At this very early stage it’s not yet clear if Super League 2014 is going to be inspirational or depressing.
Possibly a bit of both, judging by the first couple of weeks of the campaign.
To take the bad news first, Wigan Warriors offered little in their World Club Challenge showdown against Sydney Roosters, other than guts and effort. On anything like a level playing field, the Aussies are still far too good.
London Broncos are already a sure thing for the drop into the Kingstone Press Championship next year. Their two results so far have seen them thrashed 64-10 at Widnes Vikings – a team they should at least be competing with if they have any realistic ambitions of staying up – and 44-18 by visitors Salford Red Devils.
Wakefield, one of London’s likeliest rivals in the relegation dogfight, lost by only four points at Salford the week before, so there’s clearly a huge gulf to bridge and the sort of Aussie journeymen Broncos are jetting in are unlikely to save them.
On top of that, just 1,246 spectators turned up at London’s new home, The Hive, for the Salford game, which was fewer than attended Championship matches at Barrow and Featherstone the following day.
Supposedly, relegation is being reintroduced because it adds excitement and levels of interest which will have fans flocking in. Not on the evidence of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ supposed four-pointer against Bradford Bulls last week it doesn’t. That was a dismal error-ridden affair played in front of a crowd of just 4,049. Wildcats were very poor, but Bulls’ resilience after losing half-back Lee Gaskell early on was impressive.
Gaskell is facing up to 12 weeks out due to knee ligament damage and Wakefield centre Dean Collis will miss two matches after admitting a Grade C charge of making dangerous contact.
That charge has been deemed harsh by many observers, but some bad tackles – particularly two by Catalan Dragions players – have occured already this year. Any attempt to attack an opponent’s joints is dangerous and potentially career-threatening and it’s something the game needs to cut out.
All that said, the top-flight promises to be both unpredictable and exciting this term. St Helens look a classy side with some backbone and Leeds Rhinos have impressed in their two games so far, particularly when their dangerous backs have been brought into play.
Salford have made the sort of start their owner will have been hoping for and it is good to see Castleford Tigers sitting proudly at the top of the First Utility Super League table, with a 100 per cent record after two rounds.
Justin Carney could be a decent outside bet for Man of Steel this year, Liam Finn has made a great start to life back in Super League and Michael Shenton, Daryl Clark and Michael Channing are others who have begun the year in eye-catching form.
It is pleasing for two of the game’s good guys, coach Daryl Powell and chief executive Steve Gill, who has the club in his heart and is doing sterling work to put Tigers back at the heart of their community.
Sky TV’s coverage of the opening couple of rounds has been excellent and the televising of Catalan home games is a welcome addition to output.
There has been plenty to fret about already, but also much to enjoy. Super League remains a distance behind the NRL and it already looks like becoming two competitions in one, but early signs are this will be an entertaining year.
Bulls hit by points deduction
OF COURSE the biggest and most deflating story of the season so far has been the continued demise of Super League’s fallen giants Bradford Bulls.
A points deduction for entering administration, for the second time, was inevitable, but six is harsher than almost anybody expected.
The four-paragraph RFL statement announcing the penalty may well have signalled the beginning of the end of Bulls’ status as a top-flight club.
Bulls’ directors admit relegation is now “almost certain”, have blasted “poor leadership” by the RFL and say they have withdrawn their offer to purchase the club. It is a nasty, ugly mess, which has been building to this point for several years. Not only is Bulls’ Super League membership in doubt, the club’s entire future is back in the balance.
Bulls are a big city club with proven crowd-pulling potential which is supposedly what Super League is all about. Had Bulls been allocated full funding for the past couple of years, since their last spell in administration, the current crisis could have been avoided. Years of bad decisions are to blame and maybe a fresh start is now the only way forward.