THE BEST comment on the highs and lows of a new season came on social media from a Salford Red Devils fan.
Before his team kicked off at Hull, Paul Barratt Tweeted: “Feels good to be back!!! Come on Salford!!!” Soon into the game he had changed his tune: “Feel like going home!!!!!” He didn’t actually say “going”, but that was the gist.
Then, near the end: “Where [sic] so **** it’s unbelievable!!! Where so **** it’s unbelievable!!!!! £$%^&+* joke!!! Roll on the end of the season!!! Going home!!!!”
It does not take long for hope and optimism to turn to resignation, despair and anger. No doubt the hope will return if Salford beat visitors St Helens tonight.
Round one is obviously the first test, but it doesn’t mean a great deal. Twelve months ago Wakefield Trinity Wildcats were celebrating a victory at Castleford Tigers. They won their opening two games of 2015, then had to wait until July for their next victory over top-flight opposition.
There will be many twists and turns over the next eight months, but, on the evidence of one game, both Warrington Wolves and Hull will be much-improved this year. Hull have the tools to be a force this season, though that’s an observation made at this time most years.
Warrington were well below par in 2015, but have signed well and look stronger both in attack and defence. Their tackling effort against Leeds was superb and that was without several injured players. They look capable of repeating what Rhinos did last season and going from sixth to top.
Wigan had a solid win over Catalans Dragons, in appalling conditions on a mudbath of a pitch and St Helens saw off visitors Huddersfield Giants in a competitive game. A home win was expected in both cases, just as Catalans and Giants will fancy their chances of overturning the result in the return. Wakefield Trinity Wildcats were competitive against a tough Widnes side, but Castleford had to settle for a draw at Hull KR, despite leading in the final seconds.
As for Leeds, they clearly missed Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield, but that’s hardly a shock. This is a transitional year and it is going to take time for them to find their feet.
The loss of new captain Danny McGuire with a knee injury in the first half was a huge blow and could have a big bearing on their season. He could be out for two months, but a setback can also be an opportunity. Young scrum-half Jordan Lilley got good game time when McGuire went off and even playing out of position at hooker he looked the part. If boss Brian McDermott has the faith to stick with him over the next weeks – and after an impressive performance and his effort last week there’s no reason why he shouldn’t – Lilley will only benefit from the experience.
Likewise, there will be even more weight on stand-off Liam Sutcliffe’s shoulders. He is just one competitive game into his comeback from a serious knee injury, but has huge potential.
A panic move would be to shift someone else into the halves, or sign somebody – or maybe even get on the phone to Kevin Sinfield. But Sutcliffe is 21 and the future of the club.
He deserves an opportunity to show what he can do and, even if that means some tough times in the immediate future, it will pay off long-term.
McGuire’s injury was a huge setback for the new captain, but not an isolated incident. The most disturbing aspect of the opening weekend was the number of players picking up long-term knocks.
Tigers skipper Michael Shenton suffered the injury every player dreads, anterior cruciate ligament (acl) damage. He will be out for most, if not all, of the season and that is devastating for him and his club.
Danny Brough missed the second half of Giants’ defeat at Saints due to a dead leg, Scott Grix was hurt in the same match and team-mate Luke Robinson has retired due to a hip problem.
Luckless Catalans hooker Paul Aiton returned from the broken arm he suffered playing for Leeds last summer, but lasted a matter of minutes before sustaining pectoral muscle damage which will sideline him for around six weeks.
It is a tough game and – whatever we think when our team messes up – the men who play it are true sporting warriors.