We are just over a quarter of the way through the first stage of the Super League season, so it seems like an ideal time to take a look at who are exceeding expectations and who are struggling in the season when every minute matters.
The first thing to say about Super League XX would be that it is wide open – anyone can beat anyone – well, except for St Helens.
Keiron Cunningham is making coaching look easy. Saints are sitting pretty at the top of the table following six wins from six games and aren’t even at full strength yet. Their only defeat was the World Club Challenge drubbing at the hands of South Sydney, but I doubt any of the other Super League sides would have got anywhere near beating the Rabbitohs who are something special. Domestically though, Saints are looking on course for a return to Old Trafford come October. They currently have the best defence in the league, conceding on average just 14.5 points a game. They also have the division’s second best attack, despite the on going absence of star half-back Luke Walsh.
Injuries have plagued St Helens over the last couple of years, but time and time again their young guns have proved to be more than capable replacements. This year their numbers have been stretched yet again, the likes of Jonny Lomax, Kyle Amor, Mark Percival and James Roby have all spent time on the sidelines so far this season; and now Joe Greenwood is facing some time out of the side through injury.
They have looked impressive in the majority of their opening half-dozen games but have also ground out victories against Castleford, Wakefield and Widnes. Saints’ forwards have been particularly impressive, off season recruit Atelea Vea has fitted in superbly and Alex Walmsley is in the best form of his life right now. The prop is the league’s top metre maker and has made more carries than anyone else so far this season.
2007 Man of Steel James Roby has been his usual tenacious self racking up the tackles and has also shown he can put the odd threatening kick in when needed. He must be on the early shortlist to pick up the player of the year gong once more.
At the other end of the table, Castleford, Hull FC, Hull KR and Wakefield are occupying the bottom four berths at the moment. Maybe not a huge surprise, but all four sides have four points apiece, while 4th place Huddersfield are only two points better off.
Many predicted The Wildcats would be finishing 12th after round 23, but a superb comeback victory in round one against arch rivals Castleford was followed by a good win over Hull KR and James Webster’s men were threatening to prove the pundits wrong. However four straight defeats has ended the early season optimism around Belle Vue, including heavy defeats to Widnes and Huddersfield.
Hull KR are proving difficult to place. On one hand, they have scored 166 points in six games, that’s the third best in the league, behind only St Helens and Leeds who sit 1st and 2nd respectively. A 44-24 defeat away to Wakefield in round two was followed by a sensational 22-20 victory over last season’s Grand Finalists Wigan at Craven Park. The Robins recovered from 20-6 down in that game to record the win. The recent addition of Shaun Lunt could be an inspired one, but the retirement of prop Michael Weyman could be a huge loss. Inconsistent best sums up KR’s start to the season.
In fact the same can be said of the division from 4th place Huddersfield right the way down the table. A couple of wins over Easter could take a side up six or seven places, so there’s no need for anyone to panic, just yet. That said, Leigh Centurions look like they have the beating of the majority of Super League at the moment, so at least one team in the bottom four come the split will, more than likely, be relegated.
Wigan are struggling at the moment. Five points from six games isn’t what the Warriors were expecting and even they might be looking over their shoulders at the bottom four. They ground out a win over Huddersfield in round two and beat Hull FC by one point in round five. In between those games they threw away their 14 point lead at Hull KR and were thrashed 42-14 by Castleford at The Jungle. George Williams has shown glimpses of his ability at half-back, but he is under pressure to perform week in week out at the tender age of 20. He and Sam Powell have managed a combined three try assists from five games each this season. Blake Green finished up with 16 assists last season on his own, and Wigan haven’t replaced his creativity.
Leeds deserve a mention too, five wins out of six is good going and their only defeat was away at third place Warrington, who have also made a decent start to the season.
Easter should help clarify a few of the positionings, but certainly as things stand at least eight of the twelve teams must be looking over their shoulders at the bottom four. With Leigh doing so well too, I can quite easily see at least one Super League team becoming a Championship team for next season.