone Roberts at scrum half offered glimpses of his abilities but he and stand-off partner Kevin Brown were never on the same page. Fellow new comer Bryson Goodwin showed his quality going over for a try and looked threatening with ball in hand.
The defining moment of the match was when experienced Warrington centre Ryan Atkins with the try line at his mercy chose to perform a theatrical dive for the line only for young Leeds full back Jack Walker; helped by Atkins’ outrageous hang time, was able to to cover the ground and force Atkins into touch. Fans were left aghast….you wonder if Sky Sports weren’t covering the game, whether Ryan Atkins would have got his head down and slid in for a game changing try?
A big mistake, and it is those small margins of error, where Super League games can be won and lost. So Leeds collect their first scalp of the season.
St. Helens ‘fire’ catch Castleford cold
St. Helens played Castleford Tigers, in a replay of the closest game of the entire 2017 season. Fans will recall in last year’s play-off semi-final game, which saw Castleford Tigers beat St. Helens 22-23 to place book their place in the Grand Final. In that classic grudge match, Castleford came from behind to force golden point extra-time. In the key play, Man of Steel [in waiting] Luke Gale scored the all-important drop-goal, to break St. Helens hearts and send the home crowd into delirium.
A new season begins a new story. And in this opening chapter St. Helens took revenge on last year’s heart break, to beat Castleford convincingly 46-6. St. Helens were ruthless with stand-out performances from Ben Barba and Marc Percival linking up well on the left edge who between them scored five of the Saints eight tries. They were on ‘fire’ in the opening round of UK Rugby League.
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) February 2, 2018
Castleford looked dumbstruck and a shadow of the team that ran rampant last season. Castleford; although disappointing, know all too well it’s a long hard season. They will look to peak at the end of the season not at the beginning–but to be caught cold, will need to be corrected in their next fixture.
Widnes Vikings run riot!
Widnes Vikings v Catalan Dragons may appear to be one of the less attractive games on paper, but could have huge implications on the context of the season for both. Widnes are tipped to finish at the bottom of the table while last season’s Million Pound Game survivors, the Catalan Dragons are looking to prove last year’s collapse was merely a blip. However, it was Widnes who burst into the 2018 season and in fact made light work of the French side winning 40-12.
Widnes have got their season off to the perfect start and will need the confidence of a good early part to the season, when the going gets tough for them later in the year. Catalan Dragons on the other hand, need to pick off away wins, to complement their historically proficient home form; an away win at Widnes would be one of those must-win games.
— Widnes Vikings (@WidnesRL) February 5, 2018
It’s too early for panic for Catalan fans but, they next play the confident and much fancied St. Helens at home. Then only five days, they later take on Hull Kingston Rovers in another must-win away fixture. It’s not inconceivable that Catalans could very well be without a win after three games; two of those losses against rival bottom four opposition.
The Super League level is fierce competition from the very opening, so home and away fixtures must be concentrated on
Betfred Championship: ‘First Blood’ for Toronto Wolfpack
The Championship season kicked off with the most anticipated game of the opening weekend, as Leigh Centurions played host to the promoted Toronto Wolfpack. This fixture was more then just a clash between two great teams, the recent history of both teams added extra intrigue.
Three years ago, Leigh Centurions having won The Championship failed in their promotion attempt into Super League. Leigh capitulated in the qualifying 8’s stage of the season, eventually finishing bottom of the table. At the time Toronto were negotiating their way into the English leagues, in a step forward for Canada/US rugby league development. The then Leigh coach Paul Rowley, left the club on the eve of the following season and shortly afterwards, was appointed coach of the new Toronto Wolfpack.
Rowley pulled strings and called in favours to lure many Leigh players to join him in the Canadian-based Toronto side. That newly formed squad began their maiden UK Rugby League season in 2017, and surely decimated League 1 last season. Awash with former Leigh Centurions players. In the clubs first Super League season, Toronto can now claim 10 players who have worn the red & white of Leigh in recent years.
In the build-up to the game, Leigh Centurions were busy championing their own squad. Centurions owner Derek Beaumont boasted on twitter;
Today is the first time @LeighCenturions have ever fielded 17 in the Championship made up entirely of NRL or SL players. Combined our team today has made 1236 Super League appearances, 367 NRL and 26 Internationals and has an average age of 26. It’s a day to be at @lsvstadium
— Derek john beaumont (@derek_beaumont) February 4, 2018
Unfortunately for Leigh, their old fraternity of players cloaked in the black of Toronto, pulled of a huge victory. The Wolfpack dominated the second half, to win 34-12. Earlier in the game, Leigh looked commanding. Surging to a 12-0 lead, only to concede a massive 34 unanswered points, in the second period of play. All but one of Toronto’s six tries came from former Leigh players. ‘First blood’ to the Wolfpack in this newly established, trans-Atlantic battle.
Both Leigh and Toronto stand above their fellow Championship clubs, with the strength and depths of their squads. They will play each other three times before the Qualifying 8’s get underway. First and second places in the Championship will be decided by ‘who comes out on top’ of these Leigh v Toronto fixtures.
UK Rugby League Week 1 Results –
- Leeds Rhinos 16 Warrington Wolves 12
- Hull Kingston Rovers 6 Wakefield Trinity 26
- St. Helens 46 Castleford Tigers 6
- Widnes Vikings 40 Catalan Dragons 12
- Salford Red Devils 12 Wigan Warriors 40
- Hull FC 38 Huddersfield Giants 12
- Leigh Centurions 12 Toronto Wolfpack 34
- London Broncos 56 Barrow Raiders 12
- Featherstone Rovers 20 Halifax RLFC 4
- Toulouse 46 Swinton Lions 14
- Dewsbury Rams 20 Sheffield Eagles 18
- Rochdale Hornets v Batley Bulldogs – Postponed (new date tbc)
Follow all the results with weekly coverage of the 2018 Betfred UK Rugby League competitions.
“Main photo credit”
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