Super League returned this week with two stand out matches which pitted teams who are being tipped for success against each other as Leeds Rhinos, the 2017 winners, travelled over the Pennines to Warrington on Thursday night and, the following night, Castleford Tigers followed the same route to visit the Totally Wicked Stadium to face the pre season competition favourites, St Helens.
The season opener didn’t disappoint as an end to end affair in chilly conditions took place at the Halliwell Jones on Thursday night as Leeds prevailed – just – over the much changed Warrington team who, for 2018, are under new guidance in the shape of Australian Steve Price and who have made big name signings including Ben Murdoch-Masila from Super League rivals Salford as well as Australian half back Tyrone Roberts. Leeds, on the other hand, haven’t made wholesale changes in the off season but have had to replace the departing clubs legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow. Finding adequate signings to compensate for their loss was never going to be easy but, if Thursday night’s performance is anything to go by, Richie Myler is more than capable of stepping into the void vacated by the competition’s all time leading try scorer and his tactical kicking game directed the Rhinos around the pitch superbly and his pinpoint kick lead to Ryan Hall’s first try of the season. Indeed, the flying winger went ever further in the second half as he rolled back the years to notch a 80 metre try, outstripping the whole Warrington team to score what would ultimately turn out to be the match winning score. Leeds, however, were indebted to their young full back Jack Walker who, without his scrum cap, made three certain try saving interventions for the visitors and only dropped one ball all night – in the closing stages which led to him receiving a bloody nose and the Wolves scoring a consolation through Tom Lineham. Indeed, the former Oulton junior won the man of the match award and fellow young gun Ashton Golding will have a very real fight on his hands to usurp the 18 year old as the first choice full back for the club this season if Walker keeps up this level of performance. Unsurprisingly, Leeds’ defence was, again, superb and played a huge part in holding back Warrington’s attack.
The hosts themselves started brightly and made a clear point of targetting Walker under the high ball with Tyrone Roberts, on debut, delivering towering, spiralling kicks in the direction of his opposite full back which the youngster dealt with superbly. While the Wolves’ attack was rather clunky, as acknowledged by coach Price, new signing Bryson Goodwin looked a real threat in attack and a presence in defence. Indeed, when he left the pitch with a head wound, the match was 0-0 after Warrington started stronger but, when he returned, he found his new club 12-0 down. He went on to score his first try for the club shortly after returning to the fold and once he truly becomes familiar to his new team mate’s style of play, the player poached from Leigh will surely be one of the best players in Super League this season. His arrival has seen former England centre Ryan Atkins switch from left centre to right centre and, had he chosen to dive low rather than attempt a flamboyant grounding in the corner, his team may well have won their opening match. Instead, Leeds won 16-12, securing their first victory at The Wire for the first time since 2011 and started their title defence in the best possible way.
Their West Yorkshire counterparts Castleford, however, disappointed on their opening weekend trip to St Helens. The team that exhilarated fans around the country with their 2017 form and style couldn’t have been further removed from the team that took to the field on Friday night as, with largely the same personnel, the Tigers were second best in pretty much every area as title favourites St Helens dismantled last season’s League Leaders in a 46-6 rout. A mid season recruit in 2017, Australian Ben Barba has been tipped by many as a potential Man of Steel winner this season and the former Cronulla Shark was at the heart of much of St Helens’ good work on Friday night as he scored two tries as well as assisting Mark Percival as the left centre – overlooked for RLWC selection by Wayne Bennett – bagged an opening weekend hat trick. The Saints seemed to have that bit more desire to chase and push on every play to put their opponents on the back foot and, after gaining a two try lead in the first ten minutes, they never looked back. Zeb Taia joined Barba and Percival in scoring multiple tries and, despite going down to 12 men in the second half, at no point did the visitors look like they were in any element of control of the match. Daryl Powell himself outlined that he thought his charges were appalling on their opening night and the Wheldon Road club must sharpen up in every aspect of their play and attitude if they are to go anywhere close to replicating their sensational play of 2017.