The stand out fixture back in Week Two of UK Rugby League would possibly be a candidate for ‘stand out fixture of the entire season’. The Wigan Warriors v Hull FC fixture was ground breaking as it was the first ever Super League game to be played outside of Europe.
Wigan gave up home advantage, with the innovative idea to play Hull in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. The teams played for the Kenny/Sterling Shield named after the former Australian greats; Peter Sterling who wore the black and white of Hull, and Brett Kenny who donned the famous cherry and white at Wigan.
Wigan ‘on song’ in Wollongong first-ever Clash
On this unique occasion, it was Wigan who came out on top winning the game 24-10. Wigan seemed the more fluent of the sides in the unusually ‘warmer climate’. Winger Liam Marshall; aided by the dry Australian ground, displayed his blistering pace as he ran in two tries. Out pacing the flat-footed Hull defence.
GLAD IN THE GONG!
Liam Marshall says Wollongong was the perfect place to host the first ever Super League game outside of Europe.
— Wigan Warriors ?⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) February 11, 2018
An early injury to Hull winger Buerta Faraimo forced coach Lee Radford to form a hasty contingency plan. Second rower Danny Washbrook moved into centre position, pushing centre Jake Connor out onto the wing. Later in the game, to compound things further, captain Danny Houghton came off due to injury. Hull FC showed determination and were in the game up to half-time, just 12-10 behind.
The unfamiliar Hull side began to lose the arm wrestle in the second period though, against Wigan’s hard pressing go-forward style. Hull succumbed to the relentless Wigan pressure, epitomized by tries from Wigan front rowers Ryan Sutton and Ben Flower, to seal the win.
The Risk v Reward Equation
Everyone involved in the endeavour hailed the game as a success. Both Wigan and Hull have promoted their brands, and paved the way for other clubs to expand their horizons. Before returning to England, Hull FC have a game arranged with NRL side St. George, to form part of their preseason. Good forward planning (and a possible payday) however, having already picked up injuries against Wigan. So now a tough game against St. George might take its toll on the squad.
Hull FC – for all the benefits of this trip – may be brought back down to earth, with an away game at Castleford Tigers next up; a far cry from the warmth of New South Wales. Wigan too play NRL outfit the South Sydney Rabbitohs, before returning home.
A question is ‘will facing superior NRL opposition improve the teams for the rigors of Super League?’ or will the extra games and travel drain the squads ability?
The one true objective that has brought a smile, has been the positive response to the Kenny/Sterling Shield.
Paying Respect to Aussie League Hall of Famers
Rugby League legend Brett Kenny says he was surprised and shocked when he was contacted about a fundraiser.
— Wigan Warriors ?⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) January 8, 2018
St. Helens defy Dragons away
St. Helens took a trip themselves; albeit to the familiar south of France, as they took on the Catalan Dragons. St. Helens buoyant after taking apart Castleford Tigers in Week One. Favourites heading into this encounter, the question for their hosts was ‘could Catalan show in their Perpignan faithful that they were a top eight side?
St. Helens’ Johnny Lomax scored a try within the first minute, suggesting the game could turn into an embarrassing defeat for Catalans. Although the Dragons managed to find a footing in the game, limiting Saints to only one more try before the half-time break.
Each team confronted the other, until a drop goal and a penalty kick from young Saints scrum-half Danny Richardson sealed it 12-21. Earning St.Helens the important two league points, on reflection St. Helens have gotten past a tough away fixture and a potential banana skin out of the way. Looking every bit the side many have as favourites for the UK Rugby League title.
Catalan Dragons improved on their opening round defeat against Widnes, however they play newly promoted Hull Kingston Rovers away, who ran the Champions Leeds Rhinos very close in their game this weekend. A loss for Catalans against Hull KR will start to put pressure on the Dragons Betfred Super League chances.
Was last season, where the Dragons barely survived relegation, a simple one-off? They showed some fight. Or are they in for another relegation fight?
Giants make Warrington suffer
Huddersfield Giants (see main photo) got their first league points of the season beating Warrington Wolves 20-6 at the Kirklees Stadium. On the night it was Warrington’s glaring errors rather then Huddersfield creativity that proved the difference. Of Huddersfield’s three tries, two came from Warrington’s inability to clean-up simple attacking kicks. Darnell McIntosh and Jordan Turner were the happy recipients of gift wrapped tries from the Wolves.
Warrington suffering from a ‘lack of confidence’ proved to be their own worst enemy. Yes, there are some fresh faces in the dressing room and it will take time for new players and coaches to gel. Yet it was some of their most experienced players making costly, elementary mistakes in the opening rounds of Super League. The big spenders in the off-season, and Steve Price wants to see a return on the investments.
Steve Price: "To come up with a performance like that is disappointing.
"We were confident leading into the game and that's not the standard we accept." pic.twitter.com/bY7LUwf4nG
— Warrington Wolves (@wolvesrl) February 8, 2018
Warrington take on bitter Cheshire rivals Widnes Vikings, next week in UK Rugby League action.
Castleford escape with victory
Widnes brimming with confidence after destroying Catalans, went to Castleford only to suffer an agonisingly loss 13-12. Last season, this fixture would have suggested a Castleford blow-out and score predictions would have risked the phrase ‘Cricket Score’. It was deep into the first half before Castleford broke the deadlock. Widnes fought back in the second half and the sides crossed the others line to keep the crowd on edge. Castleford’s Luke Gale scored a decisive drop goal, which meant a late Widnes try set up a nail biting finish.
The result shows just how far Widnes have come from last season, as much as it underlines how ‘off the pace’ Castleford are at the start of this season. Widnes missed two drop goal attempts to squander the points, that allowed Castleford to breath a huge sigh of relief as the final whistle blew.
This brings the Widnes v Warrington derby into the spotlight round. Warrington; the club with more resources and big name signings that are struggling for form. Up against Widnes; the hard working, lower-table club with limited resources though playing with confidence. This will be a huge game for both clubs, and an indicator of what to expect for the season.
UK Rugby League Championship: Top 4 race round-up
Featherstone Rovers beat top 4 rivals Toulouse Olympique 36-18, adding further credibility to their promotion credentials. While Leigh Centurions got back to their winning ways against Batley Bulldogs, winning 34-6.
London Broncos made it two wins from two, with a gutsy 12-0 win away at Dewsbury. London are quietly going about their business as a real darkhorse for a top 4 position.
— London Broncos (@LondonBroncosRL) February 5, 2018
Wolfpack run halted by Raiders
In the Championship lead place, Toronto Wolfpack – after the high of defeating their biggest rivals Leigh Centurions – were brought back down to earth. Fellow newly promoted opposition team, the Barrow Raiders held them to an 8-8 draw.
That was a massive league point earned for the Cumbrian club, who might well be fighting for survival towards the end of the season, but showed some fight early. It was a noticeable ‘bump on the road’ to Super League elevation for Toronto though.
Toronto are the team that everyone in the Betfred Championship wants to beat in 2018. Many teams will be eyeing their home fixture against the Wolfpack, as a marketing opportunity as well as a potential scalp. Toronto will have to get used to this reality, if they are to finish top of the table. The ‘all star’ team can’t take any fixture for granted.
UK Rugby League Week Two Results –
- Leeds Rhinos 20 Hull KR 11
- Huddersfield Giants 20 Warrington Wolves 6
- Wakefield Trinity 14 Salford Red Devils 12
- Catalan Dragons 12 St. Helens 21
- Castleford Tigers 13 Widnes Vikings 12
- Halifax RLFC 30-10 Sheffield Eagles
- Featherstone Rovers 36 – 18 Toulouse Olympique
- Leigh Centurions 34 – 6 Batley Bulldogs
- Dewsbury Rams 0 – 12 London Broncos
- Barrow Raiders 8 – 8 Toronto Wolfpack
- Rochdale Hornets v Swinton Lions – postponed (tbc)
Games ahead: Super League in the Australian spotlight
This week, fans attention goes ‘downunder’ as Wigan play South Sydney Rabbitohs and Hull FC play St.George in friendly games. Meanwhile, Leeds Rhinos play Melbourne Storm in their biggest game in recent history; for the World Club Challenge.
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) February 15, 2018
Closer to home, Hull KR host Catalans Dragons and Widnes Vikings take on their local rivals Warrington Wolves. Each are ‘must win games’ for all involved.
Also the third tier of domestic UK Rugby League begins; League One. This year, the League contains the once mighty Bradford Bulls. Will it be the start of their long journey back to Super League?
Follow all the results here on Last Word on Rugby, with our UK-based rugby league reporter Mike Whitby’s weekly column. New, key matches and results.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images