The Armchair Pundit: Super League’s low-scoring weekend

UNTIL Danny Kirmond went over for what proved to be the only try of the game in Wakefield Trinity’s 10-2 win over Huddersfield Giants, it might have seemed as if the highlights were going to consist of little more than a vine of referee Michael Woodhead blowing his whistle for kick-off and full-time.

Few would have blamed the 5,077 fans who turned up to the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday if they had started streaming out of the ground LA-style at half-time in the Super League encounter, with Liam Finn’s penalty being the only score as Wakefield led 2-0.
Indeed, up to that point the closest either team had come to a try was earlier on in the opening 40 minutes when Wakefield thought they had scored, only for the officials to instead award a goal-line drop-out.

Fortunately, Kirmond’s 68th-minute score against his former club, coming from Finn’s defence-splitting grubber, ensured this would not finish as only the second tryless game in Super League history.

Instead, that dubious honour still belongs to the Salford-Harlequins snoozefest in 2007, which saw the hosts win 5-2 thanks to two penalties from John Wilshere and a drop goal from Luke Robinson.

An interesting sub-plot to this result is that it helped Wakefield take a large step closer to sealing a place in the Super 8s, while at the same time all but condemning Huddersfield to the Qualifiers – and who would have predicted that at the start of the season?

What is even more impressive about Chris Chester’s side’s resurgence is that they have done this despite conceding the second-highest number of points in the competition (479) and scoring the second-fewest number of 369 – with 62 of those coming in the home win over Wigan Warriors alone.

Unsurprisingly, the team who have scored the fewest number of points is Leeds Rhinos en route to seemingly completing the unprecedented transition from first to worst in the space of less than a year.

Brian McDermott’s beleaguered side did at least earn some respite last Friday in the other low-scoring game of round 18, seeing off Salford Red Devils 8-0 thanks to two tries from Liam Sutcliffe.

Curiously, Salford have a history of being involved in low-scoring Super League affairs. Indeed, their first summer-era game in the top flight way back in 1997 saw them beat Castleford Tigers 4-0 as Phil Coussons got the only try.

As an aside, Coussons is now a club ambassador for Salford and after-dinner speaker, so one wonders if he tells that story in any of his speeches.

Then there was the aforementioned win over Harlequins, followed by a 7-0 loss at home to Bradford Bulls two years ago, with former Australian Test forward Steve Menzies getting the only try, Matt Orford kicking a penalty and drop-goal king Paul Sykes booting a one-pointer.

Not that the top-of-the-table clash provided much more in the way of entertainment either, with Hull FC maintaining their lead thanks to a 19-12 victory over Warrington Wolves in an error-riddled encounter.

Perhaps Hull coach Lee Radford summed it up best though, saying: “It was a horrible game, a poor advert for the top of the competition, but we’re sat at the top so I’m not going to complain.”

Thursday night attendance watch: The 4,968 who turned up to the Mend-a-Hose Jungle to watch Widnes Vikings defeat hosts Castleford 38-28 last Thursday was 2,034 down on the corresponding fixture last season, which was played on a Sunday afternoon.

One place where attendances are up is Perpignan, with the high-flying Catalans Dragons averaging 9,665 for games at the Gilbert Brutus Stadium compared to 8,635 last season.
No doubt the upturn has coincided with a season which sees the French side currently sitting second and the 33-16 win over St Helens on Saturday evening will have done much to strengthen their case as being dark horses for the Super League title.

If you are one of those compulsive types who likes to have a bet, you can still get odds of 5/1 on the Dragons to go all the way and win the Grand Final, although it is Wigan who remain heavy favourites with the bookies.

That did not stop Shane Wane’s men being pushed all the way by Hull Kingston Rovers at the KC Lightstream Stadium, with the visitors having to come back from 18-8 down with 15 minutes to play.

The defeat also means James Webster’s KR side have not won back-to-back matches in the league this season.

Jack Smith makes his mark: The observant rugby league followers out there will have noticed a few new names among the men in the middle in recent months, with The RFL giving several referees from the Kingston Press Championship an opportunity at the highest level.

Generally, the whistle-blowers only make headlines for any controversial decisions they make, but Jack Smith is a little bit different.

The 27-year-old former Royal Marine took charge of his first Super League game two weeks ago, which came just under six years after being shot by the Taliban in Afghanistan and being left with ten broken ribs, and severe damage to his lungs and lower back.
Medically discharged from the Marines after two years of intensive rehabilitation and unable to resume his amateur playing career with Crosfields, Smith took up the whistle in September 2012 and has progressed rapidly.

His first Super League game in the middle was also televised live on Sky Sports and Smith received plenty of praise for his handling of the match. Hopefully he will get another opportunity soon.

Championship round-up: It was not just Super League which was restricted to low-scoring, tightly-fought matches, with Qualifiers hopefuls Halifax coming from behind to draw 12-12 away to Whitehaven.

That was enough to keep them ahead of Bradford Bulls in the race for a top four place, although the Bulls still have a game in hand after their trip to Cumbria saw them defeat Workington Town 29-22.

Despite a wobble after their flying start, part-timers Batley Bulldogs are still in with an excellent chance of being in the promotion shake-up come the split and they further strengthened those claims with a 29-10 triumph at Sheffield Eagles last Friday.

The question is can anyone stop London Broncos and Leigh Centurions? The former ran out 42-16 winners at Swinton Lions, while Leigh were pushed by Featherstone Rovers before winning 14-12.

League One round-up: Although they remained unbeaten and are still stop of the league, the aura of invincibility around Toulouse Olympique seems to be slipping.

The 32-22 win at Newcastle Thunder was the French side’s smallest margin of victory in the league this season and they found themselves behind to the hosts for much of the first half.

A further boost for the Thunder was that the attendance of 902 at Kingston Park was the second-highest crowd across all of the weekend’s Kingston Press Championship and League One matches.

Meanwhile, London Skolars kept up their bid for a place in the League One Super 8s with a 42-34 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Barrow Raiders thanks to a second-half fightback.

The Skolars, who have been around since 1995, were knocked out on the semi-finals when they last reached the play-offs three years ago and it would be an incredible achievement if they were to do so again after only finishing 11th in 2015.

Amateur score of the week: Hindpool Tigers 18 Bamber Bridge 36, North West Men’s League Division One. The efforts of Bamber Bridge’s Swarbrick brothers, Jack and Harry, helped condemn the title hopefuls to defeat.

Formed in 1984 by a group of friends who played in a sevens competition in Wigan, Bamber Bridge have been stallwarts of the North West League, and have played matches against the Dutch development team and Malta Knights.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email [email protected], tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

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