Rugby League welcomed in its new era in style at the weekend with an opening round of matches which featured shock results, record crowds and new signings making an immediate impact. With each team having given us a glimpse of what to expect this season, here are 10 things we learnt from the opening set of fixtures.
#1 Clubs are not going down without a fight
Despite being tipped to struggle this season, Hull FC and Wakefield produced the shock results of the round to prove they’re not going down without a fight. Hull nullified an out-of-sorts Huddersfield and the Wildcats overturned a 16-point deficit to stun local rivals Castleford.
#2 Refereeing will once again be an issue this year
It’s a shame the opening weekend was not allowed to pass without more questions being raised about the standard of refereeing in the game. Inconsistency and poor decisions across the matches have reopened the debate for having two on-field officials. Referees will make mistakes, but the amount they’re making already is a worrying sign for the season ahead.
#3 Comeback Kings
The ‘every minute matters’ slogan being used this year to market the competition certainly had an effect on Widnes, Leeds and Wakefield at the weekend, who all came from behind to avoid defeat. Widnes trailed 16-0 and then 22-12 before late tries from Cameron Phelps and Chris Dean grabbed a point for the Vikings. Leeds twice overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Hull KR, and Castleford appeared to be cruising heading into the final 20 minutes 22-6 ahead before three Wakefield tries completed a shock comeback victory.
#4 Catalans need Carney
Direction and organisation seemed to be lacking from Catalans in their defeat to St Helens on Friday night and the Dragons will need to get new signing Todd Carney fit as quickly as possible to rectify this. The addition of Michael Monaghan to the coaching set-up should also have an impact, but the Dragons cannot make another poor start to the season if they are to challenge at the top in 2015.
#5 Castleford and Huddersfield regressing?
There were fears before the season started that Castleford and Huddersfield could regress this year and the opening weekend has left their fans with little to calm those concerns. Both head coaches have vowed to put their seasons back on track this weekend. Time will tell.
#6 Strong starts for the favourites
Defending champions St Helens may have been trailing 7-6 at half time on Friday night but put in a stronger second-half display to secure the two points. Warrington were matched by Salford in the opening quarter of their game on Saturday but eventually showed their class to seal a 22-8 win. Wigan will be disappointed they didn’t hold on for victory against Widnes, and you can never write Leeds off after their 40-30 win away to Hull KR.
#7 Salford’s resilience
It took Warrington 27 minutes to break down the Salford defence on Saturday and the Red Devils received praise from Wolves head coach Tony Smith for digging in. They were up for the fight and targeted key Warrington players who they knew could punish them given the opportunity. We’re still no clearer as to whether this will be the year that Salford come good and they face another tough game this weekend against champions St Helens.
#8 Saints could do with Luke Walsh back
St Helens may have come out on top against Catalans but Tommy Makinson will be disappointed with his goal-kicking attempts. If Saints are to win closer matches this year this will need to improve, although the return of Luke Walsh may solve this problem.
#9 Ill-discipline needs controlling
The St Helens-Catalans game was very stop/start due to ill-discipline from the players and this seemed to extend to all the matches. Patrick Ah Van’s sending-off for a high tackle on Josh Charnley set the tone on Thursday night and there were five sin-binnings in total across the weekend. Wigan’s Matty Smith has been given a one-match ban for kicking out at Widnes full-back Rhys Hanbury. Players need to keep their cool in order to avoid ruining the reputation of the sport. Have we not learnt from Ben Flower’s Grand Final actions?
#10 Attendances on the rise
The marketing drive behind the new era paid off on the opening weekend with record breaking attendances. A total of 63, 434 people made their way through the turnstiles which was a 16% increase on the corresponding fixtures last season. There was a 49% increase at the Select Security Stadium to see Widnes’ draw with Wigan and a sell-out at Hull KR. St Helens have this week announced there will be a full-house for their World Club Challenge match against South Sydney Rabbitohs so hopefully the excitement of the competition will continue to draw in the crowds.