Archive for August, 2009

Challenge Cup Final 2009: A Photo Essay

August 30, 2009

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In the end, it wasn’t as close or as tight as I thought it would be. It certainly wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Everything about the day was enjoyable, except for the second half when it became abundantly clear that the Huddersfield Giants simply didn’t have what it took to beat a Warrington Wolves side that was a defensive juggernaut on the day. The speed and swarm that Wire possessed in defense turned practically every pass the Giants made into a hospital pass. On top of that, Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan played a vital role in producing one of the Wolves’ most composed performances of the year, and with about twenty minutes to go it became quite clear that the Wolves were entering shutdown mode, a move they played almost to perfection. 

It was a frantic start to the game as Brett Hodgson’s kick was charged down by Louis Anderson, which led to Richie Mathers opening the scoring. From the stands it seemed like Louis had knocked on in the process of picking up the ball, but looking at the TV replay it seems it was either his toe or a funny bounce that made it look that way. The Giants hit back when Shaun Lunt finished off a rather nice team move, but only after he had been denied by the video ref in one of a few calls that the people I was sitting with in the stadium thought were dubious (and the replay ddin’t make think it was any better of a call either). 

Warrington replying with two quick tries to Michael Monaghan and Chris Hicks, followed by the second disallowed try that the Giants thought they had scored (David Hodson’s finish wiped off due to obstruction) seemed to kill off the game for me. From that point onwards Huddersfield fell apart. The second half in particular saw them drop an outrageous amount of ball in key positions early in the tackle count. It’s debatable how much this even mattered though because whenever the Giants did hold onto the ball, all they did was run sideways and pass to a stationary man. This made it easier for a Warrington side who had brought their A-game defensively anyway, and meant that the second half turned into a rather dour battle. Warrington had shown touches of invention and class in the first half but (understandably) resorted to a more conservative gameplan in the second half. Although Vinnie Anderson and David Hodgson both got on the scoresheet, the second half was clearly never going to turn into a shootout, and as it became clear that the Giants didn’t have what it took it undermined the drama somewhat.

Were Huddersfield affected by the debatable video ref calls? Maybe. If they were, then it’s their own fault they lost because they should have just got on with it. I was really disappointed by the Giants because they’ve been a top team all year, and for them to flop so hard on the biggest stage yet was disappointing. Even so, they’re still top contenders to reach Old Trafford at this stage, so hopefully for them they’ll learn from this experience. 

Conversely, Warrington were a revelation. I knew they could muscle up as well as anyone, and I knew they were capable of fantastic attacking play, but I never expected them to be so… solid. Apart from Lunt’s two scoring attempts, they never really looked fazed at all, and they followed up conceding with two quick-fire tries. Their defence was brutal and completely choked Hudderfield out of the game. Even if Warrington don’t make the playoffs (and at this stage it looks unlikely) they’ve still won a trophy, and definitely have the foundations to be a challenger next year.

Like for Friday’s game, I took some photos with my camera phone. In fact, I took a lot of photos. See them after the break, and admire the story that they create.

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Challenge Cup Final Preview

August 29, 2009

Did you this is the first final of the Super League era that doesn’t feature one of the Big Four sides? Did you know that this is the first Challenge Cup final sinct 1986 that doesn’t feature either Wigan, St Helens, Leeds or Bradford. We get a game between the Warrington Wolves and the Huddersfield Giants, two sides who have been producing minor classics on their run to Wembley. This has the makings of a very interesting game, with intriguing matchups all over the pitch.

Forwards: Probably the most intriguing matchup of all is a very tasty clash in the middle of the park between two heavyweight packs. Warrington bring the boom big-style with a cannonball front row of Gareth Carvell and Adrian Morley (who has been heroic on the run to Wembley) backed up by a solid back row of Westwood, Louis Anderson and Ben Harrison who has come into his own this season. The Giants have a less big-name pack but their props are all solid units (I’m really hoping for a Morley – Eorl Crabtree encounter) and if anything their back row is even more dynamic (Stephen Wild needs more recognition). 

Backs: The Giants’ backs are underrated, and Bret Hodgson is clearly the best full back in Super League. Their young players like Leroy Cudjoe have really made an impact this year, and they have canny experience in Paul Whatuira anchoring the backline. The Warrington backline is somewhat of an enigma, running either really hot or really cold (often in the same game). They have clicked fairly often in this competition, though. 

Brains: At last, Lee Briers gets to play at Wembley. Will he excel on the big stage? The key for Warrington will be making sure he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Vinnie Anderson has been named at stand-off but I suspect he’ll alternate with Chris Bridge. Michael Monaghan appears to have found his groove at hooker and I imagine Mickey Higham will have his say off the bench. The Giants have been controlled adeptly by Luke Robinson  and Kevin Brown all year, and Hodson has added a completely new dimension to their attack from the back. 

Form: Both sides have lost their last two games. However, the Giants’ last defeat was essentially a second team narrowly losing at Saints, which is a sort of moral victory. Warrington have seemed deflated in the last two weeks, but it’s possible that they’ve been saving themselves. 

So, who’s going to win? I feel everything favours Huddersfield and I think they should win. But of course no one really knows what’s going to happen on the day and I have this nagging feeling about Wire. I do think that this should be a cracking game and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

London Skolars 10 – 28 Keighley Cougars: A Mini Photo Essay

August 29, 2009

So the Skolars had their now-traditional pre-Challenge Cup friday night game last night, and I fulfilled my tradition of attending each year. It was a very entertaining evening, with a lively crowd, some exciting play on the field, and some absolutely bizarre weather.

The game was won by Keighley, and fairly comfortably in the end, but only after a very competitive first half in which the Skolars scored a nice little try through Olu Iwenofu against the run of play and proceeded to do a good job of holding out the Cougars for a while. However, when Daley Williams went over for Keighley’s first try, that opened up the floodgates somewhat and the Skolars went on to concede another three tries in the first half, at least two of which were pretty soft. The second half deteriorated in quality somewhat as the weather began to take its toll on the players (and the spectators). Although Iwenofu again was able to finish off a pretty nifty team move, there was never really any threat of a comeback. 

Anyway, I took some dodgy quality pictures with my camera phone, to forever record this momentous day in posterity.

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I can’t tell if the blurryness of this photo is due to the quality of the camera or to the horizontal rain that began once I began snapping pics. With the pitch up top and the church behind the stadium, New River can be a pretty dramatic backdrop to a Rugby League game. It does really need proper floodlights for games like this though. 

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A picture of the crowd. It presents a slightly misleading image of the crowded intimacy of the game because everyone ran (literally) to the back of the stand once the rain started, leaving the front of the stand empty.

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See? Told you.

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Say what you want about Super Skolar, but whoever was in that suit was probably padded with enough foam to actually keep them dry, unlike the rest of the stewards (Skolars local legends the Hann clan). Once again, I’d like to point out the need for proper floodlights for this game.

Crystal Ball: Week 27

August 21, 2009

Crystal BallChrist, the regular season is nearly over! How did that happen?

Hull FC beat Harlequins by 14

Because I thought Harlequins had a serious chance at being dark horses for the Grand Final just after their win at Hull KR, the League Gods have cursed them and screwed them over. They really need a win to scrape into the playoff positions, but it’s hard to pick them after such a prolonged period of shite. Expect this game to consist of two sides trying to out-mediocre each other. 

Hull KR beat Salford City Reds by 4

I think Salford must really regret their awful start to the season, because their performances now are for pride instead of a playoff place which had they not given up such a big head-start might have been a real possibility. I think KR will be too much for them but I expect the Reds to go down with a fight. 

St Helens beat Huddersfield Giants by 10

Because a) revenge and b) the Giants have their eyes on a nearer prize…

Warrington Wolves beat Wakefield Trinity Wildcats by 12

Mainly ‘cos of home advantage. It wouldn’t surprise me though if Wire also had their minds on other matters

Leeds Rhinos beat Celtic Crusaders by 44

I think Leeds might just have their mojo back. Also, there’s been a lot of unneeded distractions around Celtic this week…

Bradford Bulls beat Catalan Dragons by 14

Somehow it had escaped my attention that the Dragons had sneaked into the playoff spots. I think Bradford have been playing well lately and should do some damage to this late french surge. 

Wigan Warriors beat Castleford Tigers by 4

Wigan are definitely coming to the boil at about the right time and I would not like to have to come up against them in the playoffs. Cas have been variable of late and really could do with a win to consolidate a playoff berth, especially as their points difference took an absolute crushing last week. I imagine this means that Cas come out with a point to prove this week, but I don’t think it’ll be enough.

Crystal Ball: Week 26

August 14, 2009

Crystal BallLeeds Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers by 14

Although Cas usually put up a fight against the Rhinos, but I’ve got to got with home advantage here.

Wigan Warriors beat Warrington Wolves by 8

Wigan’s home crowd has proved to be a boost in the last few weeks, so I expect some revenge for last weekend.

Catalan Dragons beat Hull FC by 20

Because the Dragons still have a minor chance to reach the playoffs, whilst Hull are pants. 

Harlequins beat Salford City Reds by 6

Not sure why. 

Huddersfield Giants beat Bradford Bulls by 14

Because crushing Quins away doesn’t seem to mean all that much right now.

St Helens beat Hull KR by 4

This could easily be wrong, but I think Saints will react the right way to the end of their cup run.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats beat Celtic Crusaders by 18

Sure.

Up For The Cup

August 8, 2009

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Is it just me, or does the Challenge Cup semis feel more important this year? It certainly helps that we have two very compelling matchups this year and that there have been many good games this year (including a fantastic double header in the last round). It also helps that all of the four clubs left in the competition are bringing their own intiguing storyline to the competition.

Part of the interest is because the Cup has gone a long way to saving two seasons. For both Warrington and Wigan, the Cup has gone a long way to restoring their years, after both clubs began the year with appalling runs in Super League. Both sides have now turned it around and are pushing for playoff places. Both clubs also had fantastic performances in the Cup earlier this season (Wigan at Wakefield in the Fifth Round, Warrington at Hull KR in the Quarter Finals) that went a long way to showing that these sides have the character for a scrap. It’s interesting that they are playing each other, because these two sides who started off so below expectations now have the chance to make their season against each other.

For the Giants, the winning the Cup would go some way to legitimising their contendership. It’s well known that they have made massive strides this year, and they are currently in third place and keeping the pressure on Leeds in 2nd. Even so, very few people have been talking about them actually making a run in the playoffs and winning Super League. A Challenge Cup victory would show their aptitude for knock-out football and their mettle for big games with trophies at stake, and make them an even more interesting proposition in the playoffs.

For Saints, it’s about keeping up a tradition of victory. Since the start of the Super League era Saints have become the pre-eminent club, and a large part of that is down to their dominance of the Challenge Cup. In particular they have won the last three Finals, and are establishing a new equivalent to the great Wigan run in the late 80s / early 90s. However they have seemed more vulnerable of late, and it is clear that some of their more established names are approaching the end. Saints are the big favourites for this, and they need this win to show that they deserve this attention, and for their big names to show they’ve still got it.

Whoever wins today and tomorrow, I’m just glad that there’s so much attention back on this competition. I just hope the games live up to expectation and set up a fantastic Wembley final. Because this is the only live domestic Rugby League on the BBC, the Challenge Cup serves as a showcase for the sport. When the games are of such high quality and drama, it looks good for the game. So let’s hope the four teams and the three games left do the sport proud.

World Cup 2013 in England

August 8, 2009

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So, we’re getting a World Cup in England! Yay! Admittedly it didn’t work out so well last time, but it worked the time before that and the last World Cup was a success in its own right. Most importantly, this is being planned four years out, which allows for ample preparation time (a rarity in Rugby League). 

It’ll be interesting to see what format they use. It’s been pretty much said there will be twelve teams, which seems about right to me (especially as three groups of four would bypass the need to have byes, which proved crucial in determining the final group tables at the last world cup). I would like there to be three groups of four, with two big sides in a group that gets two semi-final spots (then it could open with an England-Australia game somewhere). I’m not sure there’s such a great need for a Super Group this time, but I worry that’s the direction the organizers are heading in. Although the format generated exciting games, it also attracted a lot of ire and basically forced Papua New Guinea out of a semi-final spot. 

It will also be interesting to see what venues are used. I think that the plan to mainly use stadiums in the heartlands is a sensible one, especially after the 2000 World Cup. However, I also think it’s worth pointing out that Super League rugby is played in London, Bridgend / Newport and Perpignan, and it’s worth playing games there. I think playing the opening game in a largish venue in London (particularly if it’s England-Australia) should be seriously considered, as should a game at The Stoop. If Wales and France qualify, then they should probably get a home game each (at least). 

The venue for the final could be intriguing as well. It would be nice to think we could get a big crowd at Wembley, but I think that would require England to be there and I doubt the RFL have that much confidence. I would be more than happy with a final at the City of Manchester Stadium, where I once saw an excellent crowd generate a lot of atmosphere for a GB-Australia test in 2004. It’s a large modern stadium and I think it should be where the Tri-Nations final should be every time it’s in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Anyway, I’m just glad that there’s a tournament on and that we now have something to look forward to. Hopefully the success of the last world cup can be built on to make the tournament an outstanding success. I look forward to getting my tickets already!

Crystal Ball: Week 25

August 8, 2009

Crystal BallAn abbreviated version this week, and I know this is after the first game but I stand by my picks. I would’ve picked Catalsns. Honest!

Catalan Dragons beat Salford City Reds by 10 

Well, we know what happened here.

Harlequins beat Bradford Bulls by

I’ve no confidence in this pick and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s wrong, but I just feel that Bradford are a club entirely lacking in positivity right now.

WTF!?! Moment of the Year: Karmichael Hunt to AFL

August 8, 2009

Okay, I’d heard all these rumours about Karmichael Hunt not being happy and talking about switching codes, but I didn’t expect him to switch to this code. In 2011 Hunt will be playing in the AFL for a new Gold Coast club, in a move which is unprecedented as far as I know.

So why would he do such a thing? Well, I have my theories…

Why, look at a quote from this Livenews article about Hunt’s contract negotiations earlier this year 

I’m in a wonderful position where I have the ability to play at the elite level in other sports which are played internationally.

Of course, this was when Hunt was fishing around for a Rugby Union contract. I suspect the ARU have finally realised that forking out loads of money on prospects who haven’t even been playing their sport recently is a tad too risky a proposition. So Hunt has now turned his attention to the Aussie Rules, a sport with a minimalist approach to rep football, to say the least (thus rendering his comments a load of BS). 

Nonetheless, I can understand why Hunt would leave League for footballing reasons. For one thing, he’s clearly down the rep ladder behind Billy Slater for State of Origin and probably Kurt Gidley and Brett Stewart for Australia as well. As a result he’s trapped in a limbo of sorts, being good but not quite good enough to be considered one of the greats. He’s won a Priemiership and rep honours, so there’s not actually much left for him to achieve in the game, and he still hasn’t entered his physical prime yet. 

Personally, I see this as a massive PR stunt on the part of the AFL and their new Gold Coast club. If the AFL are part subsidising a contract that would make Hunt one of the highest earners in a league in which he hasn’t ever played, then it’s pretty clear that they want to use his star power to draw in crowds in what the Titans have been consolidating as League territory. As the ARU could probably tell them, that’s not necessarily a foolproof plan. Also, if Hunt is actually successful they’ve set themselves up to receive a hell of a gloating from League fans.