WITH 10 rounds completed and the Challenge Cup break coming this weekend, it’s a good time to look back on how the season has gone so far.
From our point of view, we are in a good place and happy with where we are sitting at the moment.
Obviously at the start of the season if we had been offered top spot after round 10, with just one defeat, the best defence and second-best attack we would have taken it.
But that said, nobody is resting on their laurels or getting overconfident or complacent. We are working hard and we know there’s a lot more still to be done if this is going to be a successful season for us.
We are only just into the second third of the campaign and the real business lies ahead. There are some massive games coming up, starting tomorrow and we know we can and must improve.
That’s one encouraging factor, we are going well, but we know we haven’t hit our best form yet. Another pleasing thing is the fact we have a reasonably healthy squad and Brian McDermott has been able to give players a rest here and there, which will benefit us later on.
Being top of the table is a good feeling and it’s something we haven’t experienced for a while. I think it shows we mean business this year, though there’s still an awful long way to go and a lot can happen over the next five months.
We have been accused of not caring about what happens during the regular season and just focusing on the end of the year and the play-offs.
That has never been the case. Like any team, every time we step on to the field we are out there to win.
Over the past five or six years we have been the defending champions more often than not and that brings its own pressure.
Everybody wants to knock you off and every team you play raises their game against you. I think Wigan are finding that this year, but it’s a situation we aren’t having to cope with – though we’d like to in 12 months’ time.
Also, we have been together for a few years now and we have had time to get used to the way Brian wants us to play and the systems and structures he has brought in. That didn’t happen overnight, but we feel a lot more comfortable now and that is another thing which is working in our favour.
Looking at the competition as a whole, it seems to be more evenly-contested this year. As I’ve mentioned before, Castleford and Widnes are both going well, while Warrington and Huddersfield have found it tough so far and Wigan are only just finding their feet.
Looking at the fixture list every week, it is hard to predict the winners and I genuinely think a lot of matches now are 50-50 calls. That can only be good for the competition as a whole. I am sure there will be a couple of surprise names in the top-eight at the end of the regular season and a few fancied teams will miss out.
Injuries will no doubt have a bearing and there’s still time for teams who are struggling to find their form, while others who have been going well could slip up.
It is all to play for and the really big games are still to come. The back end of the year is when you need to be hitting peak form, but so far we can be pleased with the way things are going and the competition itself is boiling up into what looks like being a thrilling title race.
A FEW people have been asking what happened when I had to go off against Salford on Monday.
I am not exactly sure, but I made a tackle on our line and I think somebody stamped on my face.
I ended up with a few cuts and bruises, but it was all part and parcel of the game and nothing too dramatic – certainly nothing a bit of rest and some ice won’t take care of. It perhaps looked quite bad because I was down for a while, but I went to the medical room and got sorted quite quickly.
The lads have been saying it has actually improved my looks, but I am not too sure. Everybody accepts a few war wounds as an occupational hazard, but nobody wants their face to get marked up.
I have been pretty lucky. It was only the second time, in my whole career, I have had to go off and get stitched up during a game, which I don’t think is a bad record.
I know a few players who think they haven’t been trying if they don’t end up bleeding from somewhere at some stage of a game. Anyway, I was glad I was able to get back on the field in the second half and I will be fit, willing and available for tomorrow’s game, if selected.
IF YOU’re going to watch tomorrow’s Challenge Cup tie in your living room or in the pub, rather than at the ground, please don’t.
Everybody talks about home advantage and there’s no doubt if we have a big crowd behind us it will boost our chances of getting past St Helens and into the quarter-final draw.
We had a fantastic crowd for the Salford game on Monday and they made a difference when the going was tough, in the second quarter of the match.
Salford had a real dig and we were forced to defend our line for long periods, but I know the way the crowd got behind us played a big role in us keeping them out.
Also, the game is on BBC television and we want our sport to be seen in the best possible light and a big gate and fantastic atmosphere will help do that.
The scene is set for a real thriller and if the last two times we’ve played Saints are anything to go by, the fans will get their money’s worth.
We beat them by a drop goal at Headingley in the play-offs last year and then they grabbed a late try to end our unbeaten record a month a go.
We have a history of exciting, unpredictable games against Saints and I am sure tomorrow will be no different. We are top of the table and they are third so it is two teams in form and I can’t speak for Saints, but I know the Challenge Cup is a big target for us this year.
We have been together as a squad for a while, but we’ve never found our best form in the Cup and that is something we are really keen to put right.
We will need to be up there this weekend, because Saints are a fantastic team. They’ve got a big pack and outstanding backs, so we will have our hands full.
They will be confident after beating us last month. We had plenty of opportunities in the game at Langtree Park, but we probably didn’t chance our arm enough.
We played a bit too conservatively in the conditions, they defended well, hung in there, scored a couple of late tries and got the win. I think that result – especially as they had quite a few players out – will probably make them slight favourites, but there’s not much in it.
We are confident if we play to our best we won’t be far away and it is another of those games which could come down to one piece or individual magic, a mistake or the bounce of the ball.
I am sure whatever the result, it’ll be a great advert for rugby league and the Challenge Cup.