Harlequins: Consistency is the key for capital gains

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Another season, another seeming state of disarray and uncertainty for the capital’s only Super League side. This off-field uncertainty has manifested itself in one of the most erratic teams in Super League.  It must be really frustrating to follow a side that can beat three playoff sides, yet also somehow ship 68 points to the side at the bottom of the table. It’s frustrating and also slightly alarming, because if any side could do with a period of stability it’s Quins.

There’s a lot to be worried about with Quins. Their owner has to end his involvement with the club. There doesn’t appear to be a proper CEO at the minute, and the person who had taken up the job temporarily has left. The crowds just won’t rise, and it’s not certain how much effort has been put into raising them anyway. Many fans still feel alienated by the decision to get in bed with perhaps the archetypal Rugby Union club. Added to that, they’re losing a lot of quality players from last season, either to retirement or bigger clubs.

It’s a shame that there’s all this off-field stuff to worry about, because on the field they’re definitely heading in the right direction. Whilst they’ve lost a lot of their bigger names for this season, and the incoming batch doesn’t necessarily look like being of a suitable quality, there’s still a core of players who exceeded expectations last season, including several local lads. Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook was challenging for a World Cup spot last season, and who knows how he would have gone if he didn’t get injured in mid-season? Considering I was watching Tony Clubb perform at a level no higher than ‘meh’ for the London Skolars last February, his rise over the last year has been extraordinary. If McDermott can get even a few of his rag-tag bunch performing way above expectation, it could be a good season in South-West London.

Trying to guess where Quins will finish has proven for the last few seasons to be a futile exercise. Most people tip them to finish bottom, only to see them rise up the table and challenge for a playoff berth. I think they’re in that group of teams who might be able to take benefit from the expanded playoff system and sneak their way into a first round match, from which they will probably be eliminated. Or they might just crash and burn and finish waaaaay down at the bottom. Or they might actually live up to Brian McDermott’s standards and win the whole thing. Well, they probably wont,  but you just never know with Quins; there’s many dangers associated with following Quins, but boredom ain’t one of them. Which might be part of the problem.

Pros: There’s still a Super League side in the capital, and they’re starting to produce a decent core of local players (two of them made the England side that played in the game against Wales). They have an outstanding young coach who isn’t going to let them get away with any slack behaviour. They’re also welcoming back a player in Luke Dorn who has proven to be a try machine for them in the past (and was the third-highest try scorer last season at Castleford).

Cons: Off-field, there’s still a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Quins. Poor crowds, uncertainty over ownership (Ian Lenegan is supposed to sell his ownership by the end of the year) and questions over the financial state of the club (particularly in this economic climate) will probably cause distractions to the playing staff no matter how hard they try to ignore. Add to that a seeming lack of quality coming into the club (and a fair amount of it leaving) and you have to wonder about Quins’ chances this season.

Coach: According to Skybet Brian McDermott is joint-favourite to be the first Super League coach to leave his club this year. I wouldn’t bother with that bet if I were you. Possibly the best coach in Super League, he’s shown a tendency to embrace reclamation and restoration projects, which explains the lack of quality in the incoming players.

Captain: Rob Purdham will be looking to put a disappointing World Cup behind him by leading the Quins from the front this year.

Key Man:
Now he’s the only halfback left from their positive glut of midfield types last season, an awful lot of pressure is going to fall on Danny Orr’s shoulders this year. He’s been outstanding since his arrival in the capital, and he’s done the one-man-band act before at Cas.

Young ‘un: Will Sharp had a surprisingly successful rookie season, and he’s been rewarded with a starting squad number. Look for him to be thrust into Ricky Sheriffe’s role of underrated Quins winger. Quins seem to do fairly well out wide, so look for Sharp to get on the scoresheet a few times this season.

Wild Card: The signings of Mick Nanyn and Matt Gardner have been largely scoffed at by regular Championship watchers, claiming that these two players have talent but little discipline and motivational issues (and in Nanyn’s case, a dangerous fondness for grub). McDermott isn’t the sort of coach to tolerate such things, and it could be fun watching him try and get them to live up to their potential.

Gains: Luke Dorn, Luke Williamson, Chad Robinson, Ben Kaye, Jason Golden, Mick Nanyn, Matt Gardner

Once again McDermott has decided to bring in a rag-tag collection of NRL players, Academy players who’ve struggled to get regular first team action elsewhere, and National League (sorry, Championship) players hoping to step up. Nice to see Luke Dorn back though, by far and away his best period in Super League was his first spell with the Broncos / Quins.

Losses: Mark McLinden, Rikki Sheriffe, Scott Hill, Julien Rinaldi, Henry Paul, David Tootill, Dwayne Barker, Michael Worrincy, Lamont Bryan, Joe Walsh

It’s odd. Harlequins have gone from having too many creative midfield types to having too few. McLinden will be the biggest loss to the club as he had become a real stalwart, although injury and illness stopped him being the force he could be last season. For Paul and Hill it’s understandable, as they were both getting on a bit. Sheriffe and Worrincy have really come on under McDermott’s tutilage, so it will be interesting to see how they do away from his guidance.

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