Monday, March 26, 2007

Lonely at the Top?

Certainly not in the 2007 engage Super League.

A quarter of the way into the season, and only three points separate the top 8 sides. Everyone (with the exception of bottom club Huddersfield) has registered at least two wins from their opening 7 games, and despite losing all of theirs the Giants points difference is still only minus 30, which gives you an idea how close their games have been.

That top 8 includes Wakefield (10th last year and saved from relegation on the final day), Catalan Dragons (12th last year and saved from relegation only by their 3 year exemption) and Hull KR (promoted last season from National League One).

So far this season, Harlequins have beaten St Helens who were the dominant force in 2006, Hull KR and Catalan have beaten Leeds and 2006 Grand Finalists Hull FC have won only two games. Yesterday the league leading Bradford Bulls were deservedly beaten by Catalan 29-22 at Grattan Stadium (Odsal in old money).

Yes, there's a long way to go before the end of the season. Yes, you'd expect the "big" clubs with the deep squads to come into their own once injuries start to bite. Isn't it nice though after many years of watching the NRL competition where anyone could beat anyone on their day (with the obvious exception of Souths) to see the domestic game in this country moving in a similar direction.

Here's to the uncertainty of results continuing over the coming weeks, hopefully to the continuing dismay of one-club believists who consider that any defeat must come out of either their team playing badly or the referee being "bent" (are you listening out there, Wildcats fans?)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sporting cliches number 376

This week's offering - "it's a game of two halves".

It's often said that a particular period of time in a game is a "big five or ten minutes". Could be at the start, where a side looks to impose its tempo and style on the opposition, or towards the end of a half where a team is looking to protect a lead against a late onslaught. Is there a bigger five or ten minutes though than the time a coach gets to spend with his team at half-time?

The hooter goes and by the time players are back seated, rehydrated, patched up and sufficiently stabilised in terms of fatigue and adrenaline levels to listen the coach has a very limited window in which to get across what he wants them to do in the next forty minutes. It's a relatively easy job if your team is coasting to victory, as Justin Morgan and Daniel Anderson must have felt on Friday night. If you're in Brian Noble or Steve McNamara's shoes though, that five minutes must pass in an instant as you attempt to rally the troops, raise their effort levels and correct technical and tactical problems that have left you behind the 8-ball at oranges.

Whateve they said must have had some effect, as both Bradford and Wigan played with much more purpose and effect in the second half of their games although both had left themselves way too much to do to pinch the two points. Perhaps Noble and McNamara should try delivering their half time team talks before the first half next week?

Saturday's live game gave new meaning to the word "dour". Catalan Dragons, who the previous week had put Leeds to the sword with a scintillating second half display, travelled to Salford and the two sides combined to produce eighty minutes of turgid, one-dimensional rugby punctuated by a steady stream of errors and penalties that would have done nothing for the neutral viewer. While the visitors were missing the influential Stacey Jones and Aaron Gorrell, you have to wonder what Mick Potter does with them during the week as he seemed to have extracted all the flair and confidence from the Leeds performance out of his players. His opposite number Karl Harrison has been touted as a potential Great Britain coach. Based on the way his Salford side staggered direction-less from one set of six to the next those who called so loudly for Brian Noble's head may find it's much better the devil you know.

On a side note - kudos to Mick Potter for leaving out one of the outstanding teenage talents of French rugby in order to get more game time out of a mediocre Aussie journeyman in John Wilson. Visionary thinking like that is sure to make a roaring success of the Dragons franchise.