Here are my thoughts on this weekend's action in Super League Round 18. |
Leeds Rhinos v Bradford Bulls
The glamour tie of the weekend - Super-duper improvements have been made to the green baize in readiness for the Tykes return to the top flight of kick and clap. As a result it would appear that nothing - not even a downpour of locusts – can prevent this game going ahead.
In the two previous meetings the Rhinos have won with a score in the last minute. One legally – at Odsal with Donald getting over from a Peacock offload and McGuire break and assist. The result at Cardiff was slightly (sic) more controversial – with Ganson and Klein both accepting responsibility for the most bizarre ending to a game since “Wide out to West”.
Will this have an impact on Friday’s precedings – you bet it will – Bradford have a score to settle. McNamara has shown you can move seamlessly from player to coach of a top side without 15 years in the NRL and make a good fist of matters – Francis Cummins doubters take note!! He appears to have the skill that all good coaches have of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. On the face of it the Bulls have a squad made of misfits/rejects from other clubs such as Evans, St Hilaire, McAvoy – quality overseas players in Morrison, Henderson and Big Les - mature professionals such as Harris and Deacon and the executioner – who is for the chop this week Terry? This is a big game for the Bulls – it is Les’ last game in a Bulls shirt – a great loss to the sport, all the very best in your future. Both he and his team mates will want to sign off on a high and I expect both to be happy with the result on the night.
Tony Smith has the luxury of being able to select from a full strength squad with both Ali and Scruton available for selection. I expect Ali to be included although I am not holding my breath in anticipation. The bigger question for me is who Smith will select on the right wing to play opposite Big Les – if he opts for Lee Smith that could potentially have dire consequences for the Rhinos. I think it is unlikely that Smith will swap the wingers preferring to sacrifice Lee Smith at the expense of the team.
Leeds Rhinos 25 – Bradford Bulls 33 - Sporting Odds have the Rhinos (-6)
St Helens v Huddersfield Giants
The second televised game should be a good indication of the respective form of both sides. Saints look like they are beginning to hit cruise control whilst the Giants were unlucky in their last outing against the Rhinos where they dominated large parts of the game yet failed to drive home their advantage.
Knowsley Rd is traditionally a difficult place for any visiting side to come away with the spoils – I think this week will be no different. The score line could be embarrassing if Saints start hot. Their stars were deemed surplus to requirements by GB coach Tony Smith for last Friday’s practise match against the French. This is bad news for Huddersfield. A fit and rested Saints side at home should be too strong for a physical yet limited Giants side – a crumb of comfort for the Giants is the injury to Meli, Tyrer will deputise on the wing. He looked far from comfortable at Headingley with much to learn.
The Giants welcome back Chris Thorman from yet another injury – he makes Mark McLinden look like a regular. “Rocket” Rod Jensen continues in a vain attempt to justify the payments into his offshore bank account whilst I question how someone so bad could command a regular game in the oh-so-competitive NRL.
St Helens 40 – Huddersfield Giants 10 - Sporting Odds have the Saints (-16)
Harlequins V Hull K. R.
This could be a closer game than many expect – the Quins are missing Melling – the curse of meaningless international fixtures, Orr, Purdham and Mills. Forecast is for rain in London on Saturday which may play into the hands of the less skilful more muscular Rovers side. Scott Hill is included in the line up for the southerners – his partnership with McLinden should help to boost the attack as it offers one of the most skilful and tactically astute pairings in the league. The absence of Mills may give ex-Rhinos Joe Walsh and/or David Tootill another opportunity to shine, also included is skint – unless he got paid - ex Doncaster and Rhinos U21 favourite Joe Mbu.
Of Rovers their confidence must have suffered after the loss at Wakefield, a game they were well in control of until Aizu had a brain explosion. James Webster returns to squad will give the team a big lift if he plays. With Sid Domic supposedly on his way the Rovers need to start winning. Looking at the Quins’ line-up Rovers will never have a better opportunity.
Harlequins 18 – Hull K.R. 22 - Sporting Odds have the 'Quins (-8)
Hull FC V Salford
Yet another strange quirk of fate sees Sean McRae return to his old stomping ground. I hope they have got some wider seats as Sean looks like he needs a big one.
This is a double-edged sword for Hull – beating Salford also does the rivals from East Hull a big favour. Hull include Matthew Head - apparently surplus to requirements at St George – as a replacement for Paul Cooke who sold his soul to pay his legal bills. Saturday night’s expensive for fighting!!
Hull are missing Richard Swain but I can’t honestly see it making a massive difference – Salford look a weak side and I believe it is between them, Wakey and Hull KR for the drop. Wakefield’s run in is tough and that might be their saving grace.
Hull FC 35 – Salford 12 - Sporting Odds have FC (-8)
Catalans v Warrington
A couple of guys in my office are mad Wolves fans – they are surprised that Cullen’s ample head still rests in the coaching chair. It can only be a question of time before his lack of substance is exposed. Most coaches would be embarrassed if their team delivered the return on investment that the Wolves have done under Cullen’s guidance.
The Wolves are still without Reardon, Johnson – he has offered real value for money but he should be fresh for his winter break, Martin Gleeson and Vinny Anderson. Chris Bridge is included in the squad for the first time in an age – his recovery has been anything but speedy.
I thank John D for his insight into the Dragons who look almost at full strength – temperatures are anticipated to be close to 40 C – which will be no fun for the northern pale skins.
Catalans look nailed on to me – Warrington find it difficult travelling 20 miles and performing let alone nearly 2,000.
Catalans 28 - Warrington 15 - Sporting Odds have the Dragons (-4)
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats v Wigan Warriors
For me the most interesting tie of the round. Wakefield were brought back to earth with a bang at Warrington – a display so bad that John Kear cancelled the 4 day break his team had been promised. I trust they had travel insurance!!
This is a must win game for Wakefield – they have a very tough run in and need to win all their home games at least. Jamie Rooney is not included in the squad which could see Sam Obst starting at 7. Having watched some Big Brother, Ryan Atkins should be a relieved man now he is no longer seeing that crazy Chanelle – and his bank should be significantly swollen having taken some of the Sun’s dirty cash. Danny Sculthorpe is also included in the incentive of putting one over on his team mates could be a key factor in the result.
Kear has done a good job here and should be congratulated on recruiting and developing young talent from the lower leagues. One player who appears to not find Kear’s coaching to his liking is Ben Jeffries – sadly he appears a shadow of the underrated player he was last season. Hopefully he can regain his form – if he does Wakefield could return to winning ways.
Wigan have been rocked by the sad demise of Michael Withers – I wonder if Noble is regretting his decision to offer him a contract and its contribution to Ashton’s defection to the dark side. All things considered Noble is not having a good time of things – what with Withers and the senior Rhinos players giving him the thumbs down – it has not been his month.
Wigan look at full strength – much depends on Trent Barrett – if he fires Wigan will coast this game. Fielden looked to be in his best form since his move from Bradford this can only be a positive to a side I think will be in shake up come September/October.
Wakefield 16 - Wigan 30 - Sporting Odds have the Warriors (-8)