So Saints and Wire putting on a very compelling televised match, as did Salford and the Crusaders a day later. Hull FC have already shown that they’re going to be more of a force this year. We’ve already had the first draw of the season, and Quins and Castleford put on a very tight game at The Jungle. The only blowout of the weekend was a surprise to many as the Giants put the Dragons to the sword. You know what? I think we might be in for an interesting season. But what it really needs is a breakout team to challenge the Championship monopoly that St Helens and the Rhinos have developed which undermines the parity of the League.
On the face of it, Super League seems to be more competitive than ever. Well, that’s sort of true in that I think that based on the opening rounds every team has a realistic chance of making the playoffs. However, I feel there has been a drop-off in the last few years of the number of teams who can genuinely win the trophy. I’m obviously not the only one who feels this way either, as Skybet’s odds have Saints and Leeds as joint favourites for the Grand Final, with Bradford and Warrington significantly behind them in second place. Friday’s match showed the problem very well, with Saints just being far more composed under pressure than Warrington which allowed them to overturn a 14 point deficit with alarming ease. Whilst many teams seem to be worthy of a playoff place already at this stage of the season, how many of them can make an extended run through September and October or even make it all the way to the Theatre of Dreams?
In the history of Super League, thirteen different sides have made it to the playoffs. This includes Halifax who made the inaugural postseason jamboree back in 1998 and now ply their trade in the Championship. Every side currently in Super League has made the playoffs before at least once with the exception of Celtic Crusaders, who to be fair have only had two game sever in the top flight and thus haven’t had a chance. This suggests that there is an element of parity to the competition. However many sides have a better-than-average season to reach the playoffs before crashing out early on, and a look at the contestants of the Grand Final shows that only five sides have ever made it Old Trafford since 1998 (Bradford, St Helens, Leeds, Wigan and Hull FC) and one of those only ever made it the one time. On top of that, only one more side has made it to the final three, with Castleford’s run to the Final Eliminator in 1999 seeming to be an aberration (as admittedly does Hull FC’s run to the Grand Final). As a comparison, 13 different sides have made the NRL semi-finals (admittedly with one extra spot available each year) and 12 of those have made the Grand Final.
So Super League is definitely competitive, and there are hard games every week, but it still doesn’t have the intensity which comes around when a large group of teams are genuine title contenders and are actually trying to win instead of just try to keep up with the pace. Indeed the contender pool appears to have shrunk in the last few years, with Wigan and Bradford seeming to have fallen into the ever-growing pack of would-be challengers (although Catalan Dragons made a good go of it last year). We’ve seen signs that there are a good few teams who look like they could surprise packages; it would be really good for the game if one of those made the step up to become a consistent challenger because Leeds and Saints are having it far too easy at the minute.
It was going so well on Friday, with me predicting all three winners and even correctly guessing the margin of the Leeds-Wakey game (I really wasn’t far off the FC-Wigan game either). Then the weekend started, and it all fell apart…
I only picked Celtic over Salford because of a gut feeling, which in retrospect might just have been something I ate. I also should’ve had more faith in Quins as well, especially since I often think they don’t get enough credit as a side. The other two picks I probably would’ve made anyway (well, not now I know the results) as they were both mild shocks. Still, if it wasn’t for stupid Michael Dobson I would at least be over 50%.
Results: 4/9 (44.4%)
Margins: 1/9 (11.1%)