Castleford’s Jake Trueman had one of the best Super League debuts in history
Brian Carney reflects on the latest round of Super 8s and Qualifiers action, which saw vital wins for St Helens, Widnes and Catalans and potentially drastic defeats for Wigan and Wakefield…
The headline from the weekend is Jake Trueman at Castleford.
Watch Trueman grab a hat-trick on his full Tigers debut
Firstly, it was a strong Castleford team sent out there against Wigan but I think many had given the result to Wigan before the game was played because of what was at stake for the home side.
No Luke Gale or Ben Roberts for the visitors, and really there was a lot less motivation, you would feel, for that Castleford team.
Wigan had to win to keep their destiny in their own hands and make their lives easier but it was all Castleford and Jake Trueman. There can’t have been much better full debuts than that.
Castleford were without Luke Gale in Wigan but Trueman came in and stole the show
And in such a pivotal position, he had a really solid player in the halves beside him in Paul McShane, but it was just a tremendous individual performance as part of a great collective performance.
Trueman recently won the Academy Player of the Year award at the Tigers and Tony Smith has told me he is a “very classy individual.” Trueman could be a special player in the making.
Castleford showed no signs of letting up at the DW Stadium
There seems to be no let up from the Castleford Tigers and the way they dismantled Wigan will be ominous for their semi-final opponents, who may yet be Hull FC, who they face in the final round of the Super 8s.
You will get nothing easy against Castleford in 2017. It was yet another good week for them.
It was also another good week for St Helens, as we’re starting to see the best of Ben Barba.
Ben Barba was a major factor in St Helens’ comprehensive victory over the Giants
He excelled in his performance against Huddersfield, while Regan Grace showed why he is keeping someone like Adam Smith out of the team.
There was a fair few big names not playing for St Helens and yet they disposed of Huddersfield with relative ease.
If the same is repeated against Salford on Thursday night that will in all likelihood see them confirmed as semi-finalists bar a mathematical aberration.
Highlights of the 40-16 Super 8s win for St Helens over the Huddersfield Giants
A big win on Friday now needs to be backed up in front of the Sky Sports cameras to claim what at times seemed an unlikely top-four spot.
While it hasn’t been a spectacular St Helens season, it has proved thus far to be relatively effective.
Widnes and Catalans
Leigh will now be battling for home or away in the Million Pound Game after their big win over Halifax but the third automatic promotion spot will go down to the very last game in the Qualifiers.
The two teams that will contest it have got into this position in vastly contrasting ways.
Highlights of Widnes’ vital victory over the London Broncos in the Qualifiers
Widnes weren’t tested against London as much as we should have expected considering London’s impressive performances in the qualifiers.
The Broncos fell a bit flat on Saturday and Widnes were too good. The bad news for Widnes is that they’ve lost Lloyd White, their influential hooker.
On Friday night against an intentionally selected under-strength Hull KR side, Catalans stumbled over the line and Chris Atkin missing a relatively kickable penalty has spared blushes and maybe jobs in the south of France.
Highlights of the Super 8s Qualifiers fixture between Hull KR and Catalans Dragons
The television cameras throughout the match captured the reaction of Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch who looked absolutely furious despite the fact that his team ultimately won the match.
They were utterly unconvincing in their performance but they got the two points.
If they perform against Widnes like they did against Hull Kingston Rovers they will find themselves in the Million Pound Game battling for Super League survival.
Of the two teams going into that game, both are going into it having procured two points from their last match but it’s Widnes who go in with the better performance under their belt. It’s maybe the must-see game of the weekend.
Wednesday is stadium D-Day for Wakefield, and I put them in Bad Week with a major qualification.
If they come out with a positive stadium announcement on Wednesday, it could so easily have been coupled with Wakefield having just secured a semi-final spot.
Highlights of the dramatic Super 8s clash between Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity
They had a heart-breaking loss to St Helens, and despite being on the ropes for the entire second-half against Hull, they had the determination and ability to claw their way back into a position where in the final set they may have scored a try but on reflection should have set up better for a drop-goal.
Marc Sneyd and Hull FC gave a masterclass in preparation for a one-pointer with five minutes left but Liam Finn had a rushed effort at the end of a set where Trinity seemed caught between trying to score a try and also the thought of a drop-goal in the back of their minds.
Wakefield’s Liam Finn rushed his last-gasp drop-goal attempt
It might end up a what-may-have-been for Wakefield but it has still been a remarkable season, and let’s hope that a bad week on the field is countered by great news off it.
They had no Sean O’Loughlin but they only need to look across at their opposition who had no Luke Gale. One man doesn’t and shouldn’t make a team and Shaun Wane will not use the absence of O’Loughlin as an excuse.
Wigan were hit for seven tries against Castleford to put a dent in the champions’ title defence
Considering how important the game was for the Warriors and in front of a big crowd, it was as bad a performance as they’ve put in for a long time.
This has been the issue in assessing teams like Wigan, Leeds and Hull FC at times this year.
The gap between their very best performances (for Wigan see their recent win against St Helens) and their worst performances is huge.
Wigan struggled badly at home as Cas plundered in 38 points
I believe that whenever there is that drastic variability in performance, you are rolling the dice each game you go out.
They should be craving consistency, and maybe they are but they are certainly not achieving it. Defensively it was as bad as you’re likely to see Wigan in many a season with very little excuses to offer in mitigation.
The champions aren’t out yet but they have certainly made life incredibly difficult for themselves.
Sam Tomkins questioned Castleford’s big-match temperament after the match
Despite the result, Wigan’s Sam Tomkins perplexingly questioned Castleford’s big-match temperament after the game, and I will certainly be asking him for clarification of those comments when he is our guest on Sky Sports for our coverage of Salford v St Helens on Thursday.
No third negative
I actually struggled to find a third negative this week after really enjoying the weekend’s action.
While some of the games may have lacked quality, they made up for that in excitement. We had a narrow finish at the KCOM Stadium and 24 hours later we had a thrilling finish at Hull Kingston Rovers.
The Super 8s have for weeks now been delivering and the excitement will only ramp up next weekend.
The 2017 rugby league season has been magnificent with more to come in the next three weeks
I was at the airport last night coming back from the Mayo v Dublin All-Ireland final and met a man from Fermanagh who was over for the game and has lived in Sheffield for 30 years.
He said rugby league on Thursday and Friday nights is a staple of his. He’s a GAA man through-and-through but said he cannot believe how exciting the finish is to the season.
It makes you proud when you hear people who aren’t maybe born and bred into the sport but have come to love it from seeing it on the television.