Whats your State of Mind?

As the State of Mind charity prepares to take over the Super League for an entire round, Andrew Riley went along to the AJ Bell stadium in Salford to see what the charity does and how you can be part of a world record attempt this coming Wednesday…

]

Advertisements

2018 Super League season predictions and Joel Tomkins interview

Here we go…2018 season is nearly upon us, and this year I will be posting very few match reports. Because I spent the back end of last season concentrating on my university studies and getting a job, I failed to get enough bylines for RFL accreditation in 2018, not to worry though, the clubs themselves have been more than understanding and are happy enough to grant access to players and coaches for interviews.

I’d like to wish every player, coach and fan of rugby league all the very best for 2018. With a replacement for Nigel Wood yet to be decided, it’s bound to be another year of ups and downs for the usual clubs, but hopefully Red Hall can sort out a peaceful and smooth succession…

Given that the clubs and the RFL have yet to decide how the league will be structured next year, it looks like the club v RFL war will carry on until one side either loses or gets bored.

Looking ahead, here are my predictions for 2018, as well as the top four in the Championship.

Super League

  1. Wigan
  2. Warrington
  3. Leeds Rhinos
  4. Hull FC
  5. Castleford Tigers
  6. St. Helens
  7. Hull KR
  8. Wakefield Trinity
  9. Catalan Dragons
  10. Huddersfield Giants
  11. Salford Red Devils
  12. Widnes

Championship

  1. Leigh Centurions
  2. Toronto Wolfpack
  3. Featherstone Rovers
  4. London Broncos

SL Grand Final Winners

  1. St. Helens

Challenge Cup Winners

  1. Leeds Rhinos

 


Joel Tomkins

Joel Tomkins

When you hear the surname Tomkins, most rugby league fans first thoughts are to the Wigan full back, Sam, but his elder brother Joel has his own ambitions, not only for his on-field exploits, but his life post game as well.

“This year, we’re aiming to do the treble” he tells me at the Warriors media launch in the stunning surroundings of the Haigh Hall country house, on the outskirts of the town.

“We are more than capable of winning the Grand Final, Challenge Cup and the league leaders shield”

After a spell in the “other” code of the game, he is aware that at the end of his current 2-year deal, he will have to prove himself in order to keep playing:

“I’m the wrong side of 30 now, and after injury stopped me making as many appearances last season as I would have liked, and I appreciate being in this position, as I might not have too many years left playing this game”

The groin injury that side-lined him for some of last year appears to be gone, and Joel says this pre-season has been one that he has enjoyed immensely.

Having won every major domestic honour in the game, he says that it’s the winning of more trophies that keeps him hungry as a player:

“When you win a Grand final or a Challenge Cup, you get a taste for it, and you want it again.

“I know I’m in a privileged position, coming in and training with an immense bunch of athletes who all want to win things.

“We get paid to train and do something we enjoy, and OK, there are times when its tough, giving up weekends and time with the family, but I can’t complain, its an honour to come in and play for this club.”

Looking further ahead, Joel has his wife, Nicola, as well has there two children, Anna and Seth, and I asked if they enjoy watching him play the sport he loves, and if he’d be happy with Seth following in his footsteps;

“I wouldn’t push him into playing the game, but I suppose that’s because I’ve been playing the game for 20 plus years, I’ll be happy if he plays tennis or golf.

Having a family changes your perspective and priorities on the game. Up to being 25, rugby was all I thought about, but getting married and having kids changes all of that.”

Looking further ahead, I asked if he fancied following in the footsteps of a fair few others and into the Wigan version of the Liverpool FC “bootroom” and onto the coaching staff after he hangs up his boots:

“No, I don’t see it for me. You have to really want to be a coach, watching hour after hour of game time during the week, as well as picking all the side and getting players ready isn’t for me.

I want to stay in the game, but on the management side. I’d rather follow the likes of Kris (Radlinski) and Kevin (Sinfield) into the business side of the game, that’s where I see my future.”

Surrounded by his team mates, he cuts a more introspective figure than some of his more outgoing team mates, and that’s borne out by his plans for the future.

He may not be the first Tomkins that comes to mind, but he certainly wants to be the one that leaves the lasting legacy on and off the field at Wigan Warriors.

 

How do you promote a sport full of power and passion?

By not bothering to show any of the sport itself according to the new RFL Super League 2018 launch video.

Recently, the RFL marketing department have managed to get a couple of things spot on. The new OuRLeague app is fantastic. Superb content, really engaging and easy to use. During the World Cup it became the go to app for info on England and what the players were up to.

Then we get the 2018 launch video…

We know that professional rugby league players are supremely fit. We also know that the Brownlee brothers are superb athletes as well.

What we dont see is any reason for watching the sport when the season starts in just over a week.

Where are the big hits, the jinking runs through defences, the offloads and the magic? Apparently, the public dont need to see the skill of the players, but images of them running up and down in the snow tell you all you need to know about the lack of imagination shown by the RFL marketing department.

The RFL have some superb staff, but marketing needs a shake up.

Why advertise along the M62?

You’re playing into the hands of those who look down their noses at the sport and call it parochial!

Advertise along the M6 and the M1. It’s a summer sport, entice people heading to Bridlington, Scarborough, Blackpool and the Lake district to take in a game, not those who already know where games are played.

What does this video tell anyone who accidentally happens upon it about the game these athletes play?

Nothing…

I appreciate that there is an air of change at Red Hall and Media City with Nigel Wood leaving, but if we allow the game to continue to stagnate at every level, which is what we are in danger of doing if we don’t look for a candidate for his position from outside of the sport, we are in danger of the sport as a whole dying.

Thats not just my view, but one given to me by one of the most respected writers on the sport. As it was a private conversation, I’m not going to name him here, but it shows just how far those who write about the sport feel the game and it’s leadership have sunk.

Indeed, he felt that by the time of the 2025 World Cup, the UK version of the game may well be entirely amateur.

Roar on the England team to victory on Saturday

As good as it was to watch the Union boys win a World Cup in Australia back in 2003, to see the League team do it in 2017 would be an even bigger feat of sporting prowess.

Sadly, most of the mainstream media have ignored Rugby League for so long, its not a shock if you haven’t heard about a World Cup taking place in Australia.

There are plenty out there, ready to belittle the achievement of a team making it to a World Cup final, but look beyond the doubters, and see just how hard these players play the game, how tough they have to be, mentally and physically, just to make it in a sport where, sadly, a lot of players get by on part time wages, and only the very best get paid the big bucks.
Come Saturday, when the two teams take the field, every single player will have the weight of history on his shoulders.
It’s been 22 years since we last took to the field in a World Cup final, and 45 years since we last won it, and back then, we were Great Britain.
I’m no old romantic, I understand that beating one of the finest International teams, coached by one of the all time greatest players EVER to grace a pitch will be no easy feat, but I do believe this England team, if they play for a full 80 minutes, are more than capable of beating anyone.
It’s the playing for the full 80 minutes that has me worried.
During this tournament, they have too often switched off when seemingly in the box seat, and were very lucky not to lose to Tonga in their semi final last weekend.
A more experienced side would have beaten England.
The pinnacle of every sport is to become its World Champion.
This England squad are just 80 minutes away from becoming that.
In Wayne Bennett we certainly have the quiet man of coaching, but it’s out of his hands once the chosen XIII cross the whitewashed sideline in, what will be for some, the biggest game of their careers.
I cannot stress enough, just how tough it will be to beat the Kangaroos in their own back yard, but if it wasn’t for hope, what would we sports journalists write about?
The RFL team out there in Australia have worked wonders with Social media to keep fans back in England as up to date as possible, and the “OuRLeague” app has been superb. I’m happy to admit, they have surprised me with their ability to engage with fans in way they havent managed before.
No England player has EVER lifted the trophy, so here’s to our captain, Sean O’Loughlin, Slammin’ Sam Burgess, Flyin’ Jermaine McGillvary and rest of the boys.
Get up early Sunday and roar the Lions of England home to victory.
#BringItHome

The squads

England: G Widdop, J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall, K Brown, L Gale, C Hill, J Roby, J Graham, S Burgess, E Whitehead, S O’Loughlin, (capt).

Interchanges: A Walmsley, B Currie, T Burgess, C Heighington.

Australia squad: B Slater, D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes, M Morgan, C Cronk, Woods, C Smith, D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J McGuire, W Graham, J McLean, R Campbell-Gillard, T Frizell, F Kaufusi, T Trbojevic, J Mansour, J Maloney.

Looking beyond the final, England will take on the Kiwis in a three game Autumn test series in 2018.

Who knows?

Buy your tickets now and you could be watching the World Champions…

International Test Series Fixtures

Saturday October 27 (14:30), KCOM Stadium, Hull.

Saturday November 3 (14:30), Anfield, Liverpool

Sunday November 11 (15:00), Elland Road, Leeds

Another long season ahead for Salford.

After a season of (relative) calm at Salford Devils, it looks like 2018 could be another of off field mayhem.

Rumours are reaching me that head coach Ian Watson may have lost the support of a number of senior players after belittling their efforts in last seasons race to the top 8 finish

I’m told two players from the club came to blows on “Mad Monday” outside a Manchester bar and BOTH were knocked unconscious in an altercation that was caught on CCTV, but was hushed up at the time.

At least one fan favourite left the club after being told he wasn’t pulling his weight on the field, to be snapped up by another club.

There are players telling fans how unhappy they are with Ian Watson, with one being disciplined after speaking out whilst at a local gym about being dropped last season.

Now, I’ve always found Ian to be approachable and open when interviewed, and I have approached the club for comment, but have yet to hear back from them, probably because most of the squad only returned on Monday to begin pre-season training.

I hope the rumours are untrue, as, even though I am a Hull KR fan, Salford have always had a place close to my heart.

Not only do I live in their catchment area, but I have covered them for a few different outlets over the years, and to see Salford fans on the verge of taking over the club in the form of a trust after Marwan Koukash decided he’d had enough.

Indeed, one former assistant coach’s Brother and I served in the Armed forces together and my best friend is a life long fan.

I would dearly love to see Salford win silverware, just as along as it’s not against Hull KR!

Hull KR edge past Leigh in thriller at the Village

Hull KR had the luck of the devil in a close fought win over Leigh Centurions today, with the referee AND video referee missing what looked like a knock on* in the build up to their match winning try by Captain Shaun Lunt.

In an edgy encounter, it was the home side who struck first, Daniel Mortimer finding his way through a dogged Rovers defence, Josh Drinkwater adding the extras, before Rovers hit back on the half hour mark, Lunt scoring the first of his pair, converted by Jamie Ellis.

The home side went into the break with a two point lead, thanks to a penalty for holding down, which Drinkwater dispatched.

If the first half had been about flowing and attacking rugby, with defences winning the key battles, then the second half was to follow a similar pattern.

It was to be nearly 10 minutes in to the second half before either side would trouble the scoreboard again, Drinkwater slipping over a penalty after Rovers Lee Jewitt decided to mess about at the play of the ball.

As we approached the hour mark, Rovers drew level, after Ryan Shaw had his effort set upstairs to video referee James Child. Ellis accurate adding the extras and the visitors were in front, 10-12.

Ellis added a penalty to extend the Robins lead, before the home side struck back with a try from Atilia Vea, and a Drinkwater conversion that went in off the upright, saw Leigh hit the front again.

With just five minutes left on the clock came the moment that, as Leigh head coach Neil Jukes put it, could cost someone their job, as Rovers appeared to knock on at the play of the ball, only for Lunt to squeeze over for his second of the game.

Again, it was sent to the video referee, who somehow missed the knock on by Nick Scruton and went with the on field decision of try and Rovers winning score, 16-20 when the final whistle went.

Leigh coach Neil Jukes:

Hull KR coach Tim Sheens:

 

Leigh (8) 16
Tries: Mortimer, Vea Goals: Drinkwater 4
Hull KR (6) 20
Tries: Lunt 2, Shaw Goals: Ellis 4

Leigh: McNally; Dawson, Fleming, Langi, Higson; Mortimer, Drinkwater; Hansen, Higham, Maria, Vea, Paterson, Burr.

Replacements: Hood, Richards, Tickle, Stewart.

Hull KR: Moss; Carney, Blair, Hefernan, Shaw; Marsh, Ellis; Scruton, Lawler, Jewitt, Addy, Clarkson, Kavanagh.

Replacements: Lunt, Greenwood, Atkin, Masoe.

Referee: Jack Smith

*The video referee is not allowed to look at the play of the ball when a decision is referred to him. Thank you Rod Studd for letting me know. 

Salford stutter in the rain as Castleford shine in 4-23 win

 

Nice for the ducks

For the opening 40 minutes, Castleford were playing up to their “Classy Cas” tag, albeit aided by some odd refereeing decisions from the man in the middle, Chris Kendall.

He managed to send two tries upstairs to the video referee, both of which his on field decision was overturned, he gave a knock on against the home side when there hadn’t been one, and generally looked out of his depth on a wet night on the banks of the ship canal.

Honestly, I don’t like to have a go at the man with the toughest job in the sport, but Chris Kendall was so far out of his depth tonight in the first half, it was a wonder he wasn’t replaced during the break.

As it was, two first half tries from Zak Hardaker, both converted by Luke Gale were the difference by half time, but a half where Salford had a one try wiped out for a forward pass (it wasn’t) and one for obstruction (it was) it was to be one of those evenings at the AJ Bell where the referee took centre stage, certainly in the first half, rather than the players the fans actually pay to see.

Hardaker, if not already a shoe in for the England full back spot, certainly put head coach Wayne Bennett on alert with his performance in the rain tonight.

Salford home debutant Manu Vatuvei scored a try that was sent up to the video referee as a try, and was rewarded for his effort when it was given. That was early in the second half and about the only bright spot for the home side, who saw Tyrone McCarthy pull up during the warm up to be replaced by Craig Kopczak.

Then, on the hour mark, McShane went over, another Gale conversion and Cas were home, and if not dry, at least hosed.

They weren’t finished though.

With just over 15 left, they went over again, This time Hardaker turned provider with a looping pass out wide for Jy Hitchcox to score, when he could have easily gone over for what would have been a deserved hatrick of scores.

As it was, Cas were too good for anyone tonight, and a late drop goal by Luke Gale to extend the lead just put into perspective just how good this Yorkshire club have been this season.

Can they win the Grand Final?

Possibly, but it will depend on their opponents.

They deserve the league leaders shield, Salford however, need to take a look at themselves in the mirror before next week.

They just ween’t at the races tonight.

Perhaps Michael Dobson and Lama Tasi are bigger players for the team on the pitch than I previously thought, but there was a lack of leadership on the field that would worry me if I were a Salford fan.

Ian Watson did say post match that Junior Sa’u and Michael Dobson could have started tonight, but with some tough games coming up, starting with a trip to Wigan next week, He’ll want to make certain any players coming back are fully fit.

Perhaps the target of making the top 8 being achieved, a few players took their eye off the ball, and were mentally ready for the off season. Knowing Ian Watson, I cant imagine him letting up on the players one bit, but whatever the problem, at this rate, Salford will be well out of the race to Old Trafford by the time they next appear at home in early September.

 

 

TEAMS

Salford: Niall Evalds, Greg Johnson, Jake Bibby, Josh Jones, Manu Vatuvei, Rob Lui, Todd Carney, Adam Walne, Logan Tomkins, Weller Hauraki, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Ryan Lannon, Craig Kopczak, George Griffin, Kriss Brining, Olsi Krasniqi, Daniel Murray.

Castleford: Zak Hardaker, Joel Monaghan, Jake Webster, Greg Minikin, Jy Hitchcox, Ben Roberts, Luke Gale, Grant Millington, Paul McShane, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Oliver Holmes, Michael McMeeking, Nathan Massey, Adam Milner, Gadwin Springer, Matt Cook, Alex Foster.