It’s Back – I Think

I was pretty despondent going into the new season about my love of the game as I posted in one of my first blogs.  I just couldn’t see what purpose the regular season served and expected most of it to be a bore-a-thon.  Maybe, I’ve been lucky in the fixtures I’ve seen so far, but I’ve been impressed and entertained by most of them and my love of the game is coming back.

Other than the recent London game and the opening night win over Salford, I’ve been entertained by what I’ve seen at Wigan games this season.  The second round clash with Warrington had me on the edge of my seat as did the late win over Castleford.  Well, the edge of my particular part of the terrace anyway.  The defeat to Huddersfield went to the wire, and the hammering of Catalans was a much better game than the score line suggested.

Add to those Wigan games, the World Club Challenge between Leeds and Melbourne, Warrington v Catalans and the 5 NRL games that I’ve seen so far and my enjoyment of the season so far is high.  If things continue like this I’ll be bleeding the sport again in no time.

Land Of Hope More Than Glory

The announcement of the England Elite Training Squad this week offered us no real shocks with the majority of inclusions being expected.  Surely when the players meet for these sessions the players we should be looking at are those who we’re not quite sure about as opposed to the likes of Tomkins, Sinfield, Roby and O’Loughlin?

When we take on the Exiles side in the summer, whilst I can understand the need for players to play alongside each other and work on attacking and defensive structures I’d much rather see the players on the fringes of the squad given their chance to impress and stake their claim for a test jersey come October. (I don’t believe the Exiles game should count as a full cap)

Personally I’d love to see a side like:

Hardaker
Charnley
Goulding
Watkins
Briscoe
Ratchford
Brough
Mossop
Lunt
Crabtree
Farrell
Clough
Clarkson

Even that 13 leaves out players like Jones-Bishop, Hill and Myler who aren’t guaranteed their places in the side.

I just don’t see why we need to announce that Kevin Sinfield, Sam Tomkins, Sean O’Loughlin and James Roby are in the squad because we all know they will be.  Equally, we’ve named a squad that is minus the shoe-in selections of Jack Reed, James Graham and Sam Burgess.  Having watched the latter in action this morning alongside his younger brother George there’s every possibility that the prop forwards will all come from the NRL.  The two Burgess brothers were superb this morning and long may that continue.

We have some excellent youngsters coming through at the moment and I’d rather they were given the chance to test themselves against the Exiles as opposed to playing against an Ireland or Scotland elect side from which we learn nothing.  What exactly did we learn from the Tri Nations last year other than that we’re considerably better than Wales and France?  Blood the youngsters in June and let’s see exactly what they have to offer because we all know at least 7 selections for the England side so why not set up a fight for the remaining places and get away from the usual “jobs for the boys” type selections.

Set Of Six – Brothers In Arms

This edition of Set Of Six is looking at six sets of brothers who played together at the same club at the same time.

David & Paul March – Wakefield Trinity Wildcats

Born in Thornhill, the March twins represented Wakefield from 1998 to 2007 and played together from 1999 until 2001 as well is in 2007 after Paul returned from a spell at Huddersfield.  Making over 250 appearances for the club (David 197, Paul 78) and amassing over 500 points they were key components of the Wildcats side in the early stages of Super League.  The pair were reunited in 2010 when they both represented Hunslet Hawks.

Henry & Robbie Paul – Bradford Bulls

Robbie Paul was already a household name at Odsal having captained the Bulls to the Super League title in 1997 losing just two games after they’d already been crowned Champions.  The Tokoroa born scrum half/full back was the first player to score a hat-trick in a Wembley Challenge Cup final in 1996 but still ended up on the losing side.
In 1999, Robbie was joined at the Bulls by older brother Henry who signed from Wigan. In his brief stint at the club he broke the club record for points in a season and kicked a World record 35 consecutive goals.   The pair won the 2000 Challenge Cup and were runners-up in 2001, as well as playing in both the 1999 and 2001 Grand Finals losing to St Helens in 1999 before beating Wigan in Henry’s 100th and final game for the club.  Robbie went on to represent the club over 200 times and scored over 200 tries.

David & Paul Hulme – Widnes

From 1980 to 1996, the Hulme name was synonymous with the Widnes club as David represented the Chemics from 1980 and younger brother Paul from 1982.  The pair played their part in the finest moment in the clubs history when they beat the Canberra Raiders at Old Trafford to win the World Club Challenge.  David scoring a try and winning the man of the match.  The pair also played in the clubs Premiership success over St Helens in 1988 with David again winning the man of the match award.
In 1993, Paul skippered the club to the Challenge Cup final where they were beaten by Wigan.

Martin & Mark Gleeson – Warrington Wolves

The less famous of the brothers in arms in the primrose and blue saw Mark Gleeson joined at Warrington by his older brother after the Great Britain centre was signed from St Helens.  Martin scored 44 tries for the club in his 110 appearances until 2009 before signing for Wigan.  Mark made 141 appearances scoring 12 tries before he moved to Halifax.

Nathan & Jason Cayless – Parramatta Eels

Over in the NRL, New Zealand Internationals Nathan and Jason Cayless packed down together at Parramatta from 2000 – 2002.  Jason played 24 times for the Eels before moving to the Sydney Roosters.  Older brother Nathan however made 259 appearances for his only club scoring 28 tries and captaining the blue and yellows for an NRL record 217 times.  He also captained the New Zealand national side to World Cup glory in 2008.

Joel & Sam Tomkins – Wigan Warriors

Before his big money move to Rugby Union, Joel Tomkins was a regular in the Wigan side from 2005 and appeared over 100 times in the Wigan colours.  Younger brother Sam joined him in the first team in 2009 and also became a regular feature.  The pair famously linked up for a try in the 2011 Challenge Cup Final which was scored by Joel and has been likened to the try scored by Martin Offiah in 1994.  As the older brother, Joel would be seen to protect his brother on a number of occasions however the roles were reversed in a match against Hull FC when Joel was sent off for fighting and Sam was later banned for running in.
The twosome became a threesome during the 2011 season when the youngest brother Logan was called into the first team squad, however the trio never played together at the same time.

Why We Shouldn’t Expand The World Club Challenge

The usual expansion topic has reered its head recently when discussing the World Club Challenge but I’m not so sure that an expansion would work.  Firstly, I’m of the firm belief that you shouldn’t be crowned World Champions if you’re not even the Champions of your own league.  The Champions League in football is of course huge, but the idea of being the European Champions when you aren’t even the best team in your respective country just doesn’t seem right.

Then of course there’s the fact that most league fans probably wouldn’t get behind the idea anyway.  Crowds for the Challenge Cup are poor.  Crowds for the Internationals are poor.  Crowds for the playoffs are non-existant.  What makes the RFL or the RLIF think that crowds would be any better for an expanded World Club Challenge?

The most recent idea that I heard was that the two Champion sides would play for the WCC as they do now and then the 2nd and 3rd placed sides (how they would establish 3rd place I’m unsure) would play in a seperate tournament.  What for exactly, and why would fans turn out to watch what is in effect a friendly?  I just can’t see it happening and I doubt that the Aussie teams would be too impressed about flying over here to play infront of a few thousand in the freezing cold.

Personally, I would keep the competition exactly as it is now but I would change one thing.  I would alternate the venue between England and Australia on either an annual or bi-annual basis.  Yes there are slight administrative issues but they can be ironed out pretty easily.  The 2013 season begins for example and everyone knows that the 2014 WCC will take place at ANZ Stadium in Sydney (I would try to find the most neutral venue possible).  The RFL could even pre-book a hotel for the winning team.  Afterall, the NRL Premiers manage to sort things out every year over here so I’m sure we can sort similar over there.

I’d also like the match to actually take place in October with the same squad of players.  As I said at the beginning of this piece I disagree with the concept of being World Champions when you aren’t the champions of your respective league and the same goes for players as well.  There are some players out there who have a WCC medal to their name but no league medals.  Again, it just doesn’t seem right.  Obviously playing the game in October offers more creases to iron out but again I’m sure a hotel could be booked in advance by either the RFL or the NRL if the venue and date are known well in advance.

The WCC is often ridiculed by many that the Australian side don’t take it too seriously which of course they always deny.  Simple way to prove it is for them to host it.  They won’t take kindly to losing to “the poms” in their own back yard and then the intensity is back and the occasion will grow.  Afterall, there’s nothing better than beating the Aussies.

Monday Moment – A Storm Is Brewing

As we’re just four days away from the 2013 World Club Challenge, I thought I’d take a look at the first NRL title for the Melbourne Storm back in 1999.

Stadium Australia as it was then known hosted the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but the stadium was actually opened the previous year and hosted its first NRL Grand Final in 1999 between the two youngest clubs in the league.  Melbourne were playing in just their second ever season whilst St George Illawarra Dragons were playing in their first season as a merger of two of the big Sydney names.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that these two wouldn’t be able to bring in the numbers but almost 108,000 people packed into the Olympic Stadium for what turned out to be a classic.

It was the Dragons who struck first at a sun drenched Homebush as an Anthony Mundine kick was gathered by Craig Fitzgibbon who touched down after 14 minutes for the opening score, and they increased that lead on the half hour mark when Nathan Blacklock gathered Brett Kimmorley’s attempted chip through to race 50 yards unopposed.  Wayne Bartrim also added a penalty goal and they led 14-0 at the break.

Craig Smith got Melbourne on the board with an early second half penalty before an end-to-end 10 minutes began when Mundine went close to ending the contest but he was adjudged to have knocked on over the line and the Storm had a lifeline.  They used that life to great effect and 4 minutes later former London and Hull centre Tony Martin went over to cut the gap to 8.  The 8 point gap didn’t last too long though as only minute later Dragons skipper Paul McGregor crashed over after a Trent Barrett bomb wasn’t defended by winger Marcus Bai.  Wayne Bartrim would miss the conversion though which would prove costly.

The drama didn’t there as Melbourne pulled themselves back into it again before the hour mark, just three minutes after the McGregor try, when Ben Roarty went over from a defence splitting Brett Kimmorley pass.  Smith added the conversion and later on a penalty goal to leave the score at 18-14 going into the final minutes.

With just four minutes left on the clock, Melbourne got their chance.  Man of the match Kimmorley put a cross field bomb into the in-goal area that was taken by winger Chris Smith who lost the ball over the line under pressure from Jamie Ainscough.  Referee Bill Harrigan referred the incident upstairs and on further inspection from the video referee Chris Ward, Ainscough was rightly judged to have taken Smith high and Melbourne were awarded a penalty try to tie the scores.  More importantly the kick was to be taken from in front of the posts as opposed to from out on the touch-line.  With Smith still suffering the consequences of the Ainscough challenge, it was left to Matt Geyer to add the extra two which he duly did and the Premiership title was heading to Victoria for the first time.  The match was the last in the career of Storm skipper Glen Lazarus who was visibly emotional at the final hooter.

Melbourne went on to win the 2000 World Club Challenge beating St Helens 44-6 at The JJB Stadium and will be hoping to do the same at Headingley on Friday night and register their second World success after they were stripped of their title from 2010 due to salary cap breaches and thus their 1999 Grand Final win was their only one on record until last years win over Canterbury.

Set Of Six – Grand Finals

A new feature here on Egg Chasing will be the “Set Of Six” in which I’ll list six items with a particular rugby related theme.  The lists will be in no particular order, and I’ll start with six of the best Grand Finals from Super League history.

1998 – Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos

The inaugural Grand Final featured the table topping Wigan and second placed Leeds.  A theme that would continue until the 2003 final.  Played out in front of a 43,533 crowd, the opening score of the final came after 21 minutes when Leeds centre Richie Blackmore made history by scoring the first try.  Iestyn Harris couldn’t add the extras but Leeds had a 4-0 lead.  The Rhinos would hold the lead until three minutes before the break when Jason Robinson scored one of the great Grand Final tries.  Cutting inside from the right flank he sped between two Leeds defenders to dive under the posts and level the scores.  Andy Farrell would add the extras and Wigan held a narrow 6-4 lead.
The second half was a tight encounter in the tricky conditions now customary with the October showpiece and it was the boot of Andy Farrell that would decide the game.  The Wigan skipper kicked a 47th minute penalty after Marc Granville was penalised and would add another two in the final minute to confirm the 10-4 win for the Warriors.

1999 – St Helens v Bradford Bulls

St Helens made history in 1999 when they became the first team to win the Super League title twice and the first team to win the title from second place on the ladder.  Having finished 5 points ahead of the Saints and beaten them by 40 points to 4 a fortnight earlier the Bulls were the clear favourites pre-match but a controversial video referee decision decided the outcome.  Henry Paul had raced clear to open the scoring wearing just the one boot early on and the table toppers led 6-2 at the break.  St Helens levelled in the second half through a Kevin Iro try which Sean Long superbly converted from the touch-line for an 8-6 lead that they wouldn’t surrender. Earlier Leon Pryce had gone over from 50 yards but video referee Dave Campbell adjudged that Michael Withers had knocked on from a St Helens pass and the try was disallowed.

2001 – Bradford Bulls v Wigan Warriors

Not a great Grand Final by any stretch of the imagination as the contest was over with at half time as Bradford led 26-0, but the game will go down in the history books as Michael Withers scored the first ever (and so far only) Grand Final hat-trick.  The game also currently has the highest winning margin of any Grand Final with 31 after the Bulls ran out 37-6 winners.

2002 – St Helens v Bradford Bulls

In a repeat of the 99 final, the defending Champions Bradford once again lost out to St Helens in controversial fashion.  With the scores locked at 18 all deep into the 80 minutes, Saints half-back Sean Long kicked a 79th minute drop goal to seemingly win the match.  The short kick off was gathered up by Kieron Cunningham and the drama appeared to have ended.  That was until Saints skipper Chris Joynt dove at the feet of the Bulls defence committing an alleged voluntary tackle which would have resulted in a Bulls penalty 40 yards out and in front of the posts.  The Saints skipper did re-gather his feet and run a further yard or two before playing the ball but it did not appear to have been a completed tackle from Lee Gilmour to spark a controversy that still divides opinion 11 years later.

2009 – Leeds Rhinos v St Helens

The third consecutive installment of Leeds against St Helens in the Grand Final was once again won by Leeds as they became the first team to win the final three years in a row and equalled St Helens record of four wins.  The Saints got off to the perfect start with a Kyle Eastmond converted try and penalty goal to give them an 8 point lead but tries from Matt Diskin and Lee Smith had the scores level at the break.
An early Kevin Sinfield drop goal edged Leeds ahead in the second half before both sides exchanged penalties.  Then came the decisive moment as Lee Smith was awarded a try by video referee Phil Bentham despite appearing to be in an offside position from a Kevin Sinfield kick.  The try was converted by Sinfield and Leeds had their third successive title.

2011 – Leeds Rhinos v St Helens

A fourth battle in five years between the two sides was once again won by Leeds who became the record five time Grand Final winners and equalled Saints five Super League titles.  The match was significant as the two sides had finished the regular season in third and fifth with the fifth placed Rhinos winning by 32 points to 16.

Ban The Shoulder Charge?

The shoulder charge was banned recently in the NRL much to the annoyance of the majority of supporters and players, but here in Super League we opted to keep the challenge as a legal tackle.  Now after just two rounds there are calls for this decision to be overturned and the shoulder to be outlawed.

At the weekend, Zak Hardaker of Leeds and Theo Fages of Salford were knocked out after shoulder challenges with the latter stopping breathing according to Salford assistant Sean Long.  Now Long and Leeds coach Brian McDermott have publically spoken out about the shoulder charge and asked for it to be banned.  Personally, I’m divided on the issue.

Rugby League has always prided itself on the toughness of our players and even the recent Bradley Wiggins Sky TV advert comments on how tough our players are, so hard tackles are seen as part and parcel of the game.  182 players took to the field in Super League last week and we’re only focussing on the 2 that were knocked out.  How many were hit by shoulder tackles and got up again?  The shoulder tackle when timed to perfection gets the crowd on their feet and really shows the sport as the tough spectacle that it is when the player on the receiving end gets back up again.  The hit on Maurie Fa’asavalu by Thomas Leuluai springs to mind which you can see on YouTube.  Watch that video and tell me you didn’t enjoy it.

I fully understand that as a sport we have to look after the players that entertain us and we cannot have players knocked unconscious on a regular basis and we certainly can’t have players stopping breathing because of a late challenge.  The question is though, where do we draw the line?  If we ban the shoulder charge then we further water the toughness aspect of the sport down and we’re soon left with a spectacle similar to football in which every touch is deemed illegal.  The number of penalties we see nowadays in the game for a high shot that is nothing of the sort is already far too high.  The penalty against Con Mika at the weekend for “direct contact with the head” being a prime example.  Mika made no attempt to hit the Wakefield man in the head and only did so through a freak accident, actually hitting him with his head as opposed to his shoulder.  Yes the Wakefield player was hurt but it was not the fault of Mika and he should not have been penalised for it.  If Amor had gone down with a hamstring strain would a penalty have been given?  If Mika had purposely looked to take the head of Kyle Amor off of his shoulders then I would fully agree with not only a penalty but a red card.  The Michael McIlorum red card for Wigan against St Helens last season being the perfect example of what we should be trying to stop.

I personally can’t remember any serious cases of players being injured from this type of challenge other than maybe 3 or 4.  Is that enough to see a challenge outlawed?  On the other side of the fence, we can’t wait until something serious does happen in order to act, but if we ban the shoulder challenge then how long before we ban any form of swinging arm regardless of where it makes contact just in case the contact is with the head?  I personally think that the current rule of “direct contact with the head” is enough at the current moment even if it is refereed to the exact letter of the law.

I don’t think the shoulder charge will still be allowed come playoff time in Super League and I just hope that it doesn’t see the game fritter into tick and pass.  We have enough problems as it is.

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