Monday, 6 February 2012

Opening Weekend

Well, we’re off! Did the opening weekend give you that fix you’ve been lusting after?

The weather wasn’t ideal for rugby but our lads made the most of it as we saw seven games unfold to an interesting set of results.

First off, Widnes re-starting their Superleague careers against Wakefield. After backing Widnes, I’d already started to gather my excuses when I heard about  some of the injuries they were carrying in the forwards, this didn’t seem a problem though as their highly motivated forward pack rolled up the pitch early doors and the young fullback poached a nice try with a kick through.
Wakefield reacted quickly though and, in my opinion, the writing was on the wall when they’ve spread the ball wide and rip up the defence, only for Ben Cockayne’s foot to have brushed the line as he touched down.
The Wildcats really impressed me with their attacking rugby, with Tim Smith running things at 1st receiver, they always seemed to have lots of runners, coming from deep, giving options and stretching the defence.

On the other hand, Widnes struggled for attacking penetration, despite the forwards getting up the pitch and them having an extended period camped on the Yorkshire men’s line, the attack was flat. With Watts out, too much was forced through Hanbury, who the defence concentrated. His makeshift partner Clarke looked far too pedestrian in the first and second receiver roles and seemed to spend half his time harassing Scott Moore for a turn at dummy half.
However, sheer bloody minded determination actually saw Widnes leading 14-10, following an opportunist try by the Widnes second row Cahill and, had two borderline video ref calls not gone against them, could have been going home with the points. As the second half wore on, though, the more dynamic Wakefield pack were getting quicker play the balls so that their backs were able to play on the front foot. The penalties then came into the Vikings’ game and eventually the dam broke. The movement through the hands was slick and the Widnes defence had no answer to it, with tries from Mathers , Smith and Fox (2) seeing the Wildcats run away with it.
Dennis Betts has some work to do, but I’d say the Wakefield fans will be looking forward to next week and indeed the season.

The other Friday night game was Leeds at home to Hull KR. The score was 34-16, but with Dobson missing four out of four conversation attempts, it sounded like a well contested game and HKR coach Sandercock was reasonably happy. Leeds started the game with Rob Burrow at hooker, his performances at the back end of last season obviously shaping McDermott’s plans for him, and took the victory largely thanks to a hat trick from young centre Kallum Watkins.

On Saturday afternoon, another good tussle saw St Helens run out victors against the Broncos, despite trailing at half time 18-16 in the snow and sleet. For Saints, stand in Captain James Roby was apparently star of the show, young backrow Dixon scored a lovely long range effort and with club Stalwart Paul Wellens missing, new signing Lance Hohaia took the #1 jersey to decent affect. Both sets of fans seem happy; with the new look Broncos appearing a stern test for last year’s grand finalists, especially up front and with veteran Craig Gower showing that he’s still got some class - forming a promising partnership with former Crusader, Witt.

Our second televised match of the weekend was the opening game at Salford community stadium, where they welcomed Castleford tigers on a very snowy night. Just as you’d expect from Ian Millward’s side, the tigers seemed to pay no heed to the conditions and looked to throw the ball around, whereas Salford started more sensibly by driving up the middle and looking for a good kick. It was the Reds who had the first joy, with Matty Smith jinking between two forwards from ten metres out for the score. As the match wore, however, on Cas's young pack, led by a rather muscular performance from Jacob Emmit, started to get the better of the arm wrestle and a difference in class started to appear. Richard Owen scored his first from full back with a sweeping move, before being heavily involved in the second. Having spotted a defender out of position, Daryl Clarke made a half break with a scoot from dummy half and his offload found its way to Owen, who chipped across field. The ball was delicately hacked on by Josh Griffin to touch down in goal, finishing a very impressive try.
Once they were behind, the Reds started to play with a bit more adventure, trying to get the ball to danger man Patten, with some success. Dropped balls from half breaks by Anderson and Gleeson could have been the difference, but by now the Cas half backs had got the measure of the conditions and were pinning Salford back with a impressive short kicking into the snowy in goal areas; one kick finding its way into the arms of hooker Milner to score between the posts.
That looked like the game until one last burst from Salford from their own half saw Matty Ashurst finished an early contender for try of the season until Owen struck back at the death.
Despite being on the wrong end of the result, I must say that Salford looked a lot better than I had perhaps expected.

On to Sunday, where the big results came in. A depleted Huddersfield side travelled away to Wigan and won, with Larne Patrick, only just declared fit after a broken wrist, coming off the bench to score 2 tries. I’m afraid, given Huddersfield’s injuries; this is two points lost for Wigan, but credit the Fartowners for taking hold of such a big game. The Wigan fans are bemoaning a lack of kicking game, but seem reasonably happy with the forward effort. Giants fans don’t seem to want to pick out individuals, it sounds like it was a very rounded team performance.

Possibly a bigger shock would be the Hull v Warrington game, which Wire rescued with a try late on (and could have won, if Westwood had made the conversion). Reports make it sound like an exciting match up. The Hull speccies were disappointed not to take the two points, but fairly happy with honours even, using the old adage “I’d have taken a draw beforehand”. New signings on both sides in the form of Lynch and Waterhouse seemed to impress.

Following me saying I fancied Bradford to improve this season, it sounds like the Dragons gave them quite a thrashing, with last year's dream team #7 Dureau pulling the strings and ensuring that they had things sown up by half time, leading 20-0. The Bradford scores came towards the end, seemingly as nothing but consolation.

So who's happiest? Wakey fans must be looking forward to an entertaining season and certainly show they could threaten the play off places, although it will be interesting to see how their forwards go against a more established opposition pack. Hull FC fans, too, must fancy their chances of putting a cat amongst the pigeons. As for Huddersfield, to take down Wigan at the DW with a host of players missing is testimony to their squad and perhaps shows that they're capable of a more consistant season?

Unhappy? Bradford fans must wonder if they'll ever see their former glory regained. Potter's now in his second season, so really needs to start getting a grip of things. Saying that, Catalan could be a real force this season, so perhaps its not the end of the world?
Wigan fans will have to resist that nagging doubt that could creep in to the minds, that life after Michael Maguire is going to be less than rosey. Wane seems like a determined chap, though, and has some real quality to work with.
Don't write them off just yet.

Wakefield are going to ask the appropriate authorities about the excessive grazes their players suffered in the match played on the new iPitch, which you could see on the knees and elbows (check Mather's elbow after he scores), but have a look back at the last 20 minutes of the Cas/Salford game and you'll also see a lot of blood on the joints (look in the back ground when the Howarth is being treated for concussion). The players may pick up scratches, but do we think its any worse than the ones you can get from some hard and dry pitches in the summer? What do you think?

So week one is down, seven fixtures, only one of which seemed one sided and three matches being attended by 10,000+ crownds despite horrid weather. A good weekend, and I reckon things are only going to get better.

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