Plenty to ponder as new Super League rules bed in – Peter Smith

AFTER TWO matches it is a bit early to be writing off the new rules, but hopefully Super League’s return following coronavirus will be a learning process.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 4:40 pm
IN CHARGE: Referee Ben Thaler takes charge of the St Helens v Catalans Dragons at Headingley on Sunday. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

It was expected the tackle restart law and abolition of scrums – which is a temporary measure during the pandemic – would speed games up, but the first two were a little too much like touch and pass.

While low scoring encounters can be the most fascinating, it is tries that get fans excited and there were plenty of those, 10 in Leeds Rhinos’ 27-26 victory over Huddersfield Giants and seven when St Helens outclassed Catalans Dragons 34-6.

The anglo-French encounter was too one-sided to be particularly entertaining, though Saints played some excellent rugby and, on that very early evidence, may have put their relatively slow start under Kristian Woolf behind them.

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MATCH WINNER: Luke Gale celebrates with his team-mates after his drop goal defeated Huddersfield Giants on Sunday. Picture: James Hardisty.

The West Yorkshire derby was similar for more than an hour as a very efficient and clinical Giants side powered into a 26-6 lead, but it then developed into the sort of classic which will be remembered, by Leeds fans at least, for a long time.

Rhinos ran in four tries in the final 12 minutes, Rhyse Martin booted the equalising conversion with less than 60 seconds remaining and Luke Gale’s drop goal sent Leeds top of the table after Jake Wardle and Lee Gaskell had both missed for Huddersfield. It was pulsating stuff and, like the opening match at Emerald Headingley, the only real stoppages came for conversion attempts or serious injuries.

There are two sides to rugby league, attack and defence.

A fast game is generally more entertaining than a slow one, but a balance is needed.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Robert Hicks taking charge of Huddersfield Giants v Leeds Rhinos on Sunday. Picture: James Hardisty.

Without scrums there is little opportunity for players or viewers to take a breather, which both need at times.

Giants’ big lead came on the back of a 10-4 penalty count, but once they had established a 20-point gap the count evened up and finished 10-9 which was a factor in the way momentum swung.

The tackle count was restarted 10 times, so referee Robert Hicks spotted 29 infringements.

By comparison, under the previous laws, he awarded 16 penalties the previous time he was in charge of a Leeds game, against Warrington in February.

In Sunday’s other game, Ben Thaler awarded six penalties and restarted the count eight times.

The disparity could be because the two referees had a slightly different interpretation, or discipline in the second match wasn’t as good.

It will be interesting to look at a bigger sample this weekend, when 10 teams are in action, but set restarts have replaced penalties for ruck infringements and hopefully referees will use them that way, rather than for borderline incidents when a word of warning might be more appropriate.

Giants could feel hard done to after being so dominant for most of the match, but will be alarmed at the way they faded while Leeds’ strong finish was a positive sign from them. When Rhinos cut out the errors and penalties which dog their game at times, they will be both hard to beat and fun to watch, though their next couple of fixtures – against Saints and Wigan Warriors – will give a better indication of whether they can challenge for honours this year.

A draw really would have been a fair result and the need for golden point extra-time remains unproven.

Nobody wants rugby played behind closed doors, but with flags covering much of the terracing last Sunday and cardboard fans filling the top half of the North Stand, Headingley did not feel empty.

Super League and the Rugby Football League put an enormous amount of effort into bringing the sport back and generally they did a fine job in really testing circumstances which, given recent public health developments, look likely to continue for longer than anybody had predicted or hoped.

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