Archive for January, 2009

Castleford Tigers: Young guns need to tear up The Jungle

January 31, 2009

castleford203I find it interesting that one of the main beneficiaries of this new licensing system that is aiming to fast track expansion is one of the most storied, grandest, traditionalist clubs of all. Cas have already seen gains come out of the licensing system, through not getting relegated at the end of a disappointing return campaign in Super League last year where they finished six points adrift at the bottom. But as well as that, it’s enabled them to keep hold of some of the most promising talents in the game.

Castleford had an odd season last year. For the first month it genuinely crossed people’s minds that they might now be able to win a game, such was the woeful nature of their play. Then they scored probably the upset of the year with a more-than-convincing 38-20 victory over the newly crowned World Club Champions, Leeds Rhinos. In fact, amongst their seven league victories were games against the Rhinos, St Helens and Warrington, which seemed to imply their downfall was a lack of consistency more than anything else. After all, this is a side that conceded 68 points against St Helens one week, only to score 66 against Harlequins the next.

Castlefords points tally for wasn’t all that bad, although it could do with some improvement. There’s fairly good reason to assume that will happen, as their back-line is full of young players who should be much better for a season’s worth of experience under their belts (given the paucity of options for England in the threequarters, look for Michael Shenton to be challenging for international honours this year). What they really need to work on this season is their defence. Castleford last season felt like a team that once you finally broke them down, the floodgates would open. Castleford need to find out how to either a) not get broken down or (more realistically) b) learn how to rally back from adversity.

Realistically, you would have to assume Castleford would be hoping to scrape into the playoffs if things fall into place for them during the season. They probably need to establish momentum early, as the impact of their terrible start ended up dragging down their whole season last year. As long as they’re putting up a fight this season, and if their young talents are performing at a high level, they should be entertaining to watch. (more…)

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Bradford Bulls: Can the Bulls re-emerge from the shadows?

January 31, 2009

bradford

I’m really not sure what to make of Bradford

But a few seasons ago, they were winning trophies left, right and centre, even becoming the first team to ever win the Grand Final from 3rd place. Nowadays, their fans would probably be pleased with a 3rd place finish, never mind a Grand Final.Perhaps even more gallingly for the Bulls, the pre-eminent side in Super League has become their bitter Yorkshire rivals, the Leeds Rhinos.

Bradford are a side in transition – the problem is we don’t know what they are transitioning to. One the one hand, they’re still a side possessing a wealth of talent, particularly in the forwards. On the other, their back-line is clearly not as strong as it was in the Vainikolo-Hape glory days, and I’m not sure how much teams will fear the thought of Bradofrd spreading it wide.

Part of the problem is that Bradford seem to have developed a policy of bringing in players who over-achieved at smaller clubs, only to find their impact limited on the stage that the Bullls put them on. In this regard, the signings of Michael Worrincy and Ricky Sheriffe are to type. However, this season Bradford have also decided to bring in some big names in Steve Menzies and Greg Bird. Both have associated risks; Menzies is one of the best second-rowers of his generation, but he’s getting on a bit, and as for Bird… well, the Bulls will hope he’s got his head in the game.

Bradford should definitely be in the playoffs, and you would think they would be challenging for a top-four spot and a home berth in the first round, but they just seem to be lacking the firepower to challenge for the title. I think I can see a run to the semi-finals of the playoffs, and maybe a decent Cup run as well (which I suspect might be Bradford’s best chance of a trophy this year). (more…)

Super League Previewaganza 2009!

January 30, 2009

sllogo1Holy shit! One minute I’m moping abouth the end of the World Cup, and having to make do with Ice Hockey and the NFL for my contact sport fix, and the next minute it turns out that Super League restarts in a week! How the time flies! Admittedly, it’s starting a week earlier than usual so both Harlequins and Leeds can play Manly over the next few weeks, and really the season properly kicks off in two weekends time, but sod that. Once the ball is kicked-off at Headingley next Friday, the season’s begun again,

Of course, this season is more interesting than most because it is the start of the Brave New World we now live in, or the Licence Era as it has also been called (by me, just now). We got a little taste of this last year, but now we know that none of these sides will be relegated at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see if this has the effect of allowing more British youngsters to have starting opportunities, which was one of the main reasons behind the switch to licences. There were signs that this might be the case last season, and it was particularly nice to see a club like Harlequins (long known as a side of backpacking Aussies) bringing through their own talent.

What also makes this season really interesting is the introduction of two new teams (which also has the positive side effect of evening out the fixture list so teams only have to threepeat with one other side now) in Salford City Reds and Celtic Crusaders. Salford have of course done this whole Super League thing before, and have mostly been encamped in the nether regions of mediocrity (they have only made the playoffs once), but they have some emerging talent coming through. For Celtic though, this is a whole new ball game, and the Rugby League watching public will be looking to see if they can compete with the big boys. They will also have the added pressure of being expected to introduce a new breed of Welsh superstars who have been missing from the game ever since Rugby Union went fully professional. Of course, given that Harlequins have only really started doing this after 25 years, I think it’ll take a while before we get a plethora of Welsh talent back in the game, but at least the opportunity for it to happen has now been made easier.

Apart from that, a lot of the questions are the same: Who can stop Leeds and Saints? Are Wigan about to hit the big time again? Will Warrington finally stop under-achieving? How small will Quins’ crowds be? What does the ref think he’s doing?

Anyway, over the next week or so I’ll have previews of each team and their chances. I should be doing two a day, but obviously there’s scope for that to go horribly wrong.¬† And I may even get around to answering some of the above questions…

Classic Moments: “That’s Not a Try, That’s a Miracle”

January 26, 2009

As time expired in Game One of the 1994 State of Origin series, Queensland found themselves 12-10 behind. Then they did this:

The thing I love about this try is that it would be a technically marvellous try if it was scored in the first few minutes of the game, never mind the last. The combination of exquisite skill with edge-of-the-seat desperation really makes it an exhilarating watch.

Nathan Brown: Shorter Season, More Training Time Please!

January 17, 2009

Nathan shows his displeasure at the excessive length of the British season. At least, I assume thats what hes doing.

Nathan shows his displeasure at the excessive length of the British season. At least, I assume that's what he's doing...

He’s not even been in the country very long, but already new Huddersfield coach Nathan Brown is chiming in with his theory as to why there is such a disparity between the standards of the English and Australian national sides. Apparently, the English season is waaay too long, and it’s hindering Brown’s chances to get the Giants prepared:

“It’s a lot shorter preparation than I’m used to. Back home, we have six weeks before Christmas and six weeks after before we play our first game,” said the 35-year-old Giants boss.

“That’s why Australia are where they are. The guys who played [in the World Cup] will get six weeks of pre-season before they play, whereas the English guys go back after Christmas, train for a week or two and then start playing so they don’t get a good chance to prepare their bodies.

“If they want to challenge Australia and New Zealand, that’s what they’ve got to do. But at least everyone is on a level field over here so no one has an advantage.”

Although the idea that England would suddenly be the match of Australia if they cut down on the season length a bit might be over-simplifying matters somewhat, Brown does have a point. Super League has already cut down the fixture list by one game with the advent of the Magic Weekend, but for a while people have generally been moaning about the number of games that players have to go through, especially as it involves teams playing each other three (on occasions even four) times a season just to get up to the required number of games. The pounding that a player has to take week-on-week of course has to have a detrimental effect on the health of the players, not to mention whatever takes place in training. As much as sports science has advanced over the years, the demands put on the players still manages to outpace it.

Of course, there’s an obvious reason why we won’t get a reduction in the number of games any time soon: TEH MONEYZ! A reduction in games means a reduction in gate takings, in bar takings, in merchandise sales on gameday etc. and it’s pretty damn unlikely that the clubs would stand for that. It’s a shame, because healthier players = better product for two main reasons: a) as Brown points out, a reduction in the number of games frees up time for training, and coaching is very important for the maintainance of high levels of skill in any sport, and b) healthier players perform better [/obvious].

Of course, overly long / overcrowded seasons are not unique to Rugby League. Country cricket has far too much dross in its fixture list, and there have been moves by FIFA and UEFA have made it known they would like the Premiership reduced to 18 teams. These are very unlikely to change in the near future, and it’s the same with Super League.

Classic Moments: Wide to West

January 10, 2009

In a new series of lazy Youtube posts I will be doing every so often on this site (partly to wet the appetite for the upcoming season, and partly because the stuff featured is pretty damn cool) I present you with probably the most famous try of the Super League era. In the 2000 Qualifying Semi-Final, Bradford were leading St Helens 11-10, and as the final hooter sounded Saints had one last throw of the dice…

Test

January 4, 2009

Sorry for this post, it’s an attempt to see if I can make liveblogging games a lot easier by using ScribbleLive. As a result, this what continues after this is pretty much a nonsense post (more so than usual). (more…)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January 2, 2009

Yay! Hopefully 2009 will be even better than 2008.

Incredibly, since I last posted there have even been Rugby League games taking place, as clubs took part in their traditional festive fixtures:

Leeds 16 – 22 Wakefield

Batley  36 Р18 Dewsbury

Castleford 44 – 18 Gateshead

Featherstone 40 – 24 Halifax

St Helens 26 – 28 Widnes

Leigh 6 – 26 Salford

Warrington 4 – 44 Wigan

There’s a limited amount you can take away from these games, as they’re taking place just as the clubs are beginning to get back into the swing of proper pre-season training, and all the big guns who went to the World Cup will have been given extra time off. However, both Saints and Leeds will be pleased that their youngsters have put up good shows against tough opposition, even if they both lost. Wigan will also be pleased with the score in their game, even if the Wolves side they faced was fairly young.