Leeds Rhinos: Big crowds confirmed appetite for our game – McGuire

Ali Lauitiiti.

Ali Lauitiiti.

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I SAID in last week’s column I thought there was a buzz around the sport ahead of the new season and the crowds for round one proved it.

Some of the attendances towards the back end of last year were a bit disappointing, but people have been starved of rugby over the winter and they showed there’s still a huge enthusiasm and appetite for the game.

I’ve just had my calculator out* and last week’s matches attracted a total of 63,435 spectators, at an average of 10,572. That’s an increase of 16 per cent on the corresponding fixtures last year.

There were four five-figure gates and that’s despite three of the best-supported clubs – us, Hull and Wigan – being away.

I think if those three had started with home games the overall attendance would have been even higher.

It’s early days, but hopefully it shows people have bought into the idea of the new era and they like what the fresh format is bringing to our sport.

It was the second successive year we’ve played in front of a ground-record crowd at Hull KR in round one.

To get 11,800 fans through the turnstiles was a fantastic effort by Hull KR – and the Leeds supporters who made the journey – especially considering they were a lower-division club just a few years ago.

They really know how to sell a game and that is fantastic. I think there was a bit of uncertainty about how they’d go this year, with so many new players in the squad, but they’ve made some fantastic signings, they’ve got a talented young English coach and I think they are in for a good season.

It’s the same at Widnes Vikings, who we play tonight. They got a great attendance for their game against Wigan and the way they fought back from 16-0 down to get a draw, with only 12 men, shows how tough they are and what a good job their coach Denis Betts is doing.

They are a club I admire because they are improving every year and they are showing what can be achieved if you give a coach time to build a squad.

With home advantage we will probably be favourites for tonight’s game, but we are going to have to play really well to get anything out of it. We don’t want to be the victims of another shock because there’s been a few surprise results already.

I think Hull are going to have a big year, but I don’t think many people would have tipped them to go to Huddersfield Giants and win 19-0 in week one.

We know how tough it is to get a result against Huddersfield, so that was a fantastic effort by Lee Radford’s team.

Also, Wakefield weren’t tipped to get anything out of their trip to Cas, but they came away with a precious win.

I’ve got a few friends at Wakey – little Macca (McShane) and big Ali (Lauitiiti) – and I know they are getting a bit sick of people writing them off and saying they are going to finish bottom.

They have developed a really strong unit there and they are going to surprise a few people this season.

So with just one game played, some teams are already desperate for a victory, but you look down the fixture list for an easy game and there aren’t any.

Reducing the competition to 12 clubs – and the split into top-eight and bottom-four after 23 rounds – has made it really intense and nobody wants to get left behind. The teams who lost last week know they don’t have time to ease themselves into the season and they have to get on track quickly.

As far as we are concerned, we want to keep improving and picking up points and we know we will have to raise our game a level or two from what we put on last week, though we were pretty good in a few areas.

Widnes will fancy their chances, especially with an extra couple of days’ preparation, but hopefully we can get another bumper crowd and we can reward our loyal fans with two more points.

*Not really – I looked it up on the web!

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IT IS really disappointing to see the criticism some referees have been getting after last weekend’s matches.

There were a number of controversial decisions and, as usual, they seemed to dominate the headlines in the papers and on television following Super League round one.

I was talking about this with a few of the Leeds boys earlier this week and the general feeling was that referees are in a similar situation to players at the start of the season.

We have been training for a long time and we go into round one feeling like we are ready, but the reality is we are all still really rusty and it takes us a week or two to get into the swing of things.

We’ve played a few warm-up matches, but it is different when the real business starts, there’s more on the line and you are performing in front of bigger crowds.

It’s the same for referees. I know how hard they have been working in training and most of them will have got a few friendlies under their belt, but it is not the same as a competitive match. They are going to make mistakes, just like we do. As players we miss tackles and drop balls and referees are the same. It is a tough job, but you can’t avoid people moaning about their performance, it’s all over Twitter and social media.

I am sure if you give referees a few weeks their performance will improve, just like the players’. Refs do their best and I know they are as disappointed after a poor game as any of us are. I wouldn’t say I know any of the current officials particularly well, but they all seem like decent blokes.

I think the amount of scrutiny they are under is unfair and it would be better if they were cut a bit more slack.

Nobody goes to a game to watch the referee, the fans want to see great players, strong defence and exciting tries and that’s what everyone should be talking about afterwards.

Alex Walmsley.

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