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Rugby League: Which Challenge Cup quarter-final was the best? [Jun. 3rd, 2010|11:45 am]
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Here's a question to ponder. Which of the two televised Challenge Cup quarter-finals last weekend did you enjoy more?

The answer is easy enough on the face of it. Bradford against Warrington was a flee-flowing to-and-fro affair, in doubt until the end.

Leeds versus Wigan was just as close, but had nothing resembling a try until Lee Smith's last-minute winner.

Until that marvellous finish, I'd found it a frustrating match. Strong defence and difficult handling conditions had a lot to do with it, but the handling was dreadful and the game was dominated by two things - the referee's whistle and place-kicking.

More than one person at the match made the obvious remark: "If this was what I wanted to see, I'd watch rugby union."

I'd broadly agree with that, although you can forgive a match a lot for that sort of finish.

But a lot of people who watched it on TV thought it was absolutely great from start to finish - which, in my book, it wasn't. I've seen low-scoring or even non-scoring games which justified that description, but this wasn't one of them.

Give me the game at Odsal the following day, although one or two of the tries were admittedly a bit on the soft side.

Now we just have a couple of months to wait for the semis!


Plenty to think about in Steve McNamara's first England squad...

Strictly speaking, he doesn't need Melbourne's Gareth Widdop yet, but it's a shrewd move to get him committed to the England cause.

The man he has replaced, Shaun Briscoe, can consider himself unlucky, as can Ryan Atkins and, most of all, Eorl Crabtree.

I don't know what the Huddersfield Giant did wrong in his Tests last autumn, or indeed for his club this season, but I'd want him up the sleeve for his impact off the bench.
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Rugby League: Thoughts on State of Origin [May. 27th, 2010|12:41 pm]
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Steve McNamara did not watch the first State of Origin live, for the good reason that he was preparing his Bradford team for a Challenge Cup semi-final.

When he does sit down and study it, he will find confirmation of what he already knows, namely that these games are played with an intensity and a level of skill that we are still striving for in this country.

As a positive-minded person, however, he will also be looking for areas that can be exploited come the Four Nations this autumn.

In my unofficial, unpaid role as seeker after reasons to be cheerful, I'd like to suggest the following.

1. Jarryd Hayne is a dazzling attacking full-back, almost but not quite as good as Billy Slater. But played out of position on the wing, he can be caught out defensively.

2. Jamal Idris is the scariest thing with the ball in his hands since Mal Meninga, but he too is subject to defensive uncertainty.

3. Lockyer and Thurston are one of those 'made in heaven' half-back combinations. Any other pairing brings Australia down several notches.

4. They don't have another hooker remotely as good as Cameron Smith.

5. We have two English forwards - Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess - who are playing at this level week after week and shining. Either one of them would have been worth an Origin jumper, if they had played their first footy in NSW or Queensland rather than West Yorkshire.

I know McNamara is keen to put out his strongest possible side out against France, for one thing to try to match the continuity that Origin gives the Aussies' key combinations.

It should look something like this: Briscoe; Fox, Atkins, Bridge, Hall; S.Tomkins, Eastmond; Morley, Roby, Graham, Ellis, Burgess, O'Loughlin.

Subs: Crabtree, Sinfield, J.Tomkins, Westwood.
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Rugby League: I'm not sorry to have missed Blackpool's 132 [May. 19th, 2010|03:33 pm]
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People who know of my soft spot for Blackpool have been saying that they bet I wish I had been there to see them put 132 points past Gateshead on Sunday.

On the contrary, I'm glad I missed it - and any other match that day, thanks to great-nephew Finnan's christening. There's no pleasure in seeing that happen to a side, although I'm can quite believe that the Panthers scored some wonderful tries among their 22.

But you want to have to work for these things; otherwise, like an endless diet of strawberries and cream, it starts to pall.

Panthers coach Martin Crompton feels the same way. As a real rugby league man, he would have been happier winning a real contest.

He tells me he tried his best to stop his side reaching 100, by playing props on the wing and wingers in the front row, as well as deliberately taking off some of his most dangerous players.

It was no good. The Panthers topped the ton with 25 minutes left, so it could have been even worse.

The one thing that limits my sympathy for Gateshead is the memory of 1994, when the then Blackpool Gladiators let in 142 against Huddersfield.

What's more, I had to watch it - or felt morbidly drawn to watch it - because Huddersfield screened it the following week at their next home match.

I'm not sorry to have missed Blackpool's 132, but I'd rather watch that than the 142 again!


I'm not writing in praise of fraud or counterfeiting as human activities, but I feel a bit sorry for Gareth Raynor.

The winger has been jailed for 15 months, nine for a computer ink scam and six from a suspended sentence for a previous assault.

As far as the main charge is concerned, it doesn't sound the most heinous crime in the history of the penal system. Okay, selling dodgy ink is wrong and you shouldn't do it, but is it worse than glassing someone in  a pub - to cite one offence for which perpetrators often avoid prison?

Still, the people of Hull can sleep easy, knowing that the integrity of their printing ink is being safeguarded.
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Rugby League: Farewell to Edinburgh [May. 5th, 2010|12:30 pm]
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So farewell to Edinburgh....

Sadly, I don't expect to be back there on rugby league business for quite some time.

Even though the RFL brazenly described a 7000 fall in attendances as a success, the real situation is that Murrayfield has run its course.

Sure, those who went enjoyed it, but even those who seemed to be enjoying it most said, when I asked them, that they would rather be in Cardiff.

The selling point of the Millenium Stadium is its city-centre location. People just like that and the only other example I can think of is Newcastle. It wouldn't surprise me to be in either of those cities next year.

Of course, we'd all be feeling a lot more chipper about Edinburgh if the rugby had been memorable. You can't legislate for these things, but one out-and-out good contest out of seven is a poor return.

Okay, it was good to see Crusaders and Harlequins get well publicised victories, but too many teams just didn't turn up - notably Salford and the Hull clubs.

Perhaps some clubs and some players didn't quite buy into the concept and, if they don't, the paying public can hardly be expected to.

The basic idea of a big weekend away for everyone in mid-season is still a good one. We just haven't got the formula right yet.
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Rugby League: There's a question mark over Wigan [Apr. 28th, 2010|01:49 pm]
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There haven't been many turnarounds in Super League like Harlequins' second half at Wigan on Friday.

For the bottom of the league to trail 24-6 at half-time and beat the top of the league 38-26 is the stuff of comic book fantasy.

Yet there was no fluke about it. Wigan were simply played off the park after the break.

They are still leading the competition, but that's the third rotten second half they have put in this season, following Bradford and Sheffield.

That has put just a little question mark over their credentials. As usual, there is a theory to go with it; in old school parlance, they might be what used to be called overtrained.

There is no doubt that Wigan were the fittest team in the comp during the first two months of the season, but that isn't a peak you can maintain indefinitely. If you could, it wouldn't be a peak - more of a plateau.

When your defence is built on getting extra men into the tackle, you don't have to be very far off the pace for the gaps to start to appear.

And as for that young Quins hooker Danny Orr... get him signed up, Wigan.
They don't exactly have an easy match with which to try to get back on the rails.

Wigan's clash with Huddersfield looks like the highlight of the Murrayfield weekend. I just hope there is a decent crowd there to see it.

A worrying number of people are saying that, although they enjoyed it last year, they feel they've now been there, done that, got the kilt.

It remains a great deal for anyone who likes lots of rugby in a beautiful city. What would you rather be doing this weekend?
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Rugby League: Challenge Cup draw evokes giant killing memories [Apr. 14th, 2010|12:34 pm]
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It will bring back legions of memories on Saturday when Sheffield Eagles play Wigan in the Challenge Cup.

Their victory over Wigan at Wembley 12 years ago ranks as the biggest Cup upset ever - although Leigh beating Leeds in 1971 pushes it hard.

The thing I remember about the build-up was Sheffield's absolute confidence that they were going to win.

If I had spent five minutes longer with Mark Aston, he would have convinced me to have a bet on them at 14-1 or whatever and I would still be living happily on the proceeds.

Now Aston is the man who rescued the Eagles from the wreckage of their merger with Huddersfield, their coach and driving force.

He is talking in his irrepressible style about a repeat performance. Can they do it? No…. but don't be surprised if they play out of their skins and make it distinctly awkward.

The draw is not exactly full of giant-killing prospects. If Barrow were at home to a Castleford side currently in some disarray, I think I might fancy them for an upset.

As it is, Cas should have enough, as should Warrington, at home to another in-form Championship side, Featherstone. 

In the big all-Super League ties, I'll go with home advantage and lean towards Hull against Leeds and Huddersfield against Hull KR.

Hopefully, the various deals on tickets will give us some decent crowds and the sense of occasion that the Challenge Cup still deserves.
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Tiger's (dead) dad enlisted to promote Nike [Apr. 8th, 2010|12:54 pm]
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Here's the new advert for Nike. It features Tiger Woods and is voiced by his father Earl, who died in 2006. Quite bizarre...

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Rugby League: Wigan deserve praise, not criticism [Apr. 7th, 2010|02:24 pm]
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When John Kear talks about rugby league, I invariably listen, because he has always been a fount of common sense.

I couldn't go along, though, with his argument after his side's thrashing at Wigan - that the home side's mastery of the 'wrestle' in defence had not only tilted the game their way, but also made it boring.

There's no doubt that Wigan's ability to get extra men into the tackle - Melbourne-style - and therefore take longer to get them off makes them fiendishly difficult to play against.

I can't see that was the main problem on Monday. After all, Wigan were 18 points up before they lost the ball and had to do any defending.

What I came away with was admiration for some of the tries they scored; they have scored almost 35 tries through three outside backs so far this season. If they were bottling teams up and then grinding it out down the middle, I could see John's argument. As it was, I couldn't see the relevance.

And as for the description of the atmosphere as "like a cathedral", perhaps that had something to do with so few Wakefield fans turning up, as well as the team not turning up at all until it was too late.

So, is the current state of the ruck making the game boring? I'm far from convinced, but it's certainly making post-match press conferences pretty repetitive at times

A favourite moment in an Easter programme that was far from tedious?

One that might have passed largely unnoticed. I saw it on the big screen at Knowsley Road, although it happened in Hull.

Sean Long had the ball, Craig Fitzgibbon had timed his run to stay just on-side, but the kick needed some air-time if it was going to fall right for him.

Longy's body-position was all wrong for getting underneath the ball with a little chip. Instead, without possibly having time to think about it, he drove it into the ground. Up it looped perfectly into the second-rower's arms. Absolutely brilliant.
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Rugby League: Harlequins merit their place in Super League [Mar. 31st, 2010|01:23 pm]
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When Harlequins hit rock bottom in Super League last weekend, it would have seemed to a lot of people to confirm what they have always said - that they are not worth their place in the competition.

In terms of results and attendances this season, there is a case to be made against them.

In their defence, they are at least losing with a team largely composed on English players, many of them the product of development in London.

Below Super League level rugby league is a massive success in London, with grass-roots participation on an undreamt of scale and plenty of talent working its way up the pyramid.

That is why, if there is a case for ditching the 30-year adventure, there is also one to be made for persisting in the capital, even if nobody goes to watch. Take away the top of the tree and the lower branches will wither away.

Besides, Quins are getting a few players back now. There is a morale-boosting win or two around the corner.
Still on London matters, welcome back Lee Smith.

I hate to say I told you so, but at the time of his signing for Wasps I could think of few players less likely to adapt to a strange game in a strange city.

Sure enough, he has been miserable and he is back - no doubt reflecting that not only is the grass not always greener, there is sometimes no grass at all.
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Step aside Golden Balls... [Mar. 24th, 2010|04:17 pm]
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[Tags|, ]

There's last minute goals and there's last minute goals... and this was the latter.

With his side trailing 1-0 in the Argentinean second division, up stepped goalkeeper Dario Capogrosso to launch a 70-yard punt into the opposition box. But Dario rather overdid it - his hoof missed every one in the box, including the opposition's goalkeeper and ended up in the top corner of the net.

On seeing the ball go in, Dario couldn't contain himself. His celebration would be worthy of a YouTube hit in itself and with 400,000 views already, he might just earn a place in the next series of Argentina's Strictly Come Dancing...

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