Wakefield v Leigh Could Prove Defining For Both
It’s all very well swanning around in your first season back in the top flight beating the likes of St Helens, Warrington and Huddersfield, but can Leigh Centurions perform in the games that they would have targeted as potential points providers before the season started?
If Neil Jukes’ side are going to have a realistic chance of making the Super 8s it is likely to be because they have consistently come out on top against sides expected to be in the mid to lower reaches of the table at the end of Round 23. Picking up giant scalps is a nice bonus but it is unlikely to happen often enough to earn Leigh or Wakefield (who we must also remember disposed of St Helens earlier in the season) a place in the elite by itself. Their Thursday night meeting at Belle Vue (March 23) is exactly the sort of fixture that both need to be targeting and one which may, further down the track, prove the difference between the elite and the scrap for survival for one or the other.
Wakefield looked ordinary in defeat to Leeds last time out, a 38-14 tonking which snapped a two-game winning streak which had taken in both Saints and Salford. Meanwhile Leigh had handed out a 22-8 defeat to a currently comatose Warrington side 24 hours earlier. The most recent form then suggests that Leigh, who also smashed 30 without reply against a Giants side good enough to earn a draw at Wigan last weekend, must be slight favourites for this one. Yet their away form has been poor so far, with a 20-0 defeat at Wigan following a 44-16 beating by Castleford on opening day. By contrast Wakefield have fared reasonably well in their two home outings so far, narrowly edged 12-8 by Hull FC in Round 1 before edging out Salford 24-22 in their last game at their soon to be abandoned home.
It’s early, but you get a sense that both will be aware of the magnitude of this one and its possible long-term consequences.
Will Saints Or Warrington Get Off The Canvas First?
Have you seen Rocky II? On the off chance that you have been living in an electricity free bubble on Venus for the last 40 years I will remind you. It is the first of several silly but hugely enjoyable sequels to the Oscar winning classic, in which both Rocky and Apollo hit the deck in the dying moments of their rematch and it becomes a race to see which one of them can get up first and claim the glory.
Strained analogies notwithstanding, there is a bit of that about Saints’ meeting with Warrington Wolves at the SFKALP on Friday night (March 24). Both have been hit repeatedly about the bonce in the early part of the season, with Warrington having somehow failed to win any of their five league outings so far. Their loss at Leigh Sports Village last week was exceptionally dismal. Though the every minute matters hashtag gives us all a good belly laugh in its implausibility, it is getting very close to the point in Warrington’s season when yet another loss could be hugely damaging to their prospects of making the top four. Losing becomes a habit that is hard to break regardless of the amount of talent you have at your disposal. Ask Leeds Rhinos.
Staggering around similarly are Saints, who temporarily awoke from a slumber that has seen them lose at Leigh and Hull and at home to Wakefield to pull of a fine win in Perpignan over Catalans Dragons last Saturday (March 18). They did it with some fine, open and dare we say it flowing rugby league too. Defensively they were all over the shop in the first half particularly, but if there is any way to prepare to face a side like Warrington it is with an attacking shoot-out in which the philosophy is very much ‘however many you score, we’ll score more.’ Expect more of the same here.
Expect errors too, with Warrington having made more than any other side in Super League so far except Leigh. Saints sit a less than healthy fifth on that particular list also. Only Leeds offload the ball more than these two so far in 2017, which is in stark contrast to the perceived up the jumper style of Saints under Keiron Cunningham. The addition of Zeb Taia and Adam Walker has helped in that regard, while Wolves Ashton Sims and Mike Cooper both feature in the league’s top 10 offloaders.
Whatever happens it is likely to be open and could feature plenty of points. Yet Saints would certainly seem to have the edge defensively. Only Huddersfield and Widnes have shipped in more points than Warrington so far (and they have played a game more than Tony Smith’s side) while for all their problems in attack prior to last weekend Saints have only conceded an average of 18.4 points per game.