IT TOOK just over three weeks of the new Super League season for the first coaching casualty to occur when Hull Kingston Rovers decided to part company with Chris Chester.
Former Rovers forward Chester was relieved of his duties in the aftermath of the team being booed off following the narrow round three defeat to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – sure, you took us to our first Challenge Cup final since 1981 last year, but what have you done for us recently?!
All levity aside, reaction to the decision to dismiss the 37-year-old was mixed. Yet, on the face of it, a draw and two defeats – the other of which came against expected play-off contenders Warrington Wolves – without the likes of Terry Campese, Kevin Larroyer, Shane Lunt and the suspended John Boudebza might not have suggested change was imminent.
Of course, Chester was second-favourite with the bookies to be sacked – and they are rarely wrong about these things.
But although he was dismissed early on, rugby league at the top level has not yet adopted the hire ‘em-fire ‘em approach that seems so prevalent in football.
Eight of the current Super League head coaches have been in their job for three or more years, with Warrington’s Tony Smith the longest-serving and now in his eighth season in charge at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
He is closely followed by Widnes Vikings’ Denis Betts, now in his seventh season, while Paul Anderson and Shaun Wane are both in their fifth seasons at Huddersfield Giants and Wigan Warriors respectively.
Indeed, you have to go – perhaps unsurprisingly – to Salford Red Devils for the only first-season coach in Super League, with Ian Watson the latest to be tasked with making owner Marwan Koukash’s vision a reality.
However, the Thursday night game between the Red Devils and Wigan served to bring the visitors back down to earth after back-to-back wins…
Adventures in officiating: Last week marked 20 years of the video referee first being used in the Super League World Nines, although as the Wigan-Salford clash was not being shown by Sky Sports there was no such facility in operation at the DW Stadium.
Instead, referee George Stokes, his touch judges and the in-goal judge all missed an apparent knock-on from Taulima Tautai in the build-up to what would prove to be the winning try four minutes from time from Dom Manfredi.
Unlike the wins in their previous two games where they had got off to flying starts, Salford found themselves 16-2 down in the second after before again showcasing their lightning-quick attacking game to get back on level terms.
As for Wigan, they keep finding ways to win ugly. Head coach Wane again stated he feels his side have much improving to do in terms of performances, but their early-season results give the Cherry and Whites an ominous look.
Thursday night attendance watch: A crowd of 10,897 were at the DW Stadium to see the Warriors edge out Salford – nearly 3,000 fewer than the same fixture drew on a Friday night last year.
Over in Hull, there were 10,247 at the KC Lightstream Stadium for the Black and Whites’ clash with Castleford Tigers, which represented a slight improvement on the 10,114 who turned up for the Sunday afternoon clash between these two in 2015.
Among those in attendance were Sky Sports, broadcasting what could well have been termed the Denny Solomona show after his hat-trick of tries helped secure the win.
There was little to choose between the two sides, who were all square at 18-18 at the interval, with Luke Gale’s goalkicking also proving crucial for Castleford as he landed a drop goal to edge the Tigers ahead before Solomona’s third.
“He told me he’s rubbish at drop goals so this should give him some belief,” said Castleford head coach Daryl Powell of Gale’s late effort.
Bringing back the biff watch: Travis Burns and James Green decided to engage in a bit of how’s-your-father when Hull KR and St Helens clashed on Friday night, with both being sin-binned as a result.
The 31-22 victory for a Saints team chastened by heavy defeats to Salford in the league and Sydney Roosters in the World Club Series provided a much-needed boost for Keiron Cunningham’s men – particularly as they did it the hard way after coming from 16-10 down at half time.
Meanwhile, Willie Mason announced his return to Super League with a borderline illegal shoulder charge on Adam Cuthbertson in Catalans Dragons’ 32-28 win over Leeds Rhinos on Saturday.
Admittedly, it is still early days, but who would have predicted the defending champions would be bottom of the table at any point this season even with their injuries? Few would be betting on this slump to last for long though.
At the top of the table though, Warrington continued their unbeaten start to the campaign with a 38-8 win over Wakefield. This also ensured it was Tony who won the Battle of the Smiths between his team and elder brother Brian’s.
Chant of the week: “How shit must you be?! We’re winning on grass!” sang the Widnes fans as their team went top of Super League with a 36-18 win away to Huddersfield.
Could the Vikings be the surprise package of this year? Although many pundits point to their good record on the artificial pitch at the Select Security Stadium, it is telling that two of their three wins so far have come on the road.
Back-to-back matches against the Hull sides are up next for Betts’ men, followed by the big test of whether they are genuine contenders: Wigan away, Warrington away and St Helens at home.
Kingston Press Championship round-up: Widnes may have caught the eye with their impressive start to Super League, but arguably the team making the biggest waves in England at the moment are Batley Bulldogs in the second tier.
Full-time sides Leigh Centurions, Sheffield Eagles and now Halifax have been felled by John Kear’s men, who sit just one point behind Championship leaders Bradford Bulls following a 17-12 victory at The Shay on Sunday.
Bradford had to come from 32-6 down with 15 minutes remaining to draw 32-32 at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Leigh, having drawn 36-36 with them at Odsal last season.
Sheffield’s 48-26 win at home to Swinton Lions saw them continue to lead the chasing pack, while the resurgent London Broncos won 16-13 at Workington Town and Dewsbury Rams saw off struggling Whitehaven 20-4.
The other game of the weekend saw Featherstone Rovers chalk up their second victory of the campaign with a 20-6 triumph at home to Oldham.
Up for the Challenge Cup: Five of the amateur clubs caused upsets against the professional sides to book their place in the fourth round of this year’s competition and go to within one win of the possibility of meeting a Super League side in round five.
Castleford Lock Lane, Siddal, Pilkington Recs, Kells and Featherstone Lions – the Armchair Pundit salutes you!
The two amateurs-versus-professionals derby matches went the way they would have been expected to though, with Rochdale Hornets winning 40-14 against Rochdale Mayfield and York City Knights storming to a 66-0 win over York Acorn in front of an impressive 2,293 spectators at Bootham Crescent.
Amateur score of the week: Queensbury 48 Stainland Stags 18, Pennine League Championship. The win took Queensbury up to second in the table on points difference from King Cross Park, while Stainland stayed mid-table.
Coached by ex-professional player Danny Fearon, Stainland hail from the West Yorkshire town which is home to the mysterious Stainland Cross.