Top 5 Super League Learnings
1. Luke Gale is the main man for Tiger’s pursuit of Grand Final glory
Ahead of the play-off semi-final between Castleford and St Helens, the major news was that Luke Gale had required surgery to remove his appendix, meaning that his season was apparently “over”.
Fast forward 16 days to last Thursday’s game and Gale was miraculously back in the Tigers starting 13 and ready to guide his side to Old Trafford for next weekend’s Grand Final.
Full credit must be given to young Jake Trueman, who scored a hat-trick in the Tigers victory over the Wigan Warriors in Gale’s absence.
However, he is still learning his way in the game and cannot be expected to be a first team regular just yet.
The way that the 29-year old Tigers enforcer kept his cool with his match-winning golden point drop goal and the ease at which he guided his team-mates around the park will surely give Daryl Powell immense confidence heading into next week’s decider.
If Luke Gale brings his A-game on Saturday, the title will surely be going to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
2. Big things for the Saints in 2018?
Despite their agonising semi-final defeat being one of the toughest results to take in a long time for the Saints, they can take great heart in their ability to push the Tigers to the limit, coming within two minutes of snatching the victory in regular time.
Although it maybe wasn’t to be for Justin Holbrook’s side, it must be remembered that the 41-year old Australian has only been in charge since May.
Given the limited time that he has had to implement his philosophy on the squad, it is still an undoubted improvement from the side which struggled under Keiron Cunningham just six months ago.
The emergence of Regan Grace and the growing improvement week-on-week by Mark Percival will give natives of the Totally Wicked Stadium reason to be optimistic.
If Holbrook can get the best out of Australian superstar Ben Barba in 2018, the reds will be a real force going into the new campaign, and will hoping to go one better than this year and claim some silver-ware.
3. Leeds destined to return to familiar turf
When the table split into the ‘Super 8’s’ and ‘Middle 8’s’ midway through 2016, no-one would’ve thought that Brian McDermott’s side, who had claimed Grand Final glory six times since 2007, would be competing against Championship opposition.
One thing that was clear for all to see was that the Rhinos would bounce back this season, and they have done exactly that.
Friday’s victory against Hull FC may not have been littered with flair and glamorous try-scoring, but the Rhinos did what they needed to do.
They were dogged, determined, and ultimately reaped the rewards of a hard-fought tussle over 80 minutes.
They may be returning to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ this Saturday, but players and coaches-alike will know that the task they face to claim victory this year will surpass any test that they have experienced in those past ten years.
4. The Million Pound Game is something that no-one wants to be involved in
When Catalans Prop Sam Moa slammed the ball into the ground after 80 minutes at the Leigh Sports Village, many fans will have known that it was less of a celebration and more of frustration with what he had just been a part of.
The Dragons’ 26-10 victory over the Centurions confirmed their survival in the top flights, and consigned the hosts to an immediate return to the second tier.
No-one wants to see grown men in tears, not knowing whether they would have a job for the next year or money to pay their mortgage.
With the salary cap in place, and set to be increased for the coming years, it appears that the transition from top-tier wealth to second division mediocrity is not a seamless one for many clubs who have invested heavily to preserve their Super League status.
There were no real winners coming out of Saturday’s clash, just fear and confusion over what the future may hold for many of the players on that pitch.
If the RFL want to continue with the Salary Cap system, they need to decide quickly what the best way is to bridge the gap between Super League and Championship, or look at returning to the more secure licencing system.
5. Toronto Wolfpack are a Super League side in waiting
When Eric Perez announced his plans to introduce a Canadian rugby league team into the English competition, many would’ve been sceptical about how far the team could go.
Yes, they had the finances to bring in a wealth of talent and set League One alight during 2017. However, there were questions over how well the Canadian public would take to the new franchise.
Fast forward to the start of October, and Toronto are well and truly being taken seriously going into the next campaign.
With crowds regularly exceeding 7,000, more than many Super League clubs, those who have attended the Lamport stadium have taken the Wolfpack to their hearts.
Acquisitions of top Super League stars like Ashton Sims and Joe Westerman, plus talents such as Andy Ackers and Dave Taylor, will inevitably make Toronto a feared opponent next season.
This time next year, could we be talking about our first Trans-Atlantic Super League side? Smart money would be on ‘Yes!’