Super League, which word springs to mind when describing 2017? Unpredictable. If there’s anything that’s been apparent compared to years gone by then it’s that any team on their day is capable of beating another. As a fan, it’s mightily frustrating but as a neutral tuning into Sky to watch Thursday or Friday night coverage, it has become a lottery of excitement.
You’ve got to heap praise upon teams who’ve become accustomed to battling it out in the lower echelons of the league such as Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity. There’s no doubting they’ve raised their game. Ian Watson’s side flirted with the unthinkable at Craven Park last October, clinching their Super League status in the most dramatic of circumstances in the MPG. To turn their fortunes around into a potential Top 4 team is mightily impressive. Moreover they’ve done it by fine tuning their side, even taking into account their salary cap woes. Wakefield are another example, albeit at the expense of Salford. After reaching the Super 8s last season, Chris Chester is a Coach who has developed a real team ethos amongst his players. What is quite striking amongst this crop of teams is the cohesion within their squads. Not necessarily the most appealing on paper such as Marwan Koukash’s ill-fated recruitment drive for 2014 but embedded with a strong nucleus. Anybody who has featured in a successful team at their own recreational level will be aware that you don’t necessarily have to be technically good to succeed. If you have a strong understanding and enjoy playing together, then realistically you can beat any opposition. The Castleford Tigers team of 2017 are perhaps a slightly different model. Their squad is blessed with several strike players that any team would wish to have such as Ben Roberts, Luke Gale and Rangi Chase. Again, Daryl Powell has blended this with local stalwarts such as Andy Lynch and Michael Shenton to create a strong rapport.
So you might ask, what of our ‘Usual Suspects’ such as Leeds Rhinos and St Helens? Teams’ of the past, amongst others, that played some of the most sumptuous Rugby League seen in recent times. Why has their dominance faded? Coaching, recruitment and/or a lack of it? They are all contributing factors but I would suggest this team ethic has gradually disappeared in some of the bigger clubs. St Helens are a perfect example. Clearly no longer the team of yesteryear who were branded as ‘The Entertainers’, yet fans expectations remain the same. Therefore in terms of recruitment, players with marquee prices are brought in to make an impact. Zeb Taia for Joe Greenwood really does strike a chord with this point. Wigan’s ability to seemingly deliver repeated success is probably because in recent years they’ve left behind the big money signings and instead placed an almost perpetual emphasis on bringing through academy prospects such as 2017 stars George Williams, Liam Marshall And Tom Davies. Hull FC are another beneficiary of this approach and it’s no surprise they’re having another strong start to their campaign.
Is the eminence of 2017’s so-called unfashionable & unfancied clubs a contributing factor to the unpredictable season we are having so far? Are we witnessing a changing of the guard? If so then long may it continue as healthy competition is the staple diet for an exciting league.