Archive for April, 2009

Crystal Ball: Week 11

April 24, 2009

Crystal BallAnother week, another chance for me to barely break even with my picks. Curse this seemingly unpredictable league!

Leeds Rhinos beat Harlequins RL by 26

So Leeds look to have gotten back on track against Huddersfield last week, whilst Quins are in a patch of mediocrity. All signs point to a home win here, although I think Leeds will win with a scoreline that flatters them somewhat. 

St Helens beat Bradford Bulls by 28

I expect an improved performance by the Bulls here, but an improvement on absolutely awful probably still isn’t going to be enough to be Saints away.

Salford City Reds beat Hull FC by 4

Under any other patch of form I would probably take Hull here, but they haven’t been good at all of late whilst Salford have shown signs of potential. Not confident about this pick at all though, as Hull really do need a victory to reignite their season. 

Celtic Crusaders beat Castleford Tigers by 2

No particularly logical reason for this pick. I just think that Celtic are due a win (they haven’t been that bad, really) and I wonder where Castleford’s heads are at following both the mauling by Saints and Joe Westerman’s health incident during that game.

Hull KR beat Catalan Dragons by 14

I like Hull KR a lot this season, and I’m not entirely convinced about the Dragons’ away form (although they are getting there at home). It should be an entertainingly bruising game. 

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Wigan Warriors by 2

I’m torn by this game. On  the one hand, Wakefield have already beaten Wigan once this season and they appear to be in-form. On the other, Wigan have improved a lot since opening day and might just have revenge on their mind. In the end, I think home advantage should carry Wakey through here. 

Huddersfield Giants beat Warrington Wolves by 5

Well, this goes completely against the last results of each team. However Huddersfield are much better away for some reason, and I’ve been burnt picking Warrington far too many times already this season (no doubt they’re going to go on a spell of burning me by winning when I pick against them…).

Monday Musings: Bulldozed

April 20, 2009

bradford

The higher you climb, the bigger the fall. As Bradford won their third Grand Final in five consecutive attempts at the big one, they had gotten pretty high. They were the poster boys for the success of Super League, with the switch to summertime rugby resulting in an explosion of support for the Bulls and an emergence of a new rugby superpower in Yorkshire. THey were a side that combined a brutal forward pack with a carnage loaded backline, always a lethal combination. They had climbed up to be part of the Big Four, and they had an intimidatory factor about them.

Today, things are different. Friday’s travesty of a result against Warrington (hardly a stellar performer this season) seemed to confirm Bradford’s fall from grace this season. Currently only Celtic Crusaders are below them in the table, and they have the excuse of being in their first top-flight season. Their once vaunted attack is stumbling, with only the Crusaders and Salford scoring less points. The disappointment hasn’t just begun this season either; they’ve gone out in the first round of the playoffs to Wigan the past two seasons. What must make it worse is that their local rivals Leeds are now fighting it out for alpha dog status with Saints this season, and are the current reigning (two-time) champions. Bradford are clearly not the team (or even the club) that they once were, for a few key reasons. 

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Crystal Ball: Week 10

April 17, 2009

Crystal BallWell, it’s Week 10 if we assume the two Easter posts were a combined Week 9, and I am…

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Hull FC by 8

Not actually that confident about this pick, but Wakefield are in form whilst Hull are not. There’s also the fact that Richard Horne is officially ‘doubtful’ which is never a good thing for the Black and Whites.

Bradford Bulls beat Warrington Wolves by 1

Battle of the Underachievers! Bradford have looked improved in the last few weeks, whilst Warrington seem to have slipped a bit. It’ll probably be one of theose dour-yet-compelling games that goes the distance.

Catalan Dragons beat Salford City Reds by 18

Battle of the Recently-Much-Improved! Gotta go with Catalans here, as they seem to have really rediscovered their mojo and more importantly have home advantage. 

Huddersfield Giants beat Leeds Rhinos by 2

I’m probably cursing the Giants here, but this game could consolidate their league positioning above Leeds. The Rhinos have looked shaky lately, and I’m not sure going to an in-form Huddersfield side is the best cure for that.

Wigan Warriors beat Celtic Crusaders by 14

Wigan should get back on track here, provided they don’t implode defensively like they did against Catalan Dragons and instead show the resolution they had in defeat to St Helens.

Harlequins beat Hull KR by 8

This should be a very tight game, but KR’s boom this season appeared to suffer a blow against Huddersfield. Add to that the saga hanging around Justin Morgan and I see enough distraction to stop them being at their best against Quins, which they will probably have to be to win away from home.

St Helens beat Castleford Tigers by 12

Saints appear to have entered that zone where picking against them is a very bad idea, so even though Cas are much improved this year and they won this corresponding game last season, I doubt that’s enough to see them through here.

Goulding to Salford

April 14, 2009

In my post on Martin Gleeson earlier, I forgot to bring up one of the forgotten questions about his transfer: what does this mean for Darrell Goulding? Turns out that it means a loan out to Salford for the rest of the season.

Goulding has been seen as a talent ever since he burst onto the stage a few years ago, but since then he’s never really kicked on, partly due to the fact that there have been other players in the way at Wigan. Whether these players are truly worthy of starting in front of a talented, locally produced player is another matter entirely, but with Gleeson coming in it’s now quite clear that Goulding needed to move to get game time, which is quite frankly what he needs more than anything right now.

Salford should be a good fit for him. They’ve got a fair number of experienced heads from whom he will benefit being around (Willie Talau’s not a bad person to talk to about centre-play) as well as a few decent youngsters. He’s also heading to a club that appears to be on an upswing, so he won’t be like being dumped into a black-hole (which is what it would have seemed like a month ago). Indeed, he’s moving to a club that is closing in on his current employers. The experience of actual Super League play is what a player of Goulding’s calibre needs right now to develop his game, and if Salford either tear up Super League on a playoff run from here on in, or they revert to the mediocrity that had defined their season up until a few weeks ago, it will hold Goulding in good stead for the future either way.

Stuart Reardon to Hull FC

April 14, 2009

Shirt now out of date (The Sun)

Another thing that I didn’t get around to covering last week was Warrington’s release of Stuart Reardon. As we all know, Reardon has his fair share of personal problems right now, and with an extensive injury problem added to that, I could see why the Wolves would see that as too much excess baggage to carry. Apparently, Hull FC don’t feel the same way, because they’ve signed up the newly-available Reardon.

This strikes me as an odd move on Hull’s part. I assume that Reardon has communicated to them that he’s confident of avoiding a custodial sentence in his upcoming sentencing, because otherwise the Airlie Birds have just signed a player whom they are going to lose almost straight away.On top of that, there’s the fact that Reardon has been a walking (limping?) injury for the most part of his tenure at Wire, which makes him an odd recruit for a side as ruined by injuries in the recent past as Hull. Still, if they get him patched up and ready to play he could be an interesting addition to the Black and Whites’ backline. I assume he is supposed to be a replacement for Todd Byrne, who has left the club by mutual consent after a season-ending injury.

I assume Reardon is doing this because he wants to keep his mind off of unwanted distractions. It’s also quite obvious at this point he and Warrington was a relationship that just wasn’t meant to be, and he’ll be looking to reinvigorate his career on Humberside (it’s easy to forget that he was an international quality back a few seasons ago). Whether he’s able to or if the courts put his career on hiatus for him remains to be seen…

The Great Martin Gleeson Saga

April 14, 2009

In having a week from hell, I’ve been unable until now to write about one of the most intriguing stories to emerge this season: Martin Gleeson transferring from Warrington to Wigan. It’s an interesting move in many regards, and I’m still trying to work out who benefits most from this move.

With a lot of the talk around Gleeson, you would think he was finished as a player. This is far from the case: even in the horrific massacre at Quins, Gleeson was by far and away the most potent attacking weapon that the Wolves had. He was one of the few England players at the world cup who seemed to come out of it with any stock left, even impressing somewhat when forced out of position at Stand-Off against the Kiwis in the final group game. He’s still probably a 1st choice centre for the England team, although he’s finally coming under some pressure from the likes of Michael Shenton. There’s little doubt in my mind that Gleeson is a player still with a lot to offer.

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Crystal Ball: Easter Special Part 2

April 12, 2009

Crystal BallUgh. Friday was an absolute horror show for predictions. Let’s hope Monday fares a little better…

Harlequins beat Celtic Crusaders by 8

Both teams aren’t playing too great right now. FOr some reason I just think Quins will be able to get out of their slump at Bridgend, even if all signs point to this having enormous potential for a historic Crusaders victory.

Leeds Rhinos beat Salford City Reds by 22

Leeds are in a slump. Salford are on an upswing. However, I don’t think it’s reached the stage where the two sides have passed each other going in opposite directions yet, and this might just be the game that Leeds need to get their season back on track. It should be a good test of where Salford are at, and even a gritty defeat would be a good indication for them that things are better at The Willows.

St Helens beat Hull FC by 24

This is definitely not a good time for Hull to be facing Saints away. For one thing, Saints look to me like they are the pick of the league right now, with teven John Wilkin turning into a master half-back. Added to that is the fact that the Airlie Birds are deep in a slump right now, and it’s hard to see beyond a comfortable St Helens victory.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Bradford Bulls by 2

Well, it looks like Bradford have turned a corner, so what better time for them to suffer a gutting defeat? Wakefield won big at Castleford on Friday and I think the momentum from that game should carry them over a knackered Bulls side.

Warrington Wolves beat Castleford Tigers by 6

Wasn’t it a Cas victory in this game about a year ago that cost Paul Cullen his job? both sides are coming off alarming defeats, and I think that the Wolves will have to hope that home advantage steers them to victory here.

Hull KR beat Huddersfield Giants by 4

The pick I’m definitely least confident about this round, and almost entirely down to home advantage. Both sides are much improved this year and have momentum on their side. I flip-flopped on this pick quite a few times, and I’ll probably want to change it once it goes up, but I’m going to stick with KR at home… for now.

Catalan Dragons beat Wigan Warriors by 8

Wigan have a mixed record in Perpignan, from losing the inaugural Super League game there to winning the playoff game there last year in spectacular style. Although Wigan looked much improved in defeat to St Helens on Friday, the Dragons have looked much improved in victory in their last two games, and the appear to have momentum on their side.

Good Games for Good Friday

April 12, 2009

The best thing about Easter from a Rugby League fan’s point of view is the plethora of games that get put on his metaphorical plate for him to metaphorically devour. Of course, these games aren’t always the tastiest of morsels, but this year the three televised derbies delivered big time, leaving a very pleasant aftertaste. They also went a long way to establishing the hierarchy that this season is going to take, and even at this early stage it seems like that this Good Friday could prove to be a turning point for many sides.

The St Helens-Wigan game was excellent, the exact sort of derby between these two sides that I’ve missed over the last few years, with brutal defence from both sides, some nicely taken tries, and a slight element of controversy (I was suspicious of Ainscough’s second try, although I could understand why it was given). In the end the thing that won it for Saints was their absolutely heroic goal-line defence, combined with Wigan’s seeming lack of cutting edge. Also important was the sheer self-confidence that Saints exuded during the game, a product of years of competing at the top end of the table. This current Wigan side just doesn’t have that experience of winning top level games at the minute, but that might come with time. If this Wigan side can compete at that level (and possibly raise their game slightly higher) consistently for the course of this season, then they should comfortably make the playoffs (of course, the consistency thing is far from in place there at the minute, but there’s still time). As for Saints, the biggest thing they can take out of the game was winning their second tough game in a row without Sean Long. At this stage they are clearly the best side in Super League and it will be interesting to see if they can keep it going through to October.

The Hull derby also delivered big time, with the result in doubt until the final minute, and essentially coming down to two missed conversions from Danny Tickle. Tom Briscoe’s try for FC was possibly the try of the season so far, but it wasn’t enough to stop a KR side who won the forward battle in the middle and frustrated the Hull FC backs on a consistent basis. The Robins’ ability to tough out games this season is a massive bonus that it going to hod them in good stead towards the back end of the season. As for Hull FC, they seem far too tentative at the minute, and it was really noticeable how the home fans were outsung by the away fans. It’s as if everybody is far too nervous and tense in the west part of Hull, and you suspect that when they learn to relax again they’ll start playing with a little more form. 

The final televised game was the West Yorkshire derby, which wasn’t as entertaining but nonetheless did manage to manufacture some drama towards the end. This was a fairly dour, attritional game for the most part which I suspect was a result of the conditions, because I doubt that was Leeds’ gameplan. In the end it took a moment of inspiration from Ricky Sheriffe, to not only make a searing break from his own half but also to finish the move off in the corner a few tackles later, to win the game for the Bulls – a result few were expecting. This was a fantastic rebound from the Bulls after their disastrous Cup game in France, and completely went against the form book both for this season and for their recent encounters against the Rhinos. The will surely be hoping that this kick-starts their season after a poor campaign so far. As for the Rhinos, this has been a poor last month or so for them, and they need to get out of this slump fast. They appear to have lost their cutting edge completely and re-finding it will be imperative if they want that third consecutive title. 

Of course, it was good for the viewer that all three games were so close, and so were most of the other games at the weekend. Salford won their second straight game by two points against Warrington, and Catalan Dragons enjoyed a trip to London to roll out 28-24 winners against Harlequins. With only Wakefield and Huddersfield striking it particularly big (against Castleford and Celtic Crusaders respectively) it proved to be a very entertaining round of rugby. Will the players be able to back that up on Monday? We’ll see…

Crystal Ball: Easter Special Part 1

April 9, 2009

WebTypical, I get a load of work dumped on me just a lot of interesting stuff goes on in the RL world. Le sigh… anyway, it’s Easter Weekend, which means an absolute shedload of Super League action to get your teeth into. Here’s how I see the Good Friday round of games going…

St Helens beat Wigan Warriors by 14

I’ve been burnt by good feelings about Wigan before, so I’m going with the safe option. Martin Gleeson will probably make his debut against a former club, but it could be a painful one as Wigan’s record against Saints in Easter clashes has not been good of late. I don’t think they’ll sink to the lows of the last few years, but Saints do appear to have a head of steam right now.

Harlequins beat Catalan Dragons by 16

Definitely going against the form book here, but I think that Catalan’s comeback win over Bradford will have been draining and they’re due a crash, whilst Quins lost heavily to a Giants side that appear to be their bogey team. Add to that they they’ve rebounded from defeat pretty well this season and I can see Quins toughing out the win here.

Huddersfield Giants beat Celtic Crusaders by 22

I’m liking Huddersfield a lot this season. They appear to have got over that inconsistent streak they started the season with, and not appear to be hitting a rich vein of form. That should be enough to deal with an admittedly improving Crusaders side. 

Hull FC beat Hull KR by 4

This choice is mainly due to home advantage, and also because I think FC need a win to stop the rot. They’re also due a good win against KR. 

Warrington Wolves beat Salford City Reds by 26

How will the Wolves do in the post-Gleeson era? I imagine they’ll start off with a win against a struggling Salford side. Tony Smith appears to have finally dealt with some of the things at the Wolves, and I think they’ll prove to be too much for the Reds.

Leeds Rhinos beat Bradford Bulls by 14

Both of these sides had tough defeats in the Cup, but I think that Bradford’s will prove more damaging. Leeds seem to have the Bulls’ number at the minute, and I suspect they can force a victory without being truly dominant here.

Castleford Tigers beat Wakefield Trinity Wildcats by 8

Two much improved sides here, meaning that I’ve got to go with home advantage. I expect Wakefield to be really up for the local derby and to try and get their season back on track, but I’m liking Castleford’s attacking prowess at the minute and think they’ll scrape by in a bruising encounter.