Archive for June, 2009

Crystal Ball: Week 19

June 26, 2009

Crystal BallEPIC FAILZ last week. Better this week?

Leeds Rhinos beat Bradford Bulls by 32

Unfortunately for the Bulls, I think Leeds have begun their rise in standards in lieu of the approaching playoffs.

Huddersfield Giants beat Salford City Reds by 14

Huddersfield have proved to be pretty good at bouncing back from defeat, and seem to do better away from home. That will probably be enough against Salford.

St Helens beat Celtic Crusaders by 38

To be fair to the Crusaders, this is more to do with how good Saints are at the minute.

Castleford Tigers beat Catalan Dragons by 14

The Dragons definitely feel like this season’s biggest underachievers, whilst the Tigers are contenders for biggest overachievers.

Hull KR beat Wigan Warriors by 6

No idea why, except I’m losing my faith in Wigan.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Harlequins by 8

Because one team got battered last week, whilst the other had a week off.

Warrington Wolves beat Hull FC by 22

It’s incredible how both these teams seem to be heading in the exact opposite direction that they both started in.

Crystal Ball: Week 18

June 19, 2009

Crystal BallSalford City Reds beat Hull FC by 2

I just don’t trust Hull any more and they’re on a major skid. Salford haven’t been great recently but they’ve already beaten the Airlie Birds this season.

Huddersfield Giants beat Castleford Tigers by 14

Two teams coming off losses, but the Giants lost narrowly to the reigning champs whilst the TIgers were mauled by Saints. Cas are also on a skid, so I doubt it’ll be as close as their cup game.

Hull KR beat Celtic Crusaders by 14

Celtic haven’t shown an ability to win consecutive games so far this season, so this might be the exact sort of game that The Robins need to get their act together again.

Harlequins beat Leeds Rhinos by 8

More hope than anything else…

Catalan Dragons beat Warrington Wolves by 4

I think the occasion of the Dragons’ first game in Spain might just give them the lift needed to overcome the Wolves.

St Helens beat Bradford Bulls by 20

One word: REVENGE

Lee Smith to leave Rhinos

June 19, 2009

It’s been rumoured for a while, and it was announced today that Lee Smith (reigning Harry Sunderland Trophy holder) will be leaving the Rhinos at the end of the season. Smith says he wants to ‘move on to a new challenge’. Am I being cynical when I think that said ‘challenge’ involves some of this stuff?

Wherever he goes, I hope he manages to settle into a fixed position. Of course, the rumours are that he’ll be crossing codes, in which case it will be interesting to see how long he lasts.

France 12 – 66 England

June 14, 2009

I can’t remember the last time I felt this bad about an English side thrashing another team. England cantered to a very large victory in Paris yesterday against a very lacklustre French outfit that for the first half at least looked like they couldn’t be bothered. Although England will no doubt give all that talk about ‘beating what’s put in front of you’ and will no doubt be pleased with the result, it was a match that gave us no real indication as to how good this England side really is, because the home side were so bad. 

From the moment Ryan Atkins went over for England’s first try in the seventh minute, this game was over. England continued scoring at slightly over a point a minute for the rest of the first half, and even though they did it with some nice long range efforts, it should be pointed out that France seemed to offer minimal resistance. Their defensive structures were absolutely appalling and left far too much space on the fringes for English players to run into untouched. On the odd occasion that they actually managed to get to a player like Gareth Hock, they were still usually powerless to stop the offload. France were missing some of their front-line forward pack (Fakir, Elima etc.) but the guys who replaced them offered no fight down the middle. France were barely able to get out of their own half. It was not a good start for Bobby Goulding. I know he wants to avoid using French-based Australians, but if Clint Greenshields makes himself available for the 4 Nations, is Goulding really in a position to turn him down?

As for England, I’m not sure how much we learned apart from the fact that they can thrash a poor French side. Nobody looked out of place and I was glad to see Ryan Hall go well on debut because the wing is a position where England really need players to step up a level or two. It has to be said that the pack completely dominated the French and seemed to make twice as much ground per set as their cross-channel counterparts. Of course, whether they could do such a thing against the Kiwis or Kangaroos remains to be seen, and I would be skeptical about that happening. 

I was hoping this would be a closer game, because it would be extremely beneficial for both sides if England and France could partake in a close game each year. England really need a boost in intensity, and I don’t think France at the moment provide it. Now I don’t think we should stop playing these games, but France really need to look at what they can do to raise their standards. The most worrying thing about this result is that it casts a shadow of doubt over the 4 Nations. If England can do that to France without ever really getting out of second gear, then what are the Kangaroos at full pelt going to do? Hopefully France raise their game so we don’t have to find out an answer to that…

Crystal Ball: Week 17

June 12, 2009

Crystal BallSome moderate success with the short option last week, but still room for improvement. Perhaps I can have blockbuster week this week.

St Helens beat Castleford Tigers by 22

I like Cas, but they’ve lost two of their best players for this match to international duty, which will hurt them a lot more than Saints’ loss of James Roby and James Graham. The fact that Saints won by 46 points last time was also factored into the decision. 

Hull KR beat Harlequins by 10

Mainly because I have a worrying amount of confidence in Quins right now, which means they’re due a defeat. Having said that, Hull KR do seem more vulnerable…

Wigan Warriors beat Celtic Crusaders by 26

Wigan got back to winning ways last week. Celtic, err… didn’t. Their scoring ability appears to have dried up recently, and considering the Warriors can be a rather stingy defence, that’s not a good thing going into this game. 

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Hull FC by 8

Mainly because of home advantage. Both teams are in a slump right now, so this could be crucial for each team’s playoff ambitions. 

Leeds Rhinos beat Huddersfield Giants by 18 

Because, rather bizarrely, the Rhinos are less affected this weekend by the England game. 

Warrington Wolves beat Bradford Bulls by 16

I imagine this game will be closer than the game at Odsal, but I still think that Warrington are on too hot a streak for the Bulls.

BONUS UNOFFICIAL PREDICTION

England beat France by 30

I think this is a good England side to put into a match like this – it’s full of youngsters who will be looking to prove that they are up to the task in the rep arena. I think they’ll be helped by going up against a French side full of players who haven’t really been performing that spectacularly this year. I sort of hope I’m wrong, though…

Crystal Ball: Week 16

June 5, 2009

Crystal BallWell, I got the one game I predicted horribly wrong last week, so let’s hope we go a little better this weekend. Also this week: one-sentence justifications!

St Helens beat Hull FC by 26

Because I’m rapidly losing confidence in Hull FC…

Wigan Warriors beat Salford City Reds by 16

It’ll be closer than the cup game, but not enough for Salford.

Hull KR beat Huddersfield Giants by 1

I just think KR will have a point to prove after Saturday, and the Giants seem less trustworthy at home. 

Leeds Rhinos beat Catalan Dragons by 10

Leeds are back on track, and Catalan are not.

Harlequins beat Celtic Crusaders by 22

Because the Crusaders spurned my trust last week.

Warrington Wolves beat Castleford Tigers by 8

I’m worried by how much faith I have in the Wolves right now.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Bradford Bulls by 2

Honestly, I have no idea why.

Welcome Back, Brian

June 2, 2009

 

Guess whos back... (Getty Images)

Guess who's back... (Getty Images)

Yet again, news I can’t say I was expecting: Brian Carney has signed for Warrington. Carney had been playing Rugby Union for Munster since 2007, although he had been making regular appearances on Sky’s Super League coverage. Carney will join once his commitments to Munster are over this month. 

There are more than a few question marks about Carney’s return to League. For one thing, he left under curious circumstances in 2007, what with that whole retiring-then-playing-union thing. Added to that is the fact that he wasn’t exactly setting the RU world alight, and that he’s 32, and you have to wonder if he’s going to be up to the task. My guess is that the work for Sky got him hungry for the game again. 

There’s also the curiosity as to where the Wolves are coming with this move. For one thing, they’ve released Kevin Penny, and the wingers they have left have been playing pretty well (and Chris Hicks is still to come back). I can only assume that they believe Carney’s still got the magic and that they could do with his experience. I hope they’re right, because when he’s at full pelt there are few more fun players to watch. This should be interesting…

Sean Long to Hull FC

June 1, 2009

 

An artist's impression of what Sean Long playing for Hull FC may look like

An artist's impression of what Sean Long playing for Hull FC may look like

Well, I can’t say I saw this one coming. It has been officially announced that Hull FC have signed Sean Long for next season on a two year deal. Long had been vocal about his disappointment that St Helens had not been offering him a two-year contract. 

I think the fact that this has been sorted out so early offers an indication into Long’s mindset. He’s approaching the end of his career and is beyond the point where he wants to faff around. He clearly thinks he’s got something to offer for the next two years, so why wouldn’t he take up the longer deal? At least he’s got it all sorted out now, as we’re fast approaching the business end of the season and I doubt contract talks were something Long wanted distracting him at crunch time. 

This also clearly offers some insight into the thinking at Hull FC as well. This experiment with Chris Thorman hasn’t really panned out after a good start, and they will obviously be looking for the experience that Long offers to have a stabilizing effect at the club. However, with this signing added to that of Craig Fitzgibbon, there’s a lot of veteran players coming into the KC Stadium next year, and you have to wonder how wise a move that is considering their notorious injury problems over the last few years. If Long or Fitzgibbon fail, they’ve set themselves up to take a lot of flak. 

Of course, it will be interesting to see what Saints will do now. Long has been the lynchpin of their attacking game for over a decade now, but Saints have clearly been about his successor for a while, with both Matty Smith and Kyle Eastmond logging up game time in the past few seasons. Smith appears to have fallen out of favour and I’m not convinced that they think Eastmond is where they want him to be (although the dilemma of course is that they haven’t been able to start with Long there). We shall see if Saints are happy with what they’ve got, or if they feel the need to bring someone else in.

Hull KR 24 – 25 Warrington

June 1, 2009

For perhaps the first time this season, a post I had written praising a team turned out not to be a curse. It is testament to the resolve of this Warrington side that they managed to overcome both a 10 point deficit and the curse of my praise to come out as victors in a pulsating Challenge Cup clash against Hull KR that was compulsive viewing from start to finish. 

This was a Cup game that had it all: a boisterous crowd,two teams giving it their all, excellent tries and attacking play, rampaging forward play, controversy at the death and a sudden-death finish. Both teams took it in turns to show their stuff and they did not disappoint. When Hull KR pulled ten points clear, I thought that would be too much for Warrington to deal with, but they came back strongly and had they not conceded a late penalty they could’ve won in normal time. 

Warrington essentially won this game because of a greater sense of composure. They worked some nice plays around the ruck and a few out wide, and their forward pack got better and better as the game went on. Special props (excuse the pun) for Adrian Morley, who is playing as well as I’ve seen him for a long time at the minute. He and Gareth Carvell put Lee Briers’ drop-goal opportunities on a plate for him with their surging runs (it was noticeable just how many more chances to win Warrington had in extra time; Briers missed two before he scored, whilst Paul Cooke only had the one effort charged down). 

Warrington seem to start slowly at the minute, but once they get going they’re hard to stop. Morley and Carvell were immense all day (every time Morley got flattened by Makali Aizue, he got straight back up got back down to business). Briers is also back in form and crucially doesn’t appear to be trying to do everything himself. I also feel that Matt King is deserving of a special mention; he’s had his critics over the past eighteen months (and with good reason) but he had an excellent workrate, was threatening off of kicks all game, set up Jon Clarke’s try with a great pass (which was not forward – that was the momentum rule in effect) and scored a potentially messy finish with aplomb. At long last, he might just be finding his feet.

Bt also credit to Hull KR, who were great for most of the game except for their faltering towards the end. They scored some beauties (especially Jake Webster’s rounding off of a fab team effort). Even in defeat they looked good, and are now clearly established as a top side. I’m thinking that Shaun Briscoe might just be finding himself in an England shirt at some point this season. In the end, what really cost KR this game was a lack of composure at the death. However, this is the sort of defeat which will provide a valuable learning expereince ahead of the playoffs.

Alas, for the Robins the Wembley dream is dead. For Wire, it’s more alive than ever. This could be fun…