After two weeks of Super League (three for some teams) you tend to notice some patterns emerging. No respectable scientist would ever dream of trying to make sweeping judgements based on a data sample of two, but I’m not close to being a respectable scientist and some things appear to be making themselves known at this stage in the season:
- Reports of Saints’ demise have been greatly exaggerated
- Leeds have been winning without getting out of second gear
- The pool of sides fighting out for playoff spots is getting very large, with both Hull sides, Castleford, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Harlequins amongst the sides seeming stronger than last season
- Wigan and Warrington have both been losing games they really should win
This last point is worrying for both Wigan and Warrinton not just because they have lost all their games so far (only Celtic Crusaders join them at the bottom with zero points) but because of the way in which they have lost. Each case is different, yet both point to flaws which need to be addressed sooner rather than later if this season is to be a success for either of them.
For Wigan, the problem has been losing games against sides that finished below them in the table last season (none of the three sides they have played so far made the playoffs last year) by close margins (their largest margin of defeat so far is eight points). It’s hard to grasp entirely why this is: they have a successful coach and a fair number of decent players. For some reason this season they’ve let in a fair amount of soft tries which ultimately have cost them close games. They’ve also failed to inspire in attack and you have to wonder why they feel the need to bring in so many imports if they’re not going to deliver. Add to this that Wigan’s history makes this probably the most high-pressure coaching job in Super League and you have to think that Brian Noble should be concerned right now. He’s already said that this competition is won in October, not February but you have to be in the playoffs to reach October and at this rate it’s very much a possibility that won’t happen.
For Wire, the problems are even harder to fathom, because for the past two weeks they’ve let a comfortable lead not only slip away in the second half, but get positively blown out of the water. It’s hard to remember a side who have looked so good in the first half before looking so bad in the second, and the Wolves have managed it for the past two weeks running. The fact that they have done so both times in front of the Sky Sports cameras will do James Lowes no favours, who now has to solve the mystery of how his side keep imploding. Second half drop-offs are usually a sign of poor fitness, but in both cases the rot set in at the start of the second half, right after players have had a chance to get their breath back. It all indicates a lack of mental toughness, because in both the last few weeks the Wolves haven’t looked remotely like getting back into once things start going against them.
As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a good thing. Both Leeds and Saints are far too far ahead of the competition right now, and Wigan and Warrington appeared to be amongst their challengers. If no side steps up this season, we could be left with the third Leeds-Saints Grand Final in a row, and as good as last year’s match was it would be nice to have a change. Both Warrington and Wigan have the chance this week to make amends against sides they should theoretically beat, with Wire away at Wakefield and Wigan away at Quins. Both sides have been losing to sides they should theoretically beat all season, and doing so in the two televised games this weekend could lead to a major upheaval at either club. If either club wants to prove that they’re still worthy of being deemed title contenders, they’ve got the right stage to prove it.
Between them, Wigan and Wire have cost me four extra victories in my predictions (I correctly guessed Wire’s implosion against Saints) and it’s their underachievent that’s kept me under fifty percent. The other side to cost me this week were Huddersfield Giants, who fell back down to earth against a resiliant St Helens. Also frustrating was getting close to the Leeds and Wakefield victory margins. I wish my Quins-Manly prediction was official, because that really wasn’t that far off the reality.
Results: 7/15 (46.7%)
Margins: 1/15 (6.7%)