Rugby League Round-Up
Financial struggles, retiring greats and enough sackings to make football management seem a more stable career – there has been plenty of drama both on and off the field in the world of rugby league recently, as Super League’s fourteen sides prepare to enter the Challenge Cup this weekend.
Leeds Rhinos’ season has begun strongly. A 30-6 victory at home to London Broncos last week capped off a successful Easter period, which also saw the Rhinos defeat fellow contenders Warrington Wolves and Catalan Dragons, although a last minute try from Adam Sidlow prevented a derby win against Bradford Bulls last month.
Leeds will face Yorkshire rivals Castleford Tigers in the cup on Friday night, with the Super League strugglers having just sacked their coach Ian Millward. The Tigers sit in 13th place in the table, having won just twice this season, and face even bigger financial problems. Former coach Stuart Raper – who led the club to consecutive play-off places in 1999 and 2000 – has been touted as a possible replacement for Millward, but he may have to face up to losing key players such as 2011’s Man of Steel Rangi Chase in order for the club to survive.
Whilst Bradford had their own financial struggles last year, their 2013 campaign has so far been successful and they will be hoping to continue their decent form at Rochdale on Sunday. The Bulls followed up their point against Leeds with wins against Salford City Reds and London, although they capitulated against Wigan Warriors last Sunday, losing 36-6.
The Warriors sit top of the Super League table after enjoying a fruitful Easter. Having beaten local rivals St Helens 28-16 in the annual Good Friday fixture, Wigan travelled to Hull KR where they emphatically and ruthlessly triumphed over the Yorkshire side 84-6. Wigan face neighbours Leigh Centurions on Friday night, whilst Hull KR will be hoping to make it two wins out of two against St Helens this month.
The problems at St Helens continue to mount this season. Currently seventh, the side’s last victory came on Easter Monday with a 48-14 win against Castleford, and they have since lost against Hull KR and Catalans. Jonny Lomax has been ruled out for six weeks, adding to St Helens’ already lengthy injury list, and the side lacks creativity without a true half back. The side which once dominated Super League have been trophyless since 2008, and Nathan Brown has a difficult task on his hands to deliver the next title to Merseyside.
His new side may be struggling for momentum, but Brown’s old team Huddersfield Giants have had a superb start to the season. The side are second, just one point behind Wigan, and enjoyed some convincing wins in the Easter period. They recovered from a shock defeat by Salford on Good Friday to thrash Widnes Vikings 62-6, before wins against Castleford and Hull KR. The Giants face Batley on Sunday.
Warrington Wolves have been inconsistent of late. Third in the table, they were overcome by Widnes Vikings and Leeds, but beat Wakefield and London. Warrington will want to end the season successfully as their captain Lee Briers – a credit to the club since 1998 – will end his playing career at the end of the season and become a coach. The Wolves begin their defence of the Challenge Cup away to Keighley.
Salford City Reds have announced former Wigan and Bradford coach Brian Noble as their replacement for Phil Veivers, who was sacked last month. The Reds are bottom of Super League, but have the financial backing and ambition to become a major force in the near future. They travel to University of Gloucester on Sunday, who have remarkably reached the fourth round.
Elsewhere Widnes host Doncaster, whilst Wakefield Trinity Wildcats will visit Hemel Stags and Hull FC will take on North Wales Crusaders. London Broncos will play Featherstone Rovers, and Leeds side Hunslet Hawks will host Catalan Dragons on Sunday at the South Leeds Stadium.
With fourteen rounds of Super League remaining, the Challenge Cup and the play-offs, there is still plenty of rugby league to look forward to in 2013.